6 Tips for Feeling More Motivated in 2021

Emily Boynton Fact Checked
Woman on her computer cuddling with her dog
© Tadeu Dreyer / Stocksy United

The new year is so close you can taste it. 

Picture it: It’s 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2020, the clock is counting down and this incredibly difficult year is almost over. 

Admittedly, turning over the calendar will not be a magic cure for all of our problems: We will still be facing the pandemic, economic uncertainty and many unknowns. But the new beginning offers an opportunity for us to change our perspectives and find ways to feel less stuck. 

To help get you started, Patricia Areán, a clinical psychologist and professor in the UW School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, shares some ways to shift your perspective and feel a bit better heading into 2021. 

Set a meaningful goal for yourself

It's understandable if you are feeling worn down as the year comes to a close — so if a slate of new year’s resolutions seems overwhelming, we feel you. But done mindfully, setting a goal can help reset your mindframe and give you something to look forward to and work toward. 

The key is to select something that feels important to you, not something you feel you “should” be accomplishing. This will help give you a sense of purpose, which can lessen feelings of helplessness and build up your resiliency in tough times, Areán says. 

Low-stress ideas: To get started, write down what is important to you. To set a goal mindfully, consider what feels reasonable, exciting and achievable.

Start small 

Even equipped with meaningful goals and plans, it’s hard to change your thoughts and behaviors, especially if you are feeling anxious and sad.

“Motivation is a really hard thing,” Areán says. “It can help to take baby steps and break down the task at hand into much smaller, consumable goals.” 

The idea is that by starting small, it will be easier to show up for yourself. Maybe you start with just five minutes of an activity that you know will help you feel better, then work your way up.  

Low-stress ideas: If you want to connect with loved ones, schedule a short phone call. If you want to get more exercise, start with a walk around the block. If you want to help the community, donate food to a food bank. 

Create a list of feel-good activities

It can also be helpful to create a list of things that will boost your mood. This way, when you are feeling low, you already have ideas of what to do to help yourself feel better. 

“The activities don’t have to be expensive or require a lot of energy. It just needs to be a list of things that make you feel good,” Areán says.

Low-stress ideas: Listen to your favorite song, light a candle, draw a bath, take a nap, do some stretches, make some art or write down three things you are grateful for.

Focus on what you can control 

Uncertainty can disrupt some of your brain’s processes, like emotion regulation and threat detection, which can lead to stress and anxiety. 

“We know that changing your outlook can help reduce stress. Instead of focusing on what is bad, try to consider what you do have control over and what you can do to create change,” Areán says. 

While you can’t always control the circumstances, you can control how you respond to these stressors. If you notice yourself tipping into a slump, try not to fixate on what-ifs or worst-outcome scenarios. Shift your attention to things you can accomplish and allow yourself time and space to calm down.  

Low-stress ideas: If you notice yourself obsessively reading negative news or social media, take a break and unplug. To help yourself calm down, take some deep breaths, do a short meditation or try an at-home cognitive behavioral exercise.

Allow yourself bad days 

“Perspective change isn’t about suppressing emotion,” says Areán. “Recognize you are going to have bad days and feel emotional, and that there’s nothing wrong with that.”

If it’s accessible to you, Areán recommends taking a mental health day from work when you need it. You can also reach out to loved ones for support and seek help from a mental health therapist if you are having a hard time. 

Low-stress ideas: Be gentle with yourself on bad days. Wear some cozy socks or wrap yourself in a comfy blanket, sip some tea or journal about how you’re feeling. 

Take care of yourself

At the end of the day, a lot of what it means to change your perspective comes back to treating yourself well and with care. Getting some movement and enough sleep, eating nutritious food and staying hydrated will all help you feel better. 

Along with these general health pillars, work on being kind to yourself. It’s a fresh year with new possibilities. Although we don’t know what is ahead, we can treat ourselves and others with care, which is a pretty good place to start. 

Low-stress ideas: For physical health, drink a glass of water when you wake up, sneak veggies into your day by blending them in a smoothie or pasta sauce, or try for easy exercises throughout the day, like taking the stairs instead of an elevator. For emotional well-being, tell yourself affirmations, give yourself grace when you feel upset and celebrate the small wins.