Staying Motivated – In Search of the Magic Wand

We have all felt immobilized at one time or another, lacking motivation and falling into listlessness. Sometimes the feeling is induced by fear of the unknown or failure. At other times it occurs when 10 priorities are wrestling for attention. In these moments, many of us are more like small songbirds flitting from branch-to-branch than a bird of prey soaring with intense focus on its next meal.

So what is one to do?

Most people have mastered compiling a to-do list — and even attributing action steps. Perhaps your list is easily accessed from your phone, or maybe you prefer to write it down and post it in a prominent location.

While the to-do list is a starting point, it is rarely enough to stimulate an organic sense of motivation.

Think about it, “How many to-do lists have come to haunt you?” Have you ever purposely not looked at your list because you didn’t want to see how much there was to do…or how little had gotten done? Yup, I’ve been there too!

After exploring several strategies and approaches, I started to add a column to my to-do list called the “Reasons Why.” It is through this reflection that I engage with what I truly seek to accomplish. Here is example:

In the above example, what I REALLY seek to accomplish is captured in the “Reasons Why” column. When I read that column, it is much more motivating than the two action items listed under “Complete the Annual Report.” Completing the annual report falls more into the category of something that I need to do. The action items under that heading feel a bit perfunctory, whereas experiencing a sense of relief and feeling good, which appear in the “Reasons Why” column, are significantly more motivating. I really want to feel and experience both of those things! I also include a “Complete & Comments “ column, because we often just do, do, do and don’t pause to celebrate even the little successes. Additionally, I added a comment that will help me in the coming year.

By experimenting with different approaches you will likely find a strategy that works for you. The key is to apply your strategy daily, ideally reserving the same time (each day) for this type of planning. Practice motivating yourself, because if you can do that you can accomplish most anything!

Image of Magic Wand from
By Kay Kimball Gruder
Kay Kimball Gruder Assistant Director of Graduate Student Career Programs and Services Kay Kimball Gruder