Build Your Motivation Toolbox

It’s Monday. You drag yourself out of bed and wish you didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything. And you beat yourself up for it You say, it’s only this part of my work that I hate. If I could afford to hire someone to do this part, I’d be golden. If it weren’t Monday, I’d be fine. I’m not motivated, so I must not have genuine talent. Well, if that were true, your problem isn’t Monday. Heck, it could be any day of the week. Where’s your motivation toolbox? Don’t have one? Start building your motivation toolbox today. Fill it with tools you can and will use may help you through so you can figure out what is holding you back.

Creatives like you don’t have an HR department or a supervisor to guide you. Sometimes you don’t even have a paycheck to motivate you. You need to know how to motivate yourself. To know how to motivate yourself, you need to understand the psychology of motivation.

Image of a steam train against a rustic wood wallpaper with your motivation from the words of Ralph Marston: What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.

Understanding the Types of Motivation

The problem with understanding the types of motivation is that there are hundreds of types identified by various gurus on the internet. So let’s boil it down to the two most basic definitions.

Extrinsic motivations are those rewards are benefits that are external to you. Things like paychecks, prizes, bonuses, and promotions are extrinsic. You’re thinking this doesn’t apply to you. Have you entered a contest or had your work judged? That prize is extrinsic.

Self-motivation is internal to you. Your values, your needs, your education, and your priorities all play a part in self-motivation. More simply put, self-motivation drives you to action.

Because self-motivation is internal to you, finding the motivational tools that will work for you requires education, self-assessment, and trial and error.


Self-assessment ought to come first. You don’t always choose to do that first because it’s scary. When you’re feeling unmotivated to do your creative work, you are afraid that you aren’t enough. 

You are enough. Perhaps that’s what you’ve forgotten. Remember, you are a creative. You were brave enough to begin the walk down your creative path. You are brave. You can do this.

The first thing to assess is your life situation (yours and your immediate family). Are you safe? Do you have shelter, food, and clothes? If you don’t have the basics, you aren’t lacking motivation. You lack security. Get help. There are homeless hotlines and abuse hotlines in most cities. Call or text SAMHSA’s free, 24-hour national helpline  1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Now, take a minute remind yourself why you chose to express your creativity. How does it make you feel when you’re working? How does it make you feel when you figure out a new technique or solve a problem or finish a piece? Yeah, that feeling. Does it still have meaning for you?

Need more help with your self-assessment? Positive Psychology is one site that has useful self-assessment tools.

There are hundreds of thousands of self-assessment tools on the internet. Find tools that help you find answers. Use caution when seeking out the one(s) you prefer. Look for experts: well-known medical sites, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers are among some of the externally educated experts. Self-educated experts can also be helpful. But sometimes they are narrowly self-educated. Do yourself the favor of choosing multiple sources of information. 


You’ve completed your self-assessment. Now you know where your weaknesses lie. What do you need to know in order to move forward? Do you need to educate yourself about the psychology of motivation? Educate yourself about creativity. Maybe there’s an area you know very little about or perhaps you need to dig deeper into the next skill level.

Collect Tools

Whatever self-assessment and education you do, collect the tools you need. Don’t expect that you will remember them because they excite you now. Write it down. Put it on post-it-notes, or tape a message to your work table, or make your own motivational tape.

Read 5 Tips for Staying Motivated. On this website, you can also find tips for creating your joy toolbox, your I-can-do-it toolbox, and your mental health first aid kit

Trial and Error

So you’ve educated yourself and found new ways to motivate yourself. Try it. Even if you’ve done your self-assessment and education, not everything will work. That’s okay. You’re prepared. Go to the next tool on your list. You will find two or three that will work really well for you. Don’t stop there. Have more than you need in your toolbox. 

image of repeated script "you can" in pastel colors--your motivation tools can be simple ones

Been There, Done That

In time, you’ll develop the habits you need to make you your best creative self. Even those strong habits will falter once in a while. But you’ve been there and done that. You’ll recognize it for what it is: the next step in your growth as a creative. You’ll reach for your motivation toolbox and find what you need. 

