Just take a quick glance around the internet, and you’ll see countless articles and websites dedicated to helping people find ways to motivate themselves. It seems with all the distractions and diversions we have in our society, it’s almost impossible for people to find the drive to do anything these days.
So, if even fully abled-bodied people are having trouble motivating themselves, it’s easy to see why it can be even harder for people who are disabled.
A disability can make even the simplest everyday tasks difficult, and it becomes far easier to put those jobs off, when trying to deal with them can result in pain, frustration, or a debilitating increase in symptoms. But no matter what, those tasks still need to be done, and by putting them off, you only create further problems for yourself down the road.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a terrible procrastinator before I diagnosed with Meniere’s disease. And after I got sick, it only became worse. After all, why would I want to do anything, if it could send me into a tailspin of vertigo and nausea?
But this mindset only caused more problems in my life, and soon I wasn’t doing anything even on my good days. Things began to pile up, and important deadlines came and went.
I knew if I was to have any hope of getting my life in order, I was going to have to learn some techniques to motivate myself – even if I was suffering through severe episodes of Meniere’s disease.
I won’t lie to you – this required changing my entire mindset, and it wasn’t an overnight process. But by leaning heavily on existing research, I was able to slowly make positive changes in my life, and find ways to motivate myself even when I was at my sickest.
Improve Your Mood
If you’re serial procrastinator like I was, then your mood might be the culprit. New research has shown that one of the major causes of people procrastinating is that they are trying to avoid the anxiety and worry that comes with facing a major task.
And by putting off what needs to be done by watching television, or by wasting some time on social media sites, it actually makes you feel good for a short period of time by allowing you to forget about the task. But the negative feelings are only amplified when you miss the deadline, and it can lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of failure.
So you have to confront your feelings if you want to stop procrastinating. First, you have to acknowledge that they exist, and then that you have control over them. Once you can identify the reason for your behavior, you can start to take steps towards fixing it.
Surprisingly, the best way to combat the anxiety and worry surrounding a deadline, is through optimism. If you truly believe that you can do what needs to be done, often it will give you the push you need to at least get started.
In fact, the United States Army is currently training it drill sergeants to impart optimism in new recruits through their new resilience training regime. The Army realizes that the people who are successful in meeting deadlines are the ones who view setbacks as temporary and changeable – in other words, optimists.
And this is an important message to take to heart if you’re disabled. You will face setbacks, and you will have anxiety about accomplishing goals. But if you can stay positive, then you can motivate yourself to do what needs to be done.
However, don’t expect it to happen overnight. I’m still occasionally guilty of procrastinating, and science seems to lend credence to idea that some people are simply hardwired to be procrastinators. But now that I recognize the feelings fueling my procrastination, and can recognize the emotional cost of missing a deadline, I feel more motivated than I have at any other point in my life.
Do you ever wonder why if someone does well in elementary school, a teacher gives them a gold star? Or why if a child gets good grades, they are rewarded with ice cream? Both of these are examples of positive reinforcement, and by rewarding someone’s behavior with positive stimulus, it makes it more likely that it will occur again in the future.
And while you’ve most likely progressed past gold stars (but probably not ice cream), it’s still an excellent idea to use positive reinforcement to motivate yourself. And I think this is even more important when someone is disabled.
Your disability will already add additional challenges to your life, and if you encounter roadblocks every time you attempt to do something, eventually you won’t want to do it any longer. I know with my Meniere’s disease, there are simple chores I used to be able to do without a second thought. Now, those same chores can leave me spinning and sick on the floor.
But those chores still need to be done, and I’m not going to be motivated to do them if all I get out of it is being incredibly sick. But you know what does motivate me? Rewarding myself after completing them.
For example, when I finish cleaning the kitchen, I treat myself to watching a show on Netflix. Or if I get through 30 minutes of writing, I’ll give myself 15 minutes to read a good book. It doesn’t have to be a huge reward, but I always know there will be something positive once I’m done my work.
And I try to increase the rewards based on the difficulty of the job. One of the hardest things for me to do is cleaning the bathroom. As a typical male, I’d be more than happy to leave it until the mildew in the shower developed intelligence, and hatched a nefarious plot to take over the human race. But combine my natural dislike for tackling the bathroom, with the fact that the up and down of cleaning can trigger massive vertigo attacks, and I started to hate that chore with a passion.
So whenever I do it now, I always treat myself to something I really want afterwards. It sounds simple, but through positive reinforcement, I no longer dread cleaning the bathroom. And the same can work for anything else you need to do.
By rewarding yourself after you complete something – or even after making some progress towards a goal – it helps to give you the drive to keep going, and it’s a great way to motivate yourself.
Define Realistic Goals
If you do manage to motivate yourself, there is nothing worse for morale than failing to complete what you set out to do. I know I encountered this a lot when I first became disabled. I was desperate to find some way – any way – to support myself from home, so I set out ridiculous lists of things I had to accomplish every day.
Optimistically, it would have taken at least 12 hours to accomplish the lists of jobs I used to make for myself. And even then, that would be assuming that I was completely healthy, could skip meals and could work straight though – all at a time when I could barely get out of bed on most days.
What followed was an almost comical repeating chain of events. I would kill myself one day working on my books, websites and videos, and then the next day my symptoms would be so bad I couldn’t even move.
And my brain would register not being able to do anything as a failure, and it would take days – or even weeks – to get up the motivation to start going again. So, while I would have brief bursts of work, my failure to do all the tasks I set out for myself would eventually destroy my drive to do anything.
It took me a while to figure out that if I set more reasonable goals for myself, then the thrill of success would help me to keep working. It feels great to get something done, and it provided the motivation to keeping working, day after day, week after week.
Right now, I aim for a two-hour work day, and some days – if my symptoms are high – I can barely slog through it. Other days, I can breeze through it with no difficulty, and I’ll often keep working even after the two hours are up. But by meeting my goals, I can stay motivated day after day, and successfully support myself from home.
Scorched Earth Method
While the methods described above will work in most situations, sometimes there are days where you can’t motivate yourself no matter what you do. Maybe you’re feeling especially ill that day, or you’re having trouble getting your symptoms under control. And most of the time it’s alright to accept that you can’t do anything.
But sometimes you have no choice, and you absolutely have to motivate yourself. Maybe you have a pressing deadline, or perhaps you have no one you can rely on to get something incredibly important done. When you really have no other choice, I like to do something I called the scorched earth method – I leave nothing that can distract me.
I unplug the internet, turn off my phone (though you can also get a program to block social media for a short period of time), and find a location free of distractions to get down to work. It leaves me with two choices: stare at the wall for a few hours, or get started on what I need to get done.
And while I’m not proud to say I’ve gone the ‘stare at the wall’ route a few times, boredom always wins out, and I find a way to motivate myself to get my tasks done. It’s not pretty, and it may not be for everyone, but it is effective.