How to find motivation on difficult days

how do you motivate yourself on difficult days woman standing in snow with arms outstretched

How do you pick yourself up when you need a win and life isn’t sending any your way?

Depression or major life crisis are one thing. But what about those days where nothing seems to be going well and you just want to quit for the day, go home, and binge on Netflix? You know that doing so will just make you feel bad about yourself. But this day’s already making you feel bad about yourself, so why not give in?

Bad days sap our positivity and drive, and if left unchecked they can bleed from one day into the next. So instead of throwing in the towel, think about ways to nip them in the bud.

Don’t neglect your body.

Many times, our lack of motivation stems from a simple biological fact: our body is running low and needs a pick-me-up. This isn’t to dismiss your dull mood. There could be other factors at play, but it’s best to rule out the simplest solutions first. You can even keep a checklist to run down as you problem-shoot your lethargy:

  • Have you been sleeping lately? Take a nap.
  • Did you skip breakfast? Have a quick, healthy snack.
  • Feel a headache coming on? Drink a glass of water.
  • Have you been sitting in one place for a long time? Get up and move your body.

These may seem obvious, but when we’re feeling low they can be surprisingly easy to overlook. So take some time to listen to your body: it could be telling you something important.

Focus on solutions.

Sometimes, getting going is just a matter of knowing what to do next. We tend to procrastinate most when we fear our ability to accomplish a certain task. So instead of putting your work off, start by breaking it down into manageable pieces.

For instance, if you have a big report coming up, begin by writing an outline. Or go research your topic.

If you’re trying to plan the next big step in your life, sit down with a trusted advisor (a friend, family member, colleague, or professional) to hash out the details.

Create some goals for yourself, but make sure they’re ones you can accomplish. If you set too high a bar, you’re likely to miss it—and that will only discourage you.

If you’re feeling like you’ve already missed your goals, avoid the temptation to double down and set even bigger ones. Instead, go the opposite way: find a small way to win every day, and focus on that until it becomes a habit. Maybe you wanted to do a full workout routine every morning: start by just taking a walk. Or even simpler: practice getting out of bed as soon as your alarm goes off. Just that small win will help set the tone for the rest of your day.

Nurture your soul.

When the above fails, give yourself a break and practice some self-care. It’s easy to push yourself too hard and forget to congratulate yourself on all you’ve done. This doesn’t mean Netflix, though: do something you’ll feel grateful for in the long run. Take a break to go read a book. Enjoy a warm bath. Curl up on the couch with a cup of tea. Meditate, pray, or practice a short quiet time of reflection.

Do whatever you need to do so that you can tackle tomorrow with the best you have.

Iris Proctor
Iris is the director of ArborWoman.