How to stay motivated in these uncertain times

Is the current coronavirus crisis affecting your motivation?


Many of us are currently in lockdown at home as part of the emergency restrictions to combat Covid-19 coronavirus, and now that the measures have been extended further, many people are finding themselves wondering how to keep their motivation going in these difficult circumstances. Of course, many people are working, either from home or a workplace, but despite a daily routine, motivation to stay on task may still be a problem. There are many also whose normal routine has been disrupted and who are finding it difficult to adapt to a new routine and to engage in normal activities in what are surely abnormal times.


While accepting that by staying at home and not risking the lives of other people through catching or passing on the coronavirus is the best thing we can do right now, some people report feeling that they are under pressure to ‘achieve’ something during this time, a demand, real or perceived, that is not always easy to fulfill and can lead to feelings of guilt. Just recently a friend remarked that she hears others talking of catching up on reading and such like (she was even given a lock-down reading list!) and yet she finds that she has no interest in even picking up a book. Another said she was envious of a colleague who is managing to complete her degree during this enforced period of isolation while she herself is struggling to do the simplest of things. Psychologists tell us that this is not an unusual reaction to a very serious crisis and many people are trying to negotiate their way through this new reality while being concerned for the health of loved ones or for their employment, juggling work and family demands or feeling isolated in their homes. Many of us are separated from family and friends or may be in a state of constant anxiety at the severity of the situation which hits us every day through news reports. It's not surprising that so many people lack the motivation to engage in regular activities.


I found myself in this situation during the beginning days of the crisis. I was consuming too much news from TV and social media and talking too much about the current situation, which led to increased feelings of anxiety and generally being unable to concentrate on any normal activities. Each day was passed in a surreal haze, from which I really thought I would shortly emerge. However, as the days went on, a more ‘permanent’ reality set in and I realised that I was going to have to do something to change the situation, for the sake of my own mental health and the sanity of those around me!


This works for me on most days, and on those other days, where the enormity of the situation begins to overwhelm me, I just allow myself to feel overwhelmed and know that this feeling too will pass and things will seem brighter again.

Meditate!


During lock-down I started a practice of taking a guided meditation in the morning and this has helped me to become much more effective in the daily activities which I undertake. Taking these few minutes to breathe, to allow myself to feel what I am feeling without judgement, to realise that thoughts are just thoughts and that they can be changed, is a very valuable daily practice. Meditation helps to ground me for the day ahead, helps me to clear my mind of clutter, helps me decide how I want to feel in the day and gives me the tools to react more calmly to whatever life might throw my way. If I want to be of use to anyone else, which most of us want to be, I must take this time of self-care.


I found my initial ‘go-to’ guided meditations on www.dermotwhelan.com, where there are a number of meditations perfect for getting the day off to a good start. In his meditations Dermot speaks of the importance of taking time for ourselves before we start our day and reveals scientific evidence which shows that 30 minutes of daily meditation actually changes the shape of our brain; the fear centre of our brain shrinks with regular meditation, leading to a reduction of anxiety in our lives. As well as the importance of taking quiet time to get centred for the day, meditation also has the advantage of helping me focus on breathing and consciously deepen my breathing, which in turn leads to more feelings of calm. Dermot’s approach is non-judgemental and geared towards beginners, which appeals to me. Well worth trying out, in my opinion!





Exercise


Exercise is an important part of my ‘motivation regime’ and if I get myself out for a walk (especially a photography walk), to do gardening, or to do some physical pursuit rather than sitting around succumbing to feelings of anxiety, it gets air into my lungs, puts a ‘spring in my step’ and increases motivation to do other things. The strange thing about exercise is that when we think we don’t have the energy for it, that’s the very time we need it to boost our energy! In other words, those times in which I feel less motivated to get up and do something physical are the very times that I need to ‘persuade’ myself to do just that!