When Your Motivation Needs a Boost

It’s November, and that means a lot of writers are taking up the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month—this month. This is an annual challenge that many enjoy. And one that many “fail.” Rather, they don’t write 50,000 words within the month. But this, the eleventh month of the year, is also a time when the long-running pandemic is flaring, a contentious election is happening, and social outrage is high. Most people are worn out. Many are struggling to stay motivated to get through the day. Here are a few strategies you can use when your motivation needs a boost.

small olive branches above and below the handwritten words don't give up--a sign for when your motivation needs a boost

Know What Your Ultimate Goal Is

You may think this is obvious, especially a writer. You might say my goal is to write a book. Maybe it’s that simple, but in this case think bigger. Do you want to be the author of one book? Perhaps you want to have a retirement nest egg? Or do you want to move to a tropical island? 

Visualize your future self. You’ve accomplished your big goal. What does your daily life look like? What does it feel like? How do you feel about the road you took to get there? 

Journal or draw out these ideas. These will be important 

Your why is usually pretty simple. Why do you do the job you do? Remembering this is key to keeping you on task. Here are a few suggestions that may help you remember your why.

Remember Your Why

Monetary Gain—you will get paid. Maybe your goal is to keep a roof over your head, food on your table, and clothes on your body. 

A Sense of Accomplishment—it may be important to you to be better at something or to have reached a goal. 

Personal Gain — you’ll get the degree you wanted, you’ll learn something new. Be careful about this one. It can easily slide into something you have no control over (if someone else has to agree to give it to you—such as applause or a job promotion—you might influence the outcome but you have no control.)

A Step Toward a Larger Goal—you know your big goal and the steps needed to get there. Word your goal as a fraction of the way to the ultimate goal.

Other motivational discussions mention fear and power being reasonable motivations. They may be for some things, and they can definitely be positive motivations. But there’s a danger that they will become soul-crushing for you or someone else. There’s enough negative energy in the world right now. Try to find a positive energy motivation. It will take you further.

Whatever your why, write it down on a self-stick note or poster or white board and stick it about your workspace. 

Set a Goal

hand written message on pebbly brown surface for when your motivation needs a boost says "small steps are still progress."

There are the big goals, such as writing 50,000 words in a month. But it takes many little steps to reach that ultimate goal. Break your goal down into smaller steps. Smaller, until you get down to what you must accomplish in a day.

Be realistic about the daily steps. To write 50,000 words in a month, you must average 1667 words for each of thirty days. But will you really write every single day? If you can, great. If you have a day job, a family, holiday or other commitments, that daily activity may be impossible. So figure the realistic number of days you can expect to spend on your goal. If you spend five days a week for four weeks, that’s 20 days. You must write a lot more words (2500 words per day). 

Whatever your daily goal — write it down. Put it up where you can see it.

Prepare for the Unexpected

If 2020 isn’t a crash course in this, I don’t know what it. But you know life rarely goes exactly as you’ve planned. Plan for the unexpected. Know what you’ll do if you need a temporary change of goals, if an urgent family or life matter interrupts and keeps you from your daily goal. How will you adjust? When writing a novel, have a digital or handwritten backup in case of mechanical failure. Hire help to deal with the other issues or order takeout so you have another hour of working time. Have a plan.

Prepare for Flagging Motivation

This may be where many of us are right now. It’s been an unusually tough year. Perhaps you’ll want to have some inspirational quotes on standby. 

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

Martin Luther King Jr

Find quotes that motivate and inspire you. The best source of quotes I have found is Brainy Quotes.

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you’re doing the impossible.

Francis of Assisi

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Nelson Mandela

When Your Motivation Needs a Boost

Don’t give up. 

You do what you can for as long as you can, and when you finally can’t, you do the next best thing. You back up but you don’t give up.

