How often do you wish for the motivation to…
Go for a walk? – Because now you’re feeling even more sluggish and unsettled in your body.
Start on that assignment? – Because you don’t want to repeat what happened last semester when you left things to the last minute and it became really stressful.
Clean the bathroom? – Because you feel guilty that you still haven’t done it even though it’s your turn to.
Organise a hang out with your friend? – Because you’d like to catch up and it’s been so long since you spoke.
What is motivation?
Motivation seems to be the holy grail of this decade. Something we search for and hope to find. Those who seem to have it frequently are viewed by society as “productive” or “successful”. Those who don’t seem to be "doing" a lot are sometimes judged negatively as “lazy” or having “failed” somehow.
Motivation is a multifaceted concept but for the purpose of this article, I’d like to show you that motivation (the energised, productive kind) is a universal human emotion and therefore will come and go as all emotions do. If we don't feel it at a given time, it doesn't mean we've "failed" or are "lazy". It just means we haven't gotten used to the habit of "doing" and overcoming the perceived need for motivation to be present before we start a task.
Wait, you don't need motivation to start?
In this article, I will also challenge the idea that we need to feel motivated before we do something. Of course, it makes things easier, but it isn’t a prerequisite.
So, from this perspective of motivation as an emotion, this feeling (internally or externally derived) will drive us to some specific behaviour (e.g. research the assignment topic) to achieve a particular goal/outcome (e.g. complete the assignment by the due date).
If we wait for motivation to come, we might be waiting a while. The main reason for this is because doing is usually the main thing that will elicit the motivated feeling. So the catchphrase, “Just Do It” does have some merit.
But if you’ve been struggling with low motivation, low energy, and/or low mood for a while, that’s obviously easier said than done. So here’s where we look to the power of 2 minutes.
Just start with 2 minutes
Let’s say you’ve been putting off cleaning the bathroom for weeks. Each time you mentally tell yourself, “I’ll do it this weekend”, but when the weekend comes around, there’s always something more interesting/engaging/fun that isn’t cleaning the bathroom. So once again the bathroom clean is put onto next week's list. Whoops!
You might feel guilty that this task was procrastinated or stressed because your housemates might bring it up with you since it’s your turn. This tension might build into a conflict which then ‘motivates’* you into action.
*This type of external motivation is usually avoidance or anxiety driven rather than the energised, productive motivation that we’ve been referring to.
When we set up tasks that have multiple steps and are time-consuming, this takes mental and emotional space to figure out or get past. You might say, “But it’s just cleaning, it should be straightforward and easy”. It could be if everything else in life is going well and you’re feeling settled. But if there’s external stressors (e.g. work), relationship conflict, or internal dissatisfaction, this extra load may seem unachievable at the time.
Thus, instead of looking at it as an all or nothing activity, which takes a lot of willpower to overcome (either I deep clean the bathroom to a spotless standard or I don’t), we allocate 2 minutes to starting the task and see how much we can do in that time.
How much can be done in 2 minutes?
When we decide to clean for 2 minutes, it’s less daunting because the pressure to finish the task isn’t there. Our only expectation is that we start and do the task for 2 minutes. This can become a bit of a game – a race against the clock. How much of the bathroom can I clean in 2 minutes? You might be surprised!
That’s one less step you need to work through. Set a timer for 2 minutes and see how far you get. At the end of the 2 minutes, if that’s all the energy you have to give, give yourself a pat on the back because that is 2 minutes into the task you’ve put off for weeks. Getting all the supplies out of the cupboard might be all you can do in 2 minutes. But now they’re out, ready for the next 2 minutes. You can repeat this process again when you want to spend your next 2 minutes on this and give yourself a little nudge and encouragement (you can do it!).
If instead, you feel like you still have energy after 2 minutes, you might also find yourself feeling that elusive motivation. You might be thinking, “Well I’ve already got everything out and I’m up. I might as well start cleaning too”. And you’ll probably be surprised by how far you get!
So, this feeling of motivation will usually come after you start doing things in line with your goal. The next time you have a spare 2 minutes (perhaps instead of scrolling through social media or while you wait for the kettle to boil), set your timer on 2 minutes and get started on something you’ve been putting off and feel the motivation come to you.
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