On Feeling Unmotivated

Part of my job as a teacher is to motivate others, and as a self-employed musician, to motivate myself, but I’ll be honest - I’ve been feeling unmotivated to create and get things done lately.

Why have I been feeling unmotivated?

  • For those of us who operate on a school year schedule, it’s long enough from the beginning of the year that my students and I are not as excited as we were in September - it’s a natural time to be in a rut.
  • A touch of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) - I usually manage it pretty well through regular exercise, vitamin D, and special lights, but it’s getting to that time in Minnesota when dark hours have overtaken light hours in the day, so this is a transition point when I have to step up my self-care.
  • A lot going on lately (extra gigs/recitals/rehearsals for 5 weekends in a row), and I’m not great at allowing myself to truly rest enough.
  • I’d been riding the wave of inspiration after California Brazil Camp for a while, and all waves eventually crash into the shore (only to be regenerated later).
  • General low level stress - I think all of us are feeling this with the impending election, and it takes its toll, even if under the radar.

What am I doing about it?

  • Taking it easy - this Monday I happened to only have 1 student, and I certainly had work-related tasks to do (when do I not?), but I allowed myself a break for part of the afternoon because I already felt like I was dragging, and there aren’t that many opportunities to stop and breathe - seize them!
  • Stepping back to think