Chuck Yeager

Give your motivation a boost with music.

Don’t give up. 

You just can’t beat the person who won’t give up.

Babe Ruth

Try a different post and motivational quote.

Don’t give up.

Don’t give up.

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Thomas Edison

Remind yourself of your why. Remind yourself of your goal. Then remind yourself to boost your motivation and don’t give up.

How to Spot Your Strength When You Feel Powerless

Last week I talked about finding your joy, especially in these crazy days of 2020. This week let’s talk about how to spot your strength when you feel powerless.

There is lots of crappy stuff going on in 2020 that makes us feel helpless. But there are ways to take your power back.

silhouette of a woman with her fist raised and a quote from Christopher Reeve about a hero is an ordinary your strength

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

– Christopher Reeve

Strength Can Be Learned

You have power over your mind– not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

– Marcus Aurelius

Yes, it can. Like a kid learning to walk or to ride a bike, it’s not a one-and-done deal. The first step is to train yourself to recognize the things that make you feel helpless. These are your triggers. Once you recognize them, train yourself to avoid them or to respond to them differently.

Sharpen Your Awareness

There are certain images or words or places that trigger a feeling of helplessness. Knowing what these are, avoiding them when you feel vulnerable are one way to take back your control.

Pay attention to your physical body. Do you feel shriveled up, closed, tight? Then those are negative things for you. If you feel open, breathing easy, relaxed—that’s where you are strong.

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.

– Arnold Schwarzenegger

Focus on Your Self-Talk

young girl in a crowd wears a poster board front and back that reads "we can be heroes just for one day."

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Negative self-talk keeps you stuck, makes you feel  helpless. Psych central recommends you turn it around. Tell yourself things like, “What can I do to make this better? This is bad right now, but it won’t always be. I can get through this.”

Make up your mind that no matter what comes your way, no matter how difficult, no matter how unfair, you will do more than simply survive. You will thrive in spite of it.

– Joel Osteen

Focus On What You Can Control, Not What You Can’t

You can’t change the pandemic, nor someone else’s response to it. And honestly, it’s a rare day when you can change someone’s thinking–political or otherwise. You spend and waste your time if you focus on things you cannot control. Your strength comes from knowing what you can control. Spend your time and energy on the positives of what you can control and that will diminish the power of the negative things. 

Keep Trying

young girl riding a tricycle

Anyone can give up; it is the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone would expect you to fall apart, now that is true strength.

– Chris Bradford

Be Kind to Yourself. Do something. Clarity comes from engagement not thought is one of Marie Forleo’s mantras. It’s true. Doom scrolling isn’t doing something. Get up—take a walk, a swim, play with the kids, clean house, take a shower. Or do one chore for ten minutes. Any or all of those activities can help you get clarity—to refocus on your strengths.

We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.

–Eleanor Roosevelt

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

— Buddha

If You Are Overwhelmed 

Talk to someone. Take care of yourself. Use the Crisis Text line. or SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Spot Your Strength

You are amazing. Despite all that you face personally and on a societal level, you keep on keeping on. I suspect you only needed to a reminder of how to spot your strength when you feel powerless. March on friends. March on.

15 Inspirational Quotes for Tough Times

Pandemic life is tough. Add on inequality, unemployment, and the steady erosion of a lifetime of saving it’s difficult. Now add on the ordinary difficulties of life: chronic illnesses, family stresses, and home and vehicle maintenance—it’s a lot. Anxiety is high. High enough that sometimes innocent words blow up into something else. But mankind has been through a lot. You’ll get through this, too. Here are some inspirational quotes for tough times to remind you that you can do this.

Stacked stones in a bamboo forest and these inspirational quotes for tough times to remind you how tough you are

On Being Tough

Tough times never last, but tough people do.

– Robert Schuller

The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity. 


In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.

– Lee Iacocca

On Ways to Think

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. 

– Marcus Aurelius

You don’t have to control your thoughts; you just have to stop letting them control you.

