A Behavioral Psychologist’s Top 5 Motivating Tips to Get Out of Bed on Hard Mornings

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If you're having trouble finding the motivation to get out of bed in the morning, join the club. My morning ritual for the past month has been waking up to my joyless alarm, remembering what's going on in the world, having heart palpitations, and then debating with myself whether I'd be best served just living under the covers until the coronavirus crisis calms. Ultimately I get up and start my day, leaning on old habits to help me feel some semblance of normalcy. (And in the spirit of focusing on what I can control right now, I also recently switched my alarm to Prince's "Raspberry Beret," so now I can least look forward to one joyful thing every morning.)

If you struggle with certain mental health issues, getting out of bed on hard mornings may have already been a Herculean task. But now that every morning is a hard morning, harnessing that strength may seem even less feasible

"Mornings are a particularly difficult time for people struggling with depression and anxiety as they contemplate a full day stretching out ahead of them that seems to be full of overwhelming threats and dangerous situations," says licensed psychologist Selena Snow, PhD, who focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy. "It can be tempting to respond with avoidant behaviors such as going back to bed where it feels safe, and there are no demands to meet or threats of failure."

"The loss of structure and routine can make it even harder to get out of bed in this new environment." —psychologist Selena Snow, PhD

And even if you feel relatively stable in terms of mental health, WFH life and the all-sweatpants (or no-pants) dress code it brings provides for even less motivation to get out of bed. "This loss of structure and routine can make it even harder to get out of bed in this new environment," Dr. Snow says.

Not to worry, though: Dr. Snow has a few strategies to help you find the motivation to get out of bed on no good very bad days (which, ya know, can feel like a lot of them as of late).

1. Schedule a recurring activity for yourself

It helps to plan something in advance for the morning so that there is a reason to wake up and get out of bed, even if you are no longer required to get to work. "You can plan to listen to a webinar or podcast at a particular time in the morning, so that it can help you get yourself up," says Dr. Snow.

2. Make yourself accountable for something

When you get someone else involved in your productivity, you're more likely to follow through so you don’t disappoint or inconvenience them. Likewise, if you're social distancing solo, making an early-morning phone date can provide you with something to look forward to.

"Your motivation to get out of bed can be enhanced by planning with a friend that you will both work out in the morning from your own homes or follow an online exercise routine at the same time from your respective locations," says Dr. Snow. You can also make yourself accountable for helping someone else: If you know your sister has her hands full with her kids, for instance, you could read them story over video conference, or help them with their homework.

3. Chunk large projects into smaller, more manageable units

As I write this, I have 22 items on my to-do list, which may sound like a nightmare, but I've already completed eight of them before lunchtime, which makes me feel great about myself. I've been able to accomplish this because those 22 items are actually bigger tasks that have been broken down into more manageable micro-tasks.

"Rather than tell yourself that you need to get a whole report out today or submit five job applications, try breaking the task into smaller subsets and plan to start with just the first piece. Then go forward from there in a steady and incremental way so that the task does not feel as overwhelming and huge," says Dr. Snow. "This will make it easier to get out of bed and get started on the first step of these tasks."

Even if you don't complete every item on your to-do list (which is totally okay, now especially), when you track the steps, all bits of progress will feel like an accomplishment.

4. Set realistic and attainable goals so you feel you have a chance to be successful

If the mention of to-do lists in the previous tip made you grimace, no worries. You might find it easier to look more broadly at short- and long-term quarantine goals.

"Start small, and then add more to the goal so that you can achieve a feeling of accomplishment without becoming overwhelmed and opting to stay in bed," says Dr. Snow.

5. Incorporate self care and relaxation into your plan for the day

Finally, make sure you dedicate a moment to self care every day. The reality is that not everyone's COVID-19 experience will look exactly the same. Some people aren't working at all, and some are working longer than ever. Maybe you're absorbed with extracting yourself from survival mode, or you're juggling the well-being of an entire household. So whether you have 14 hours of free time or 14 minutes or 14 seconds, give yourself a reliable self-care practice that you can look forward to.

"If your agenda for the day consists solely of myriad tasks to accomplish with little opportunity to relax and engage in anything enjoyable, it may be tempting to avoid all those unpleasant tasks and just stay in bed," says Dr. Snow. "Review your plan for the day and create some balance so that you intend to accomplish some chores and work, but also carve out time to relax and engage in pleasant activities."

The running theme is that even when the general outlook seems grim, having something you can look forward to can make all the difference for motivating you to get out of bed and have an as-good-as-possible day.

By the way, this is how to stay motivated to work from home when uh...there's a lot going on right now. And going back to the bedroom, here are five tips to quell your worry before bedtime.

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