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How to find enjoyment in life when every day feels hard

How to find enjoyment in life when every day feels hard

During the last couple of years, it has felt like we’ve been hit by one challenge after another.

Rewind to the 2019 bushfires, which feels like a lifetime ago. A couple of months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which was the start of a long two years. Then just when we thought we were getting back on our feet, another variant of the virus comes along.

Since then, we’ve had the Ukraine war, the rising cost of living, soaring inflation, and now predictions of a recession in the very near future.

“The last few years have offered most of us very little respite from big energy-draining and spirit-depleting experiences. It’s not surprising that we’re struggling to stay motivated,” said Alex Kingsmill, a life coach at Upstairs Coaching.

In these times, it can feel hard to find enjoyment in life, especially when you’re simply trying to find the motivation to get through each day.

Thankfully, there are small and actionable steps you can put into practise to make the days feel a little easier and more enjoyable – even when the going gets tough.

Here’s how you can start:

Recognise factors for lack of motivation

Start by recognising the external factors that are reducing your motivation and try to take practical steps to manage these factors, advises Dr Alison Mahoney, a senior clinical psychologist at online mental health service THIS WAY UP.

For example, if working from home means your work and home life boundaries are blurred, perhaps speak to your employer about options for going back into the office so you can separate work life from home life. Or consider setting stricter boundaries – honour the hours that are dedicated to work time but be disciplined about switching off and spending time with family or friends.

Identify negative thoughts

Dr Mahoney suggests identifying negative thinking patterns that are demotivating you and challenging these unhelpful thoughts.

“For example, you could be constantly focusing on what could go wrong. Catch these thoughts and try to consider other points of view that are more encouraging,” she said.

“Think of what you would say to a friend or someone you care about. Try to be curious and have compassion for those negative feelings. Is there another reason for these thoughts? Could you be feeling scared, angry, ashamed, or sad?”

Draw on previous strengths

Draw on your strengths and think of past times you’ve been successful, suggests Dr Mahoney.

“Think about past times you have managed to do something when your motivation was low. How did you do it? What things made it more likely? How did you overcome the obstacles? How did you motivate yourself? How can you apply this to the current problem?”

Redirect your energy

Insert positivity into your daily routine, perhaps through mindfulness, enjoyment or self-care in a way that doesn’t add additional pressure or demands.

“Can you call your friend or family during your morning commute to catch up? Can you enjoy a playlist of your favourite music while cooking dinner in the evening? Can you find one evening a week to try a new hobby or bring back something into your life that used to bring you joy?,” asks Dr Mahoney.

You could also consider redirecting your energy from the doom and gloom to positive goals.

“Focus on doing rather than thinking your way into a more positive place,” said Kingsmill.

“Finding a positive goal you are interested in is important for you to feel motivated. Then you also need to believe you have the capacity to effect change. Remind yourself that even while there is big stuff happening in the world, you can still have an influence over the life you’re living.”

Have something to look forward to

Having something to look forward to is another way to feel excited again, said Kingsmill.

“Life has felt super monotonous and dreary for a very long time. To shift your mood, it can be helpful to consciously build in things you’re excited about. It could be a delicious dinner, a trip to an amazing show, or catching up with a friend you haven’t seen for the last three years,” she said.

Why every day feels the same during lockdown, according to psychologists

Start small

To recover a sense of motivation, Kingsmill suggests starting small.

“Instead of focusing on a massive career shift, for example, focus on having one positive conversation with someone in your professional network. Instead of launching into a renovation, focus on rearranging your shelves to encourage more beauty,” she said.

“Achieving small things will recover your sense of agency and your ability to affect the life you’re living. And making those goals enjoyable will boost your interest in achieving further positive change.”

Kingsmill suggests making a list of simple 10-minute tasks that will build positive emotion is a good way to get started. Ideas include cutting flowers from the garden, making a pot of tea (and enjoying the ritual), calling a friend, or playing some music.

Even just 10 minutes of moving your body always makes you feel better.

Replenish your reserves

To create positive change and encourage greater optimism when you’re energetically depleted, Kingsmill recommends engaging in something that can replenish your reserves.

“Focus on balancing energy expenditure with opportunities for energy renewal, such as going to bed early, a night out with friends, or a holiday,” she said.

Tips for daily motivation

Once you have taken some steps towards seeking more enjoyment each day, it’s important to keep the momentum going.

Here are some tips from Dr Mahoney that you can draw on daily to help maintain your motivation:

Reward your success

Acknowledge success, even small successes. There are many ways you can reward yourself, such as praise and encouraging self-talk, telling others about it, writing down and ticking off your tasks, or writing down a list of things you’ve achieved.

Practise gratitude

Start a gratitude journal. Reflecting on good things that happened in your day can give you an instant mood boost, no matter how big or small.

Here are some tips on how you can practise gratitude daily. You can also download the SHE DEFINED gratitude worksheet here (its’s free) to get started today.

Practise mindfulness

A short mindfulness practice every day can help you realise that you are not your thoughts or emotions, that they come and go, and that you don’t actually need to get caught up in them.

Being mindful can help you to understand that you are not in complete control of the things that are happening around you, but you can choose how you respond to your circumstances, and what attitudes and outlooks you cultivate within yourself.

Involve other people in your plans

Sometimes having external support and encouragement can help get you going when you’re feeling demotivated, and then your internal motivation will follow.

Still struggling? Seek help

If you’ve tried improving your outlook and introduced new practices into your day but are still struggling to find enjoyment in life, it’s important to seek help from a professional.

“Don’t go it alone. For many people, there’s a bigger picture around feelings of flatness and low motivation, especially when these feelings persist for weeks on end,” Dr Mahoney said.

“It is important to reach out for help and support. Consider talking to your GP or health professional or trying a self-help treatment program like THIS WAY UP.”

You can get guidance on how to find the right therapist for your mental health needs here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, immediate support is available from Lifeline. Call 13 11 14.

Tracey Cheung - writer - SHE DEFINED

Tracey Cheung

Tracey Cheung is a freelance writer and mother passionate about empowering women, providing them the tools to become their best self in all areas of their lives, particularly in health and wellness. Her other writing passions and projects are in travel, parenting and social impact.