When COVID-19 arrived in the UK and lockdown was imposed, many of us had grand ambitions about what we would do with our newly enforced time at home. We set up home-working spaces, took up new hobbies and started online courses, while taking part in online quizzes with friends and family.
Months later, the reality of the pandemic has set in. Although restrictions were lifted over the summer, a second wave of the virus has led to further lockdowns in many parts of the country. And with the days getting shorter and colder, it’s becoming more difficult to feel motivated to do anything.
“A common theme we are all handling currently is uncertainty and that is starting to take its toll on our mental and physical health,” says Sarah Taylor Phillips, career coach and founder of Career Voyage.
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“We haven’t been able to plan holidays and great times with friends and family. We have underlying health concerns for ourselves, family and friends. We also face uncertainty about the future of work, the economy, the hospitality sector.”
And when faced with a global crisis with no definitive end, many people are now asking where they are in their lives — and how they got there.
“Some of us have been working harder than ever in this unfamiliar new world, some are on the frontline, juggling responsibilities as key workers and others are furloughed and have been at home living with uncertainty or between jobs or assignments,” Phillips says. “So we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.”
In these difficult times, it’s normal to feel unmotivated, lost or lacking in ambition. Sometimes, even getting out of bed can feel like a struggle. So what can you do about it?
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Make self-care compulsory
Many people are working long hours through fear of losing their job — and alcohol can become a crutch for some when there’s an absence of support. But it’s now more important than ever to look after your physical and mental health.
“I think the way to give yourself a boost is to exercise self-care,” Phillips says. “In 2019 it was optional, in 2020 it’s compulsory. Self-care is about doing what is right for you and not what’s right for everyone else. Sometimes you have to put yourself first.”
While we can not control what other people do or the global spread of the virus, there are things we can do to take back some control in our lives. If you’re feeling exhausted and run down, it’s important to take some time off. Make time for yourself and the things you enjoy or find relaxing, like exercise, walking or reading.
It’s also important to stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues and to seek support if you are struggling. Speaking to others can help put things into perspective and help you gain new insights to solve a problem.
Structure your day
When working from home, it can be tempting to fall into a bit of a lethargic lifestyle which could lead to negative thoughts, a lack of creativity and feelings of worthlessness.
Routines create structure and give our days and weeks a more ordered feeling — something particularly useful under the current circumstances. This might mean getting up at the same time or having set meal times, although schedules don’t have to be strict.
Even getting up and going for a walk first thing in the morning can make us feel more refreshed and lively, which can help boost motivation and ambition when you sit at your desk later on.
Set small goals
Achieving a goal is a hugely motivating experience, but the key is to create small, reachable targets. During the day, much of the work we do aims towards minor milestones, like making progress on a project, preparing for meetings or answering emails. These often contribute to larger goals in your career.
However, Harvard Business School academic Teresa Amabile found that it’s the daily progress on your small goals that boosts motivation, productivity and creativity. When she and her colleagues analysed nearly 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees across seven companies, they discovered that tracking small achievements had a direct and positive impact on people’s motivation.
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Essentially, small accomplishments boost our sense of confidence and activate the brain’s reward circuit, releasing chemicals that give us a sense of achievement.
And if you feel like you aren’t getting things done, take note of everything you do. “I write down my achievements every week and it fills with confidence,” Phillips says. “I am amazed at what I have achieved.”