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Approximately three days a year, and always in summer, I bound out of bed ready to tackle the morning. I go for a run without even thinking about it, quickly whip up a healthy breakfast, and start the process of steadily crossing things off my to-do list throughout the day. The other 362 days a year, I don't wake up naturally motivated. In fact, I often wake up dead tired, feeling no desire whatsoever to remove myself from the warm comfort of my fluffy bed and spring myself into the day ahead. What I've discovered about myself over the years is that I'm a person who needs to manufacture my own motivation. It is not a part of my default setting to want to go out and change the world, much less change out of my pajamas. If left to my own devices, I could easily and happily spend all day every day in a cozy world of blankets, books and hot chocolate. Getting myself out of my cozy comfort zone and out into the world is an epic struggle and some days I do better than others. Today I want to talk about some of the things that have worked for me in the ongoing quest to cultivate more mojo in my life.
1. Get out of bed.
This sounds so stupid but I can't tell you how many times I get up in the morning, brush my teeth, wash my face, put in my contacts ... and then crawl back into my cozy bed, telling myself I'm just going to warm up for a few more minutes. I'll even eat breakfast and then get lulled back to bed — usually not to sleep, but just to be warm. Cold mornings are one of my least favorite things. So I crawl under the covers, give myself a "few minutes" to look at my phone while I wait for the warmth to kick in, and inevitably an absurd amount of time passes and half the morning is gone. So as much as I hate it, getting out of bed — and making the bed right away — helps propel me through my morning.
2. Have a reason to leave the house.
This again probably sounds stupid to anyone who doesn't work from home, but here's the thing: I actually could spend my entire day in bed AND get a full day's work done. That's the beauty of writing. Bring my laptop into my cozy bed, do my work under the sanctuary of warm blankets, and I never have to leave the room for anything but bathroom breaks and meals. Just because I can do this, though, doesn't mean that I should. I recognize an unhealthy habit when I see one, so I try to do all my writing in my office. Beyond that, I've found it's incredibly helpful to have some sort of appointment lined up that takes me out of the house and into the world of other humans. This doesn't need to be an early appointment — it's in fact better if it's not — but it needs to be unchangeable. That way if I'm trying to get a workout in, I know I HAVE to do it in the morning so I have enough time to shower, get ready, and leave for my appointment. For people who go into an office every day this likely sounds absurd. For those who don't, trust me: it makes a difference.
3. Self-bribery always ends well.
I would never recommend bribing another person, but self-bribery is a method that always has a positive outcome. If I know a hot cup of coffee, bubble bath, or free hour to spend with a book is waiting for me later in the day, I'll do what I have to do earlier in the day. I can't tell you how many meals I've fantasized about during how many runs; thinking about the food I get to eat when I come back home is often what pushes me to get through. If you're having trouble getting motivated, make a deal with yourself. That hot, delicious coffee is yours if you knock out your workout. Finishing a work assignment is a great excuse for a DIY pedicure. That magazine you love has your name all over it once you do the chores and errands you know you need to do. Work hard, reward yourself, work hard, reward yourself.
4. Get comfortable.
I am a very seasonal person and during this particular season, I am not in my prime. I find the darkness to be exhausting and energy-sucking. I can feel the rainy drizzle under my skin. And the cold temperatures? I normally wouldn't describe myself as a desperate person, but I'm willing to take some pretty drastic measures when I'm cold. This is partly due to an autoimmune issue I have (Raynaud's Syndrome) that turns my fingers and toes white and numb when I get cold. There is nothing harmful about it, but it is extremely uncomfortable and annoying. When I can't feel my feet and hands, getting outside for a run is the last thing I want to do. So I do whatever it takes to get as comfortable as I can. I wear a ton of layers. I wear gloves. I wear vests. I drink hot water with lemon before leaving the house. I do whatever I can to get my body temperature up — and I continue to do that all day long. I often write while wearing a cozy bathtub with a blanket draped around my shoulders, socks and slippers on my feet, and a cup of hot tea by my side. Just because you "have" to do something, whether it's work or a workout or an errand or a chore, doesn't mean you have to do it miserably. If there are measures you can take to make yourself more comfortable, take them.
