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7 Ways to Motivate Yourself When You’re Exhausted

Updated on April 12, 2017Lifestyle
An image of a woman who fell asleep sitting at her computer with text that reads, "I feel like I'm already exhausted for tomorrow."

Romeo and Juliet, peanut butter and jelly. . . some combinations just seem to go together. Deadlines and exhaustion, on the other hand, are a pair that no one likes to experience. What do you do when you are confronted with that undesirable duo? Put up a fight with these seven motivating tactics.

Break your task into smaller steps.

If someone told you to do an online search for a blueprint for a house, you would skip off to your computer without a care in the world. However, if you were asked to build a house, you might exclaim “I can’t do that!” Why is searching for a blueprint less intimidating than building a house? After all, finding the right design is the first step of construction.

In 1981, Albert Bandura and Dale Schunk tested two groups of children. Researchers told one set of children to finish forty-two pages of math problems in seven sessions. The second group’s instructions suggested they complete six pages of math problems each session for seven days. What were the results? Not only did the children with smaller subgoals complete their problems faster, they also answered correctly 40 percent more frequently.

Subsequent studies replicated the same results with adults. What do you learn? Thinking about the whole project is overwhelming, but you can boost your confidence and get more done if you divide the task into manageable chunks.

Put it in writing.

Okay, you’ve broken your project down into substeps. What now? Psychologists have long agreed that writing down goals helps people to accomplish them. Recently, Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University in California wanted to know how effective goal-writing is. She tested hundreds of participants. The findings indicated that writing down goals increases your likelihood of achieving them by about 42 percent.

According to author Michael Hyatt, there are at least five benefits of writing down your objectives:

    • Articulating your objectives forces you to clarify them.
    • If your goals are in writing, you can regularly review them, which will remind you to “take the next most important action.”
    • You can use your goals to see whether things that come up are opportunities to further your progress or distractions that should be avoided.
    • Seeing your goal in writing focuses you on what you need to do, not what obstacles might stand in your way.
    • Finally, reviewing the steps that you’ve already completed will encourage you and show you how much closer you are to your goal than when you started.

Tell your supporters.

In this digital age, telling others about your plans with others is easy. Share your goal on social media. Provide regular status updates, including your struggles and setbacks. Likely, your family, friends, and colleagues would welcome a chance to celebrate your advancements and give you advice on how to overcome setbacks. If you are serious about your goal, you will appreciate it when they hold you accountable for your promises. Just knowing that the people who are important to you are rooting for you can motivate you to keep trying.


One Australian psychologist wanted to know if visualization could help basketball players improve their game. He measured how many free throws each player could successfully score in a brief period of time. Then, he divided the players into three groups. One group had to practice throwing free throws for twenty minutes each day. Another group only visualized themselves sinking free throws; they weren’t allowed any real practice. A third group didn’t practice or visualize free throws.

In a real-life trial, players who only visualized improved almost as much as the group who practiced! Why does visualization work? Brain imagery shows the same neuron action in the brain when someone creates mental images and when someone performs a task. When you feel tired, take a few moments to picture yourself completing all of the steps of your project. View the scene in detail—the sights, the smells, the feeling of pride. What positive outcomes will result at the project’s end? How will you celebrate? You should start to feel better in no time.

Put on your dancing shoes.

As reported in Psychology Today, listening to music changes your perception of the world. Studies indicate the music “engages a wide range of neurobiological systems that affect our psychology.” To illustrate, researchers played either happy or sad music to test subjects. While listening, the subjects had to identify emoticons as happy or sad.

What happened when researchers presented a neutral face (without a smile or a frown)? Amazingly, subjects listening to sad music identified the ‘neutral’ faces as sad and subjects listening to happy music identified the same face as happy. If you want to affect your mood, why not play some upbeat, energizing music while you work or during your break?

Take a break.

Slumping exhausted in front of a television screen does not count as taking a proper break. What appeals to you most—a power nap, a day trip to the mountains, or a relaxing dinner with your mate? It doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is that you truly relax by doing something that refreshes you. When you return to work, you will be ready to press on.

Stop and smell the roses.

Aromatherapy is the use of plant extracts or essential oils to improve health or relaxation. According to an article in Entrepreneur, of all our senses, smell is particularly effective in influencing brain activity. Beverly Hawkins, owner of the West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy, explains that olfactory bulbs “are part of the limbic system and directly connect to the areas of the brain that process emotion and learning.” To benefit, all you have to do is put a small amount of essential oil on a cotton ball. Then, take a sniff or two when you feel tired. However, any old smell won’t do. Hawkins recommends one of six scents—lemon for increased concentration and relaxation, lavender for stress relief, jasmine for lifting your mood, rosemary for fighting physical and mental fatigue, cinnamon for focus, or peppermint for energy.

If you’re feeling exhaustion, it may seem impossible to continue working. Don’t give up. If you take a moment to motivate yourself with one of these seven methods, you will be back in the swing of things before you know it. Which technique will you try first?

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