5 Ways to Get Motivated When You're in a Funk

When your motivation is lower than a gravedigger at the end of his shift, it can be hard to turn things around. YouTube beckons, your fridge somehow develops a tractor beam, and gravity becomes particularly strong in the vicinity of your couch. What to do? Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers five ways to skunk your funk.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
Episode #127
how to get motivated

Increasingly, researchers are finding a distinction between what they call anticipatory pleasure and consummatory pleasure—the enjoyment of looking forward to something versus the enjoyment of doing something. And usually it’s a cycle—doing something rewarding makes us motivated to do it more.  

But sometimes, the link between the two breaks down. One of the causes for the breakdown? Depression.

To illustrate, in a 2012 study out of Stanford, depressed and non-depressed participants began an experiment by reading 10 funny cartoons. But then, to see more cartoons, they had to work a little: specifically, by clicking on a square that jumped around on their computer screen.  

What’s interesting is that the two groups—depressed and non-depressed—reported enjoying the cartoons equally. What differed is how much effort they were willing to exert to read more funny cartoons. In the non-depressed group, how much they liked the cartoons predicted how much effort they’d be willing to spend clicking on that jumping square]. But in the depressed group, the link between liking and motivation was broken.

Why? In depression, a cardinal symptom is called anhedonia, which is apathy or a lack of pleasure. And in the study, levels of anhedonia predicted motivation in the depressed participants. In other words, if their anticipatory pleasure was stunted, they couldn’t look forward to a reward and therefore were less willing to put in effort.

This makes sense. If we can’t imagine ourselves enjoying or being rewarded in some way—with a good grade, a clean house, a satisfying workout—we probably won’t be motivated to achieve it.

When you’re in a funk, go through those motions, even if your heart’s not in it. 

But remember, even the depressed participants liked the funny cartoons. They could experience some enjoyment even if they couldn’t look forward to it or get motivated to work for it. Which brings us back to putting action before motivation. When you’re in a funk, go through those motions, even if your heart’s not in it. As you reap the reward of getting stuff done, your motivation will catch up and create a success spiral. Sure, it’s not the same as feeling ready to conquer the world, but it will move you forward, which is what matters in the end.

An important note: if your funk lasts longer than two weeks, or it starts getting in the way of living your life, it could be depression, which is serious but treatable. Search out a qualified therapist you like and trust or see your physician.

See also: Therapy Myths and Fears Busted

To wrap things up, sometimes going through the motions can be what gets you back in motion. So put tiny steps of action before motivation, preferably while talking to yourself nicely after having brushed your teeth. Motivation to conquer the world will catch up.

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About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. 

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