How to Motivate Yourself When You Want to Give Up: 9 Easy Exercises

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Leslie Ye
Leslie Ye




Over a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a now-famous address that immediately cemented its place in the Motivational Speech Hall of Fame.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,” Roosevelt said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.”

Well … yeah. Roosevelt was right -- decisions are made (and victories claimed) by those who show up. But maintaining that kind of resilience day in and day out is easier said than done. On days when you’ve been pummeled with one setback after another and have worked 12 hours straight with no end in sight, how do you keep going?

You could quit. Or you could read on for nine ways to buck yourself up and work through it.

How to Motivate Yourself When You Feel Like Quitting

1) Keep a running list of wins to refer back to when the going gets tough.

HubSpot sales rep Greg Fung has a simple, ingenious way of keeping discouragement at bay. Fung keeps an Evernote list of all the sales deals he feels he’s unjustly lost -- the “wrongs” -- along with their value, and does the same with his sales wins and job-related “gifts.”

“Keeping a record of where I've been ‘wronged’ actually helps me mentally release the negativity,” Fung says. “And more importantly, when I tally up the dollar amounts for both columns, I find that my ’rights’ far outweigh the ‘wrongs.’”

2) Set the right mood with the right music.

Our environment can have a huge impact on our moods, and while you can’t control the weather or the traffic, you can set the right tone with music. There’s real science behind the way we react to different types of music -- for example, research suggests that video game soundtracks improve concentration, while nature sounds could enhance cognitive function. 

3) Pump yourself up with a motivational video.

For some of us, a song just might not cut it -- maybe you need a more direct message, or maybe you (like me) can quickly tune out music as background noise. Never fear. If you need a quick jolt of inspiration, try a video to get your blood flowing.

4) Set a morning routine.

Your willpower is strongest in the morning, so start your days off right. Making a routine of the things you need (or want) to do each morning will make it easier to get through the rest of your day, because you’ll be starting every day having accomplished something. Buffer has compiled a list of uber-successful people’s morning routines (think Anna Wintour and Margaret Thatcher) -- check them out for inspiration.

5) Knock out a few quick wins in the first half hour of each day.

This one requires reframing how you view a “win.” It doesn’t have to be a successful connect call -- leaving a great voicemail or sending a good prospecting email are both small, yet significant, things you can celebrate.

While you should always be working on improving your weak areas, there’s no reason to start your days discouraged. Prioritizing the things you’re great at allows you to start off your day strong and puts you in the right frame of mind to stay positive and focused.

6) Start your most difficult task the day before.

Oftentimes, the hardest part of completing a difficult project is simply to get started. When I write long blog posts like this one, I don’t try to complete it all in one fell swoop -- even though I could, it’s not the way I prefer to work. The psychological burden of knowing I have to research, outline, write, and format a post all in one day causes me to procrastinate and dread starting.

But I’ve found a system that circumvents this problem. I spend the last part of each day researching and outlining the posts I’m going to write the next day, so that when I head into the office each day to write I know I’m not starting from scratch. This technique accomplishes two things:

  1. Outlining requires less brainpower than writing. Outlining posts the day before keeps me productive at the end of my day, when my willpower is drained and it’s harder for me to focus.
  2. I can dive straight into the most challenging part of my day as soon as I sit down. This sets the tone for the rest of my day and keeps me moving forward instead of getting sidetracked or discouraged.

If you have a big meeting you need to prepare for or a major project you have work on tomorrow, start it today or create a plan for how you’re going to tackle it. You’ll be amazed by how much more you accomplish when you do a little prep work.

7) Do something every day that makes you happy.

We don’t procrastinate because we’re lazy or have poor work ethic -- generally, it’s because we’re unhappy. In Temptation: Finding Self-Control in an Age of Excess, journalist and public policy scholar Daniel Akst wrote that ultimately, “procrastination is a mood-management technique.”

Build some simple joys into your routine. Take time out of your schedule every month to volunteer for a cause that matters to you, put on a favorite piece of music while you’re brushing your teeth, or do something as simple as packing a lunchtime treat for yourself in the morning.

8) Reward yourself.

In his landmark study, Ivan Pavlov trained a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell by ringing it every time he brought the dog food. While I certainly don’t mean to compare you to a dog, you can hack your brain the same way to great effect.

“Research shows that rewards are responsible for three-quarters of why you do things,” neuroscience blogger Eric Barker writes. “So treat yourself whenever you complete something on your to-do list.”

9) Use the “chameleon effect” to get inspired.

1-800-GOT-JUNK? founder Brian Scudamore uses the chameleon effect to feed off the energy of a particularly focused or driven employee when he’s feeling distracted. Simply by sitting next to his more focused colleague, Scudamore is able to mentally reset and get himself back on track.

Feeling down at work? Go find the most enthusiastic, motivated person you know -- the one who bleeds your company colors, always seems to have a new side hustle, and actually follows through. Grab coffee with them and feed off their good energy.

How do you motivate yourself? Let us know in the comments below.

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