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How Your Teen Can Motivate Themselves

A lot of teenagers talk to me about struggling with motivation, especially in the arenas of schoolwork and/or managing their time.  In today’s blog entry, I’ll focus on some ways people motivate themselves – it can be a learned skill – so you may want to forward this entry to your teen, as I’ll focus more on what individuals can do versus what you can do as a parent to motivate.  If you as an adult struggle with motivation – which many of us do – I’m hopeful that these tips will help you as well.

1. Find some things that DO motivate you –

You may not inherently feel motivated to read a zillion for your history project, but find out what DOES motivate you and use those things to your advantage.  As humans, we are naturally wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and we can use that to our advantage by creating rewards and consequences for ourselves.  Put a reward after the activity you need to do and/or put a consequence for if you don’t complete said task.  Try to work in ‘everyday things’ into your motivational plan (ie, it doesn’t have to be a big thing or cost money/ a lot of money).  Brainstorm some things that motivate you – they can be anything, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • ____ minutes of watching a show
  • ____ minutes of screen time/ phone time (eg, “When I complete this part of the project, then I can go on my phone for a bit”)
  • ____ minutes of social media
  • Snack
  • Meal (eg, “I can’t have lunch until I finish this math homework”)
  • Dessert/ sweet
  • Coffee or tea
  • Going for a walk, swimming, etc
  • Have a friend over
  • Go to a friend’s house
  • Spending money (eg, “I can’t buy [that thing] until I’m done with my essay”)
  • Go out for Starbucks, Jamba Juice, etc

2. Create a schedule for yourself –

Building habits takes time.  I’d argue that there are things in your daily schedule that were not always habits but, now that they are, you hardly have to think about them or get motivate to do them.  (eg, brush your teeth every morning and evening, feed the dog first thing in the morning, etc).  Creating a schedule can really help structure your time, organize your “to dos”, and keep you on track.  Factor in the times of day you are naturally more productive or attentive; schedule harder tasks for your more productive times and easier tasks for times when you’re more sleepy or what not.  Bonus points for if you can find places where you are less distracted.  (eg, Do you need to do your homework not in your bedroom because you get too distracted?)   Schedules are best when they’re written out in a planner, on a calendar, in an app on your phone, and/or by setting alarms on your phone (eg, 4:00PM “time to start math homework”)

3. Find tasks that suit your mood, when possible –

When you have multiple to-do list items, doing tasks suited to your mood at the time will still help you accomplish things by the end of the day or week but in a way perhaps more fitting to your natural level of motivation that particular day or time.  Just do something that’s on your list.

4. Break tasks into smaller chunks –

Sometimes what we call laziness or lack of motivation can also be attributed to feeling OVERWHELMED.  When a task feels too big and daunting, it can be hard to get started.  Say you’re trying to save $100 for xyz event you want to go to; well, you might luck out and find a $100 bill on the street that you can just pick up, but more likely you’ll need to break this task down into ways to save money and make more money to get to your goal.  If you focus on one small step at a time, you’ll eventually reach the bigger goal but it won’t be so overwhelming.  Bonus points for working in some of those rewards and consequences in for meeting these smaller parts of the goal.

5. Find an accountability partner –

It can help to work with a friend or family member on goals whether you have the same goal or not.  Other people are depending on you [to do your part of the group project ahead of time, to be ready to leave the house at a certain time, to meet them to work out together].  Maybe find a study buddy, even if it’s just FaceTime while you’re doing your homework at the same time as each other.  Peer pressure can work in good ways– surround yourself with people who have similar goals and are focusing on and doing the things you’d like to be doing as well.

6. Be a good friend to yourself/ be your coach –

While sometimes put downs work to motivate us, we generally do better when we feel encouraged and believed in.  Putting yourself down for not doing something is less effective than saying encouraging things to yourself.  (eg, “You can do it!”; “You got this!”; “You only have to be patient for a few more minutes!”).  When you treat yourself like a dear friend, you’re being kind to yourself as you’re taking on these things that are challenging.   (see also my blog on optimism at https://hopeintherapy.com/optimism-or-lack-there-of-and-your-teenager/ )  Put up sticky notes on your bathroom mirror, your computer, or somewhere visible in your room with inspiring messages on them.

7. Picture the end result –

Visualize the outcome of the task and how good you will feel about it and yourself when it’s completed.  You may not feel motivated to clean your room, but if you can visualize how nice your room will be and feel [and smell??], that can be motivating to do the heavy lifting.  Speaking of a clean room, a tip for staying focused is that an organized room where you can find things and you’re not living in chaos is generally more peaceful for your mind and your outlook, not to mention will save you time not sorting through piles and piles to find the supplies you need. 

8. Picture the further out end result/ focus on your future –

You may not feel inherently motivated to do your Spanish homework, study, and get a good grade in the class, but if you’re motivated by the idea of graduating high school on time, not having to repeat a class if you fail it, or getting in to a good college, use those things as motivators. 

9. Add doses of motivation to your social media feed –

Follow motivating and inspirational people and quotes on your social media accounts.   Follow hashtags that are motivational, specific people you admire and find inspirational (celebrity figures, usually), and specific things for what you’re trying to motivate yourself for (eg, if it’s for fitness then you might follow #fitnessmotivation, #teenfitness, etc)

My business instagram page aims at providing inspiring content, if you’d like to check that out at https://www.instagram.com/suegoetzlcsw/

NEED MORE?/ Therapy with Sue

Many people struggle with motivation.  People struggling with mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, or ADD/ ADHD can tend to have even more difficulty in following through on tips like the ones I provided in today’s blog.  Sometimes therapy is a good next step.  If you live in California and might be interested in therapy for your teen or yourself, please contact me, I would love to hear from you. I have an office in midtown Sacramento, an office in El Dorado Hills, and also do telehealth therapy through a secured video conferencing platform. I can be reached at https://hopeintherapy.com/contact/ or (916) 764-8360.

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