Be open to changed circumstances


When I eventually accepted that life as I had been living it prior to the pandemic was no longer a reality (for the foreseeable future at least!) I realised that only I could make the changes that I needed to make to help myself through this time. I wanted to continue writing my blog and continue photography, but in order to do that I had to get myself into a better place mentally.

As I can't go out shooting right now, I needed to change my approach, rather than lament the fact that I can’t get out and about. As a result, I have taken an interest in close-up photography (not macro, as I haven't invested in a macro lens yet!) and consequently I’ve discovered the wonderful world that opens up around us when we look more closely. I particularly love getting out into my garden and there are also opportunities inside to experiment with this type of photography.







At first look, my garden doesn’t appear to have anything worth photographing, but getting closer with my camera reveals the beauty in the ordinary.





As a bonus, there are lots of photo challenges online asking people to submit their macro and close-up images. Dublin Photography School, which runs excellent face to face courses in normal times, is posing challenges on its Facebook page which can all be done close to home. Learn something new and try it out


Most of us have something that we enjoy doing when we have the time, energy and interest to follow that pursuit. When we are lacking in motivation and ‘can’t be bothered’, when it’s easier to sit in front of a screen and be entertained, that might be a time to look at our real interest with new eyes. Maybe we can learn about a new aspect of our hobby and take our knowledge and understanding to a deeper level. If you are not among those souls who are motivated to learn a new language or acquire a degree during lock-down, you might be willing to start where your interest already lies and do what you’ve always enjoyed doing but in a slightly different way. I recently heard results of a survey which says that an increased number of people are enjoying cooking in a new way - experimenting with recipes and bringing new enjoyment and satisfaction to a previously mundane task. 'Quarantine cooking’ may have taken off in such a big way because it was something that most people were doing anyway and this time gives them a chance to improve and make that activity more interesting.


During a stressful time, I always find that it’s easier to learn something new in an area in which I already have an interest, rather than starting anew from scratch. It's always good to have an activity that we can become absorbed in and which can clear our minds of worries. For this reason, and since I love photography, I have been delighted with the amount of photography related classes which are free online or available for a minimal fee, and I've found myself with the luxury of being able to decide an area in which I'd like to up-skill and being able to choose a class or course accordingly.


Nikon is offering free classes online until the end of April with the aim of ‘helping creators stay inspired, engaged and growing’ in this uncertain time. Lessons, which vary from beginners' classes to more advanced classes, can be found at https://www.nikonevents.com/us/live/nikon-school-online/


Digital Photography School https://digital-photography-school.com/?s=macro+photography has been providing my learning about macro and close-up photography. This site offers free, informative tutorials on almost every aspect of photography from a range of contributors.


I have also taken a free course with photographer and teacher, Anthony Epes, who, as well as teaching photography also teaches classes about post processing, something I am beginning to delve into. Below is a link to how Anthony Epes works on an image in Lightroom. His approach is to make processing creative and artistic, which is a way of working that appeals to me.

https://members.citiesatdawn.com/art-of-processing-freebie?

utm_source=Cities+at+Dawn+photo+inspiration&utm_campaign=9e2e0d3ad1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_03_30_06_24&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d2f8871f40-9e2e0d3ad1-171731585&goal=0_d2f8871f40-9e2e0d3ad1-171731585&mc_cid=9e2e0d3ad1&mc_eid=46057e3a23


Dublin Photography School has a range of interactive online classes which are proving very popular and are filling up quickly. These are available at minimal cost on http://photographycourseireland.ie/





Set a new goal


Unless I outline clear goals for each day I can allow my motivation to slide so I have set myself the task of doing some photography related activity each day. It can be taking a photograph, reading a photography tutorial, listening to a podcast, watching a video or working on processing some photographs. As my blogging site was the area that was suffering most from my lack of motivation, I have made a commitment to increase my output and so far I have managed to do that. Most of my recent blogs have been efforts to respond to the crisis that is on-going and to see how my blog fits in to a world dominated by this coronavirus pandemic. As the situation is set to continue for some time yet I want to try to tailor my blogs accordingly while not over-focusing on the same topic. My plan to develop my skills in the area of street photography has had to take a back seat for now but I am finding that, with a bit of readjustment, I can set a new trajectory for the current reality.


