Motivation can be elusive at the best of times, but if you’re feeling low, getting motivated can be almost impossible. The last thing you should do is completely give up on your goal – if anything, taking positive steps towards it can improve your mood.

The key to moving forward and rebuilding your motivation is to take small steps that are easy and achievable. Nabbing a ‘win’ will improve your mindset and set you on course to achieving your goals. Wondering how you could possibly win when you feel like you’re about to lose? Here are seven things to try.

How to get motivated when feeling low
How to get motivated when feeling low

Set a Single Goal

If you’re feeling melancholy, your mind is likely to be muddled too. When you’re in a negative headspace and not preoccupied with work, your mind tends to go on overdrive. There can be a lot of negative self-talk. You starting thinking about how you’re not doing the right things. And if you’re ignoring a task, you may be reasoning with yourself as to why, thinking of good excuses, or even doing a million other ‘important’ things to justify not starting.

The key to moving forward and rebuilding your motivation is to take small steps that are easy and achievable.

A messy mind will only worsen a sour mood because it can leave you feeling frazzled and stressed about many things. Instead, do yourself a favor and set your focus to one goal at a time. It doesn’t have to be the task that you’re avoiding (although we address how you can make that easier later in the article), you just need to choose to do one thing at a time and be more mindful about it. This will give you the energy and brain space to complete the task well. It will also help to ease an overactive and anxious mind.

Turn a Need into a Want

There are two kinds of motivation: positive and negative motivations. A positive motivation focuses on the rewarding benefit of achieving a goal. For example, a graphic designer working toward a deadline might think: ‘Once I finish this design, I’ll have a new project to add to my portfolio’. If that same designer was driven by negative motivation, their thought toward the deadline might be: ‘If I don’t finish this design, this client will give future projects to someone else.’

Do yourself a favor and set your focus to one goal at a time.

Both can be helpful depending on the situation, but if you’re in a negative mood, a negative motivation mindset can make it worse. You need all the energy you can get when you feel low, which is why you should harness the power of positivity.

It’s much easier to do something because you want to do it rather than doing it because you are scared or feel obliged to. If you use negative motivation, you may still get the task done, but you’re likely to procrastinate for longer and could end up putting yourself under unnecessary pressure. This will probably make you feel worse, it won’t help motivate you in the future, and you’ll probably do a poor job. If you approach the task with a more positive outlook, you’ll want to get started sooner, feel better about it, and you’ll probably put more effort in because you enjoy the work.

Visualize Your Win

Faking it until you make it can be another helpful technique for finding motivation, but when you’re feeling sub-par, even that can be too much to ask. Instead, what you can do is simply imagine yourself working towards your goal in your mind.

It’s much easier to do something because you want to do it rather than doing it because you are scared or feel obliged to.

Visualization can be a powerful and effective motivational tool. It can help you to re-focus and get positive by reminding yourself of the great feelings that come with completing your task. The key is to let your imagination run wild. Make your visualization vivid and imagine every detail. Sitting with your eyes closed (but on the prize) won’t take much effort, but it can be just the spark you need to fire up your productive engine.

Start Small and Snowball

When you find the energy to get started, choose a task that’s small. The last thing you need when you’re feeling unmotivated and upset is another setback. A failure can send you spiraling in the wrong direction. Instead, set yourself up for success by starting with tasks that are so tiny and easy, that they are impossible to fail at.

Break your task down into tiny wins that slowly turn into more involved assignments, until eventually everything is done. If your goal is to eat healthier, break it down. You might start on the first day by taking your coffee without sugar. The next day you could also eat fruits instead of processed snacks. Then you could stop snacking at all before bedtime. After a few days of those actions, you could choose to replace one of your meals with a salad at least three times a week. Eventually, you’ll build up to writing your first weekly meal plan.

Break your task down into tiny wins that slowly turn into more involved assignments, until eventually everything is done.

Taking baby steps is much easier than going for broke straight away, especially if you’re feeling sensitive. If you’d tried the meal plan from the get-go and failed, you would have felt worse and abandoned it altogether. Try to get some wins under your belt. This will help to build habits slowly and improve your mindset. You’ll also have the power of momentum to help move you forward.

Just Begin

Getting started can often be the toughest part. When we procrastinate, we can get stuck in our minds and build the task up into something worse than it actually is. The easiest way to overcome this is to simply begin. Bite the bullet. Don’t worry about perfection. Just start.

If you’re feeling low, set your one and only simple goal as ‘starting’. Write one word. Do one minute of exercise. Create a project folder on your computer. Just do something – anything to start. You might find that a simple action is all you need to get going and you may exceed your expectations and actually finish what you set out to do. Or you might decide to stop after five minutes. No matter what, you chose to do something. And when you’re not feeling motivated and feeling a bit rough, that is enough.

Remember to be kind to yourself. Do what you can, and set a goal to take the next step the next day. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re still moving in the right direction.

Try Doing it Differently

When the thought of doing a task is plaguing your mind with negative thoughts, switch things up, and do it differently. This can help you to detach the negative feelings that you built up in your head from the task.

If you’re feeling low, set your one and only simple goal as ‘starting’. Write one word. Do one minute of exercise. Create a project folder on your computer. Just do something – anything to start.

For example, if your goal was to exercise every day and you planned to go for a run, but couldn’t bear the thought of it: do something else instead. Go to a gym class, go for a swim, play with your dog for an hour, or do some yoga. Changing your perspective or approach to a goal could be all you need to get reinvigorated. It’s the equivalent of sleeping upside down when you’re tossing and turning.

By trying a different, but equally effective approach you shake things up and rid yourself of the stale feelings and thoughts that you associated with your task.

Call for Help

Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. This is particularly true when you’re doing it tough. It’s hard to lift yourself out of a negative spiral, which is why you should turn to the encouragement of others when you can.

Finding a friend to speak to can help in many ways. They can offer their perspective and encouragement, and you’ll get to air your woes out. Sometimes simply speaking to someone and feeling heard is all you need to feel a bit better. If it’s possible, you could ask a friend to join you in working towards a goal. This way you can share in the struggles, hold each other accountable, and cheer each other on. This is very effective when you are working towards the same goal – exercise for example, as you can exercise together.

If you’re working on different goals, you can still check in on each other. Telling a friend about your goal is like making your goal public, but with a lot less pressure as you are holding yourself accountable to someone you trust. When you’re not feeling the best, the safety net of failing with a friend can make all the difference!

Just one positive thing

When you’re feeling low and without motivation, it’s important to take it slow but still move forward. Your goal shouldn’t get thrown out the window because you’re in a slump. Instead, acknowledge your situation and find ways to work toward your goal that are attainable. Turn your impossible problem into one small solvable one. One small win can make a big difference, and it starts with one positive thing.

Back at the beginning of the article, we said that getting motivated when you feel low was almost impossible. It reads as overwhelmingly heavy, but one word makes all the difference. Almost inserts a little glimmer of hope. It isn’t impossible. The odds may be stacked up against you, but you’re still in the game. You just need to see and focus on the almost.

There’s something positive that you can do in your situation. You just need to slow down and find it. Finding and acting on one positive thing at a time keeps goals realistic, achievable, and in motion even if you feeling down.