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9 Ways to Self-Motivate While Working from Home

9 Ways to Self-Motivate While Working from Home

What does it mean to ‘be your own boss’? If you’re working from home you know exactly what it means. You probably have exterior deadlines to meet—but what if you don’t? What if your motivation has to come completely from within?

We grow up in a system that provides assignments, checkpoints, and deadlines. Independent thinking and self-motivation aren’t classes we take. There’s no room in high school or college where you sit down and use building blocks, of whatever form, to achieve a goal you set for yourself. That’s why it’s important to think of, and actualize, ways to self-motivate. It’s important to train yourself. As John Dewey put it, “Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” Here are some starting points to help you self-motivate while working from home.

Don’t create unrealistic expectations

It’s natural and healthy to be ambitious and to chase your dream. But goals are steps you take in a lifelong process. You can expect to achieve your ultimate dream of writing that great novel or starting a successful business if and only if your expectations are realistic on a day-to-day basis. Set simple daily goals, such as writing five-hundred to one-thousand words, and go from there. Is the writing terrible but you hit the goal? Good. Build up incrementally. Continue to hit the small goals and expect yourself to improve. A dream is not a goal. You live in the dream, never outside of it.

Organize a balanced day

Just like in any facet of life, establishing balance while working at home is essential. There’s something very Zen about this:

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Balance communication – Make sure communication tech is up to date, make sure to build your network and talk to contacts daily; but make time for “water cooler” conversation unrelated to work

Simulate commute time – Before you sit down to work, set aside a time to clear your brain, a time away from the screen in which you’re mindful of everything around you

Compartmentalize – Make your workspace completely separate from the rest of your home-space, and don’t use your computer for tasks that aren’t work-related; set up Do Not Disturb times of no distraction and let your contacts know when you will and won’t be available

Create distractions – Designate times to purposefully distract yourself: every two hours get up for a breath of fresh air or a glass of water—these times are ripe for realizations

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Create a system of healthy rewards

When you’re really wanting to ‘get it’ and succeed as your own boss, it can be easy to do nothing but work. Since when do productivity and creativity stem from a lack of diversity? Self-motivation while working from home is a lot like following through on New Year’s resolutions:

Exercise – Find a type of exercise you really enjoy and frame it as a reward for getting work done; you’re rewarding yourself when you exercise, because your body appreciates the increased blood-flow and oxygen distribution

Food – Incorporate a variety (variety is key) of healthy brain foods into your diet and set an eating schedule; just like with exercise, you’ll be rewarding yourself for working by helping your body feel better

Play – Schedule times for fun activities and once again, treat these times as a reward; don’t deviate from work and play schedule, so that you create a pathway in your brain, essentially tying in work with play

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Exercise

There’s a reason you’re seeing the word exercise for the second time here. Not only is exercise a reward for your body, it’s imperative for your creativity and health. Sitting too much puts you at risk of cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, emotional distress, and other issues. But how do you balance exercise with getting work done? Besides taking medical recommendations, try “deskercises”—exercises you can do at your desk to keep blood flowing and brain active.

Keep current and share ideas

Einstein said, “Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.” One way to do this is by paying a good deal of attention to what’s happening in your field. As you get ideas from others and begin to understand what’s valuable to them, you can in turn share your ideas. This will make you valuable to the community, you’ll make new contacts, and gain new insights to use.

Get to know yourself

Learn your peak productivity times. The great thing about working from home is you can adjust your sleep schedule based on when it’s easiest for you to get things done. Are you a procrastinator? Recognize it and be mindful of the moments when you are slipping into I’ll put it off ‘til later mode. Trying thinking the word ‘no’ when a procrastination or anxiety instinct comes up. What type of learner are you? Try the Multiple Intelligences Self-Assessment. Adjust the way you work with how you learn best. For example, if you’re musical, try listening to instrumental music or classical music while you work.

Take advantage of related technologies

There a ton of productivity apps, whether you have an iPhone, Android, or other device. These can help you get things done, but you have to be motivated to begin with—you are the one doing the work, not the app. The nice thing about productivity apps is they make it easier to focus on the big stuff.

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Set aside lazy times

This is all part of balance. But take note: lazy time needs to happen away from the internet. Why? Because the internet splits your attention. Loll around, watch a movie, read an entertaining book, anything that doesn’t involve consuming tons of stimulus and information like the internet does. There’s such thing as productive laziness–it gives your brain the biggest break, an enjoyment of simple focus undivided. Once that focus melts away into reverie, the muse comes.

Pay attention to your body

You can’t motivate yourself without sleep. Be aware of what your body needs or what it has too much of. Being mindful of these things will help clear your brain. It’s like there’s a bump in the road and you’ll keep hitting it unless you recognize it’s there. Don’t try to ignore the bump. Attend to it, learn what it is, hack it, and move on.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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Dan Matthews, CPRP

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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