Control our social media exposure


There has been a definite increase in social media chat groups since the onset of coronavirus. In some ways this is a welcome development as it keeps us connected with friends and family in these times of social distancing. On the negative side, we run the risk of becoming more and more overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material coming into our phones, and for many this is becoming a distraction from other pursuits. Many of us seem to be suffering from FOMO, aka fear of missing out, yet we are becoming increasingly stressed by the demands which social media places on us. Many people are feeling stressed by the sense that social media is invading what used to be their private space. With the increase in chat groups, both work and social, there is a corresponding increase in information and mis-information as well as the re-circulating of videos, anecdotes, jokes and inspirational messages, and an unprecedented upsurge in the number of memes flooding our inboxes. As a result, many people are complaining of a ‘social media overload’. So, what do we do to relieve this stress in a world in which we rely so much on that same social media interaction?


I have tried to work out a few solutions to this dilemma for myself, to save myself from social media overload. The first thing I had to do was to let go of my need to reply to everything, while solution number two was to let go of my need to receive replies to everything I post. Both solutions required a change in thinking as it seems to be a human need to give and receive recognition online.


I belong to a group whose original purpose has been somewhat lost amid coronavirus clutter, so I must make decisions as to what I read, respond to or forward. I must ask myself, is it positive? Does it fit with my values? Do I feel good about passing this on to someone else? If the answer is no, then I don’t! Not everyone has the same tastes or values, we have to be true to our own.


It’s important to take a break. We don’t have to always be ‘online’, either physically or mentally. I need to remind myself to take breaks from my phone, from being constantly bombarded with information. We might be self-isolating yet still feel overwhelmed by people online so instead of succumbing to FOMO, enjoy JOMO. This is not about distancing ourselves completely but about taking a break and doing something else more positive, experiencing the joy of missing out! I have to remember that I have sole control over what I access on my phone and if I’m becoming overwhelmed and allowing social media to consume too much of my life, it’s up to me to do something about it.


Read motivational articles


Instead of starting my day with a dose of negative news (of which there is plenty) I try to find an article that takes a more positive slant on what is going on in the world, particularly if I know the writer’s story to be genuine, as in the case of this piece from sports commentator and writer Richie Sadlier, which I came across recently. What appeals to me is that Richie names his fears and anxieties, which are common to so many today, but he also gives a simple solution which works for him.


Richie Sadlier: ‘I’ve learned the best strategy for me is to limit my thoughts to today’ (via @IrishTimes) https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/richie-sadlier-i-ve-learned-the-best-strategy-for-me-is-to-limit-my-thoughts-to-today-1.4209830


I also came across this article in which people with ‘lived experience’, among them artists, thinkers and activists, were asked to share their wisdom and give some advice on coping with this uncertain time.


https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/sharing-wisdom-in-a-time-of-crisis-25-ways-to-live-your-life-to-the-full-1.4221431




Starting my day with some words of wisdom from people who have earned the right to pass on that wisdom is a way to help clear my mind of negative thoughts and become more motivated


These are just some of the techniques I have begun to employ to lessen my negative reactions to the ongoing crisis and to increase my motivation to try to keep life as normal as possible. These strategies will not work for everyone but what I offer are those things that have worked for me and have helped me keep motivated to some extent rather than having to face the prospect of looking back in the future to wasted, unproductive days.


One interesting tip for a photography related project during lock-down was to ‘give some love’ to the thousands and thousands of photographs sitting on our computers (well, maybe hundreds in my case!). So, I had a look back through my old folders, pulled out a few images that I had rejected first time round and gave them a bit of a makeover in Lightroom.















A podcaster that I admire recently suggested that we should ask ourselves at the end of the day, ‘what gave me energy today?’ and look on the answer as something we should be doing more of!

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