Mood and motivation often take a nose dive because of COVID-19 and all the problems of the pandemic. Shut downs, quarantine, loneliness, isolation, flashbacks, trauma triggers, bad memories, painful thoughts of the past… I wanted to offer several suggestions and a couple of psychology concepts that might help. That’s me, I love talking about psychology. I’m eager to help.
There’s a concept in the field of Positive Psychology called “Locus of Control.” It refers to the location of control over your life and your choices. If you feel that you’re the one controlling your choices, you have an internal locus of control. If you feel that you’re not in control because other people or circumstances are controlling your choices, then you have an external locus of control.
One of the problems is that when we feel that we are controlled by things outside of us, we feel frustrated, stressed, and sometimes angry. The point is that we can change our locus of control to internal locus of control and it can help us deal with the problems of mood and motivation during COVID-19 quarantine, stay-at-home, shelter-in-place, pandemic safety measures.
In our current situation with the pandemic, external circumstances are dictating our lives. We are able to rise above our circumstances to a certain extent. For example, depending on how you’re feeling, you probably enjoy a movie, feel inspired sometimes, get your work done, love your family and friends. There are many things that we can and do enjoy during lockdown, shelter in place, quarantine, confinement, whatever it’s called where you are. But concerns and fears continue to haunt us, depressing mood and killing motivation.
External circumstances do affect our moods. This has always been true. Job loss, relationship break-up, grief and so many other life changing circumstances are directly related to depression and anxiety. So how do you manage it? There are things we can do to help ourselves.
Deliberately change your mindset from being controlled to being in charge, from Being Controlled to Being In Control.
Control what you can control. Can you choose what to wear? Which email to answer first, or what to eat for lunch? If you can, choose a positive attitude. (If you can’t, be compassionate with yourself.) Sometimes, it’s possible to change your mood if you approach from a different direction. It doesn’t work to bludgeon yourself with positivity when you’re just not feeling it. Try a different approach. For example, try feeling curious or surprised.
Set goals. Seriously, our mood and motivation get a little boost when we set a goal or make a decision. Use that secret power source to improve your mood. There’s one condition: the goal needs to be something you feel an emotional commitment to. It doesn’t work if someone else sets the goal for you. Once you set a goal that is important to you, your emotional brain and your planning brain work will together to help you focus. Together, they will help you make better choices to do what it takes to achieve your goal. There’s a bonus, the emotional brain and the planning brain will help you ignore distractions and things that move you away from the goal.
Plan your day the night before. Make a schedule. Write a helpful TO DO list that will keep you moving towards a goal you care about. Write a mission or vision statement. Connect with your purpose. They all harness the synergy between the emotional and planning parts of the brain.
Incorporate external structure in your day. By external structure, I mean something that creates a schedule that is external to you that leads you to build your life around it. Work and school provide us external structure. They set a schedule and they assign work tasks. We build our lives around the schedule determined by them. If you no longer have the external structure that school and work provided, try to find substitutes that will help you structure your day. Structure creates a rhythm to our lives, for example, work then relax. We thrive on that kind of rhythm.
Plan your day the night before. You’ve probably heard the acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Oriented. (You have a timeline.) Make a SMART plan for your day. When you make a plan, your brain buys into it. When you wake up the next morning, if you remind yourself of your plan, it will get you moving sooner than if you had no plan at all and had to wake up and make a plan in the morning.
Set up accountability. Who or what would you feel accountable to enough that you would show up day after day, make you get up in the morning and provide enough structure that would lead you to accomplish your goals and meet your self-care needs? Like meditate to control stress?
Find ways to get motivated. Who or what would motivate you to get your work done? People are telling me about the fatigue of 10 hours a day of online meetings at major corporations. But they show up because they feel they must. It’s part of their job. They’re worn down but they keep showing up because the structure is in place. Because they need the job to pay their bills and survive, they keep working. If you are not used to working from home, it is harder to focus and do your work. Also, if you’re unemployed or underemployed, work doesn’t create enough structure in your life.
Work with your natural rhythms. Figure out when you are most productive and least productive. When have you accomplished the most? First, what time of day do you have the most energy? Save that part of the day for your highest priorities. Then, think deeply about yourself. When have you accomplished the most in your life? What motivated you?
In contrast, think about times when you accomplished the least. During those periods, why were you not motivated? What were your external circumstances? What prevented you from getting things done? Were you unemployed? Had you just suffered a break-up? Were you under stress? Depressed? Anxious? Did you fear rejection?
Find a challenge buddy. If there’s something big you’d like to do, but don’t quite have the motivation or courage to do it, talk with a friend or family member. Agree with them that you will push each other to be bold. Give each other mutual support and do it!
Counteract circumstances. Look for motivation, support and external structure. Here are a few suggestions on how to build them into your life. Make plans to meet online with co-workers, colleagues, friends and family. Create a group. Be a leader. If you don’t already have a video call app get one and arrange calls or work breaks with people.
Exercise. It’s is hugely important. It gives you energy, is good for your health, and helps you get into a good mood. Who could make you exercise? Would you do it if you knew your gym buddy was going to exercise as well? And would you do it if you had a family member who led a yoga class?
Have fun. Put on some music, dance, look at a joke website, watch funny videos. Use the power of your smile to change your mood. Laugh. It changes everything… even if only for a moment.
In Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, a book on Positive Psychology by its founder, Martin Seligman you can read about Locus of Control and other Positive Psychology concepts. Game changer.
Hallowell is my hero. Whether you’re distracted because you’re depressed, anxious, or have ADD, Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder, by Hallowell and Ratey has a lot of good coping skills to deal with distraction. He says, “Motivation overrides ADD.” Doesn’t that seem similar to getting energy from a goal that is meaningful to you?
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I am Natasha Walter-Fisk, LMFT, LPC. My specialty is helping women of all ages to manage anxiety and heal from painful experiences and trauma, as well as deal with any accompanying relationship problems or depression issues. If you aren’t doing well, please get help. I serve people in California, Colorado and international locations. If you’d like to schedule a free 20 minute consultation, please click the button below or email me at my HIPA compliant, confidential email, firstname.lastname@example.org.