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Feeling unmotivated? Here are 12 ideas for sparking and maintaining motivation

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 3/2/2021 Sara M Moniuszko, USA TODAY
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Feeling unmotivated? You're not alone. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, it is not uncommon to feel a lack of motivation brought on by things like quarantine, isolation and prolonged trauma, explains Melissa L. Whitson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of New Haven.

"When our systems have been activated by this trauma and other psychological effects for so long, it is quite normal for the body and mind to become overwhelmed and exhausted, and even numb," Whitson, a licensed psychologist, adds. "We often refer to this as chronic stress. When we feel exhausted and numb, we often lose motivations for things that we would normally enjoy doing."

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And with the one-year anniversary of pandemic lockdowns in the United States approaching and no definitive end to the pandemic in sight, many are struggling now more than ever.

So what can you do? We've rounded up 12 ways you can try to spark some motivation, whether for work or play:

1. Put down the phone: "This way, you won’t be tempted by emails, group texts, or calls and can get a healthy dose of disconnection," "Shark Tank" star Mark Cuban advises in the upcoming book "Your Time To Thrive" by Marina Khidekel and the editors of Thrive Global (out March 23).

2. Unplug at designated times throughout the day: Digital wellness expert Mark Ostach suggests stepping away from screens at meal time, one hour before bed and for at least one hour during the day.

3. Set a timer: Timed work methods are a way to break up your tasks into manageable chucks. The Pomodoro technique, for example, recommends you work for 25 minutes then take a five minute break. After repeating this four times, take a longer break for 15-30 minutes. You can also try adjusting the time as it works best for you, such as an hour sprint before taking a break. 

4. Connect with others: "Doing things to build a sense of community and shared emotional connection can help us feel more motivated to help others and ourselves," Whitson says. While it may not be safe to meet up with loved ones in-person, utilize technology to keep connections with loved ones. 

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5. Track your progress: Using to-do lists to track progress can help motivate you to reach your goals while keeping tasks organized. Also, try writing down your reasons for adhering to your goals and reading what you wrote on tough days, Amy Morin, psychotherapist and USA TODAY best-selling author of "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," told USA TODAY in 2019. Having something in your calendar you can to look forward to is another goal-setting strategy people find helpful.

6. Get inspired: Finding inspiration from others is another way to spark motivation. Hoda Kotb suggests reading a few pages from an inspiring book. "I try to fill the last couple of minutes before I close my eyes with something nourishing, whether it’s a book I keep on my bedside table, or something I read that’s uplifting," she notes in "Your Time To Thrive."

7. Focus on things you enjoy: "Because post-traumatic symptoms are often exacerbated by a feeling of lack of control, engaging in activities that help us feel like we have some control can be helpful," Whitson suggests. 

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8. Forgive yourself: Knowing that it's normal to not feel normal right now is key, especially since stressing out about not feeling like you're doing enough can make things worse. "The tendency to beat yourself up, or to be overly harsh on yourself, is gonna make things worse," Morin says. "We know that self compassion is the key to changing your behavior, but most of us are so much harder on ourselves than we are on anybody else." 

9. Get outside: Taking a quick walk in nature is a great way to clear your head and kickstart your energy. "Whether you're walking the dogs or grabbing the mail, it can motivate you," Ostach says. 

10. Say no when you need to: "Queer Eye" star Antoni Porowski notes in "Your Time To Thrive," "When I was saying yes to everything... I spread myself too thin. I realized I wasn’t performing well at work events, and I wasn’t having any down time or just plain fun with friends."

11. Take care of you: Whitson says it's important to take care of ourselves "as much as possible" in an effort to regain motivation and cope with stress and trauma.

12. Get help if you need: "Lack of motivation right now is a normal and understandable response. However, if the lack of motivation is interfering with our ability to function in important daily life tasks – eating, sleeping, hygiene, caring for dependents – then it is important to reach out for additional support and services," Whitson advises. 

That feeling you can't name? It's called emotional exhaustion.

'I think I’m going to die’: What it's like to deal with 'relentless' health anxiety

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Feeling unmotivated? Here are 12 ideas for sparking and maintaining motivation

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