 – Dan Millman

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

–Mary Engelbreit

You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.

― Andrew Murphy

On Coping

Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it.

Jacques Prevert

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness

–Maya Angelou

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.

–Louisa May Alcott

There comes a certain point in life when you have to stop blaming other people for how you feel or the misfortunes in your life. You can’t go through life obsessing about what might have been.

–Hugh Jackman

Everyone of us needs to show how much we care for each other and, in the process, care for ourselves.

–Princess Diana

On Hope

a pink lotus flower in water reflecting the blue sky and white clouds above and these inspirational quotes for tough times to remind you how tough you are

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. 

– Thich Nhat Hanh

We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.

–Martin Luther King

Tough Times

You are tough. When you feel you’ve reached your breaking point, remember how tough you are. 

So far you’ve survived 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great


Use the amazing tools we have today: Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger Calls , text messages, and phone calls. Have a driveway or backyard socially distanced and mask wearing get together. See how creative you can be in helping friends and family maintain social distancing. And if you can’t do all those things, stop and make sure you are taking care of yourself. And maybe think about these inspirational quotes for tough times.

Do You Support the Reality of Freedom?

I spoke a little about the symbols of freedom a few weeks ago in my post, What’s Your Symbol of Freedom. I’m not advocating that we all see the symbols of freedom in the same way. And yet, the symbols stand for ideas or ideals that we supposedly believe and support. But do you support the idea of freedom? Do you support the reality of freedom? Here are a few quotes that speak to the ideas of freedom that I support. 

illustration of people of different colors holding hands around the globe--what I hope will be the reality of freedom

What Is Freedom

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines freedom as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” It’s both more and less.

Freedom is the emancipation from the arbitrary rule of other men.

Mortimer Adler

Freedom is not the right to live as we please, but the right to find how we ought to live in order to fulfill our potential.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

True freedom is always spiritual. It has something to do with your innermost being, which cannot be chained, handcuffed, or put into a jail.


For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Nelson Mandela

Liberty, taking the word in its concrete sense, consists in the ability to choose.

Simone Weil
image of statue's chained hand--the reality of freedom for some is that freedom isn't real

What choices is Simone Weil talking about? If you must hide from an oppressor or if you must wear certain clothes or say (not say) certain things to avoid arrest, are you free? If you are struggling to keep a roof over your head or to put food on the table or if you can’t afford transportation to a job, or can’t afford education, are you free? What about if your skin color is different so you can’t vote or get a job or are treated as less equal, are you free? Those aren’t choices people make. No one chooses to fear for their life. No one chooses to be unable to meet their own needs. Am I saying we should give people everything for free? No. 

At What Cost Freedom

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.

Ronald Reagan

We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.

William Faulkner

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and will never be.

Thomas Jefferson

The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions.

Adlai Stevenson

Don’t be ignorant about the lack of choices that others have. Educate yourself. Figure out what you can do to help those others have those choices. Raise your voice. Lend a hand (Habitat for Humanity). Raise money. Give a damn. If you support the reality of freedom, then you know that the cost of freedom is to fight for it every day. So step out of your complacencies and do what you can. 

Why Talk About Freedom

Image of protestors being sprayed by police--the reality of freedom for some isn't really free

The whole world seems to live under the banner: “Freedom is wonderful—but only for me.”

Isaac Asimov

If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

Alice Walker

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky has the right idea. But I would say if we don’t believe in freedom for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all. Many people in the U.S.A and in other nations around the world have forgotten that freedom isn’t exclusive. We’ve forgotten that life, the world, isn’t a sound bite. That because you or I have freedom, others within our own nation do not. We have forgotten that if we believe in the reality of freedom people who espouse different ideas, who worship differently, who speak or dress differently—all deserve freedom.

The reality of freedom is that it is not equal. That we must fight every day to make it as equal as possible. For if we don’t believe, if we don’t support the reality of freedom for all, we don’t believe in it at all.