Motivation during Isolation

By Tyler Smith

For most of my life I’ve been a musician and a runner. Both are things that require lots of self discipline and motivation. But now that we are all stuck at home with all the time in the world, why has it suddenly become so difficult to stay motivated? Why does lying in bed all day watching TV suddenly sound infinitely more appealing than spending my time pursuing what I love?

These questions are relevant to so many people, but the answer will never be one-size-fits-all.

For lots of musicians, the greatest contributor to this lack of motivation is having nothing to work towards. Why practice when there’s nothing to practice for? My next guaranteed obligation is a concert happening in spring of 2021… so you can imagine how difficult it must be to work towards that concert during spring of 2020.

Social media and other news outlets are also contributing to this rut in productivity. Firstly, we have the constant bombardment of pandemic statistics. Then we have to watch our wealthier citizens attempt to give life advice to those who don’t have the luxury of living their life “as normal.” It’s becoming increasingly difficult to stay up-to-date while also feeling good about the choices you’re making in response to being quarantined. 

In a Twitter post, Megalodon Marketing CEO Jeremy Haynes wrote,

If you don’t come out of this quarantine with either: 

1.) a new skill 

2.) starting what you’ve been putting off like a new business 

3.) more knowledge,

You didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline

Psychologist Dr. Alaa Hijazi brought up an interesting point in response, 

We are going through a collective trauma, that is bringing up profound grief, loss, panic over livelihoods, panic over loss of lives of loved ones. People’s nervous systems are barely coping with the sense of threat and vigilance for safety, or alternating with feeling numb and frozen and shutting down in response to it all… This cultural obsession with [capitalistic] ‘productivity’ and always spending time in a ‘productive,’ ‘fruitful’ way is absolutely maddening. 

What we need is more self-compassion, more gentle acceptance of all the difficult emotions coming up for us now, more focus on gentle ways to soothe ourselves and our pain and the pain of loved ones around us, not a whipping by some random fucker making us feel worse about ourselves in the name of ‘motivation.’”

So the obstacles keeping us from being motivated are the lack of near-future goals, the media propping up traumatic facts, and cyberbullying masked as “undeniable solutions.” But do not fret: there are some ways to avoid the hopeless feelings that many have begun to experience. 

Going back to the more specific case of the quarantined musician, something that I have found extremely helpful is managing your expectations and setting realistic goals. Although you think you have all the time in the world, practicing for 4+ hours a day might not be as realistic as it originally seemed. Starting with easily attainable goals of 45 to 60 minutes of daily practice, and slowly working your way up from there, will be much more fulfilling than meeting your 3 hour goal every now and then — while failing most of the time.

It’s also important to take breaks. Sometimes it feels like that is a waste of time, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. When you pursue tasks that require sustained attention, briefly taking your mind off the goal can help with motivation. For instance, doing activities that rely on different areas of your brain, such as reading a book, playing a game, taking a walk etc., really helps later on when you go back to your work.

The main takeaway is this: there are a lot of opinions going around about what you should be doing. So, don’t feel like you’re failing simply because you’re not maintaining the same level of productivity that your friends are. To return to the words of Dr. Hijazi,

We are going through a collective trauma, that is bringing up profound grief… What we need is more self-compassion, more gentle acceptance of all the difficult emotions coming up for us now… not a whipping by some random fucker making us feel worse about ourselves in the name of ‘motivation.’

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