5. Rearrange the schedule.
It's always my goal to knock out my workout or run first thing so then I can take a shower and get on with my day, but there are times when that is just not going to happen. Those days, I need to be willing to switch things around. If I need to start my day writing and finish it running, then that's what I need to do. The only catch: this time of year, I'm on a time limit when it comes to outdoor workouts. I can't stand running in the dark and therefore refuse to do it. Last week I kept pushing my run back and back while I wrote for several hours, and before I knew it the sky was black and I missed my chance to get out there. Rearranging things is fine but missing them doesn't help anything.
6. Layer mojo throughout the day.
I like to think of making my own mojo as making a cup of hot chocolate. (I only choose this imagery because I love hot chocolate and it seems like an effective decision to equate mojo with something I love). It's not just something that's poured into a cup and that's it. There are layers: the milk, the chocolate, the extra flavorings, the mini marshmallows. Different days I might be in the mood for different extra ingredients: vanilla extract one day, cinnamon the next. It all depends on how I feel and what I'm craving. Mojo can work like this for me too. Am I trying to get things done as quickly as possible or it more important that I work on the milk for now and add the chocolate later? Life gets really overwhelming when we forget to break it down into small steps. It's tough to think about a strength workout, a long run, a full day of work, several meals, a few errands, and some laundry, dishes and other household duties thrown in. It's less tough to think about a strength workout, period. So I try to do this as much as possible: to think about the task ahead of me and not think of anything else. The long to-do list isn't allowed to come into play. It's only a single item on the to-do list that matters.
7. Shut it down.
I think we all know and understand this one, so it doesn't require a lot of explanation: On days when you're feeling unmotivated, get rid of the electronic distractions. Instagram and Twitter will still be there when you get back from your run. Getting sucked into the vortex of Facebook or clickbait articles isn't going to help you get your work done. Do what you have to do to shut it down. Use it as a reward for later if you must.
I can't tell you how many times people have asked me where I get my energy, which is so laughable to me because I literally feel like I have no energy. There are certain things I do every day though, and as a result I think I look like a person with a seriously upbeat outlook and therefore loads of energy at my disposal. First, I smile. A lot. I refuse to let a day go by without smiling. I smile when I'm tired. I smile when I don't feel like it. I smile because it's contagious and I never know who needs it. I smile for myself, too. If I started my day dragging but somehow magically got myself through a sweaty workout anyway, you better believe I'm going to smile when it's over. Also, I keep track of things. I write things down. Organizing my life gives me a sense of control, even if it is an illusion. When I see on a lined sheet of paper that I did X at this time and Y at that time, I know right away if I'm behind schedule and can adjust accordingly. This doesn't always mean that I do adjust — sometimes I procrastinate even longer — but at least I can see where I am on the page.
9. Do first, nap later.
This is the ultimate bribe I make to myself on days when I just can't push myself. If I do X, I get to take a nap. Napping is the ultimate reward to me. It's something that feels so ridiculously indulgent (probably because it is) and so I save it for those times when I just can't get myself to put one foot in front of the other. Run four miles in the freezing cold but then come home and take the best nap of my life? Sign me up.
10. I don't know, man.
There are days when I have a really hard time motivating myself. I try what I can and if nothing works, nothing works. It's extremely rare that I'll have an entire day of laziness, but I may allow myself small bouts of laziness here and there if that's what it seems like it's going to take. If there's one thing I know for sure it's that pushing and punishing myself doesn't work. Some days I simply operate on a lower energy level and that's that. Whenever this happens, I like to think of those three summer days when I was up at 5 a.m. pounding the pavement. Not every day is going to be lazy. Some days, though, I just have to set my goals a little lower.