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
5-minute read
Episode #127

Einstein himself summed it up nicely when he said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” But going from ‘not moving’ to ‘moving’ can sometimes feel like an unbridgeable gulf. This week, we’ll cover five ways to nudge your mind or body into motion.

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Tip #1: Rethink what “motivated” means. “Motivated” could mean pumped and ready for anything, or it could just mean a willingness to get up. The bar can feel way too high if you’re nestled all snug in your bed while visions of Tony Robbins dance in your head. So don’t despair—you don’t have to unleash anything, you just have to be willing to get started. Which brings us to…

Tip #2: Tackle some tiny things first to build momentum. If you have a big or particularly repellent task ahead of you, sometimes getting a running start can help. Get some small victories under your belt—clear the breakfast dishes, pay one bill, make one phone call. Just be sure your tiny tasks build momentum rather than sapping it. Checking your email may seem like a task to get out of the way, but often it sucks you into a vortex of distraction.

Tip #3: Start with the outside. Sometimes the best tiny things to start with are, counterintuitively, the most superficial. Take a shower. Put in your contacts. Shave. Put something on besides the t-shirt you slept in or your fuzzy Yoda slippers. Looking the part can nudge you toward feeling the part. By contrast, looking like you’re ready for a Netflix binge and a jar of marshmallow fluff licked straight from your fingers makes a productive day much less likely.

Tip #4: Talk to yourself with some compassion. Too often, we try to lambaste ourselves into getting motivated. “What the hell is wrong with me?” “This is so easy—why can’t I do this?” But imagine if someone else talked to you the same way. Would it motivate you? Or just make you hurt and resentful as well as unmotivated?  

Try a little self-compassion instead. Talk to yourself as if you’d talk to a good friend. “Oh sweetie, you’re having a hard day. It’s tough to break out of a funk. Do you want to try taking a shower and see if that makes you feel better?” If it feels cheesy to call yourself sweetie, don’t. But do talk to yourself with understanding and patience.

Hard-core self-compassion practitioners even give themselves a hug, or stroke their face or arms as if a kind soul were comforting them. Your body can’t tell the difference—all it knows is that someone is offering a kind and soothing touch. Try it when nobody’s watching—you might be surprised.

Finally, the most important tip. Since this one is key, we’ll focus on it most extensively:

Tip #5: Put action before motivation. One of the biggest myths of the human psyche is that we have to feel like doing something before we do it. Not true. Think of all the things you do that you don’t want to: get out of bed on a rainy Monday, pay your taxes (well, unless you’re Donald Trump), call your cable company’s customer service line. But we do them anyway.

The same principle applies for things that aren’t so aversive, but are still hard: go to the gym, sit down to study, or clean your kitchen, but here’s the thing: you might think you have to psych yourself up before you can get started, but you actually don’t. Instead, you can go through the motions: put on your gym shoes, crack the textbook, unload the dishwasher, all without feeling like doing any of it. But guess what? Surprisingly often, getting started gathers momentum, which in turn changes your mood. In short, rather than waiting until you feel like getting started, just get started. Then, your mood (and motivation) will catch up.

Why does this work?


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She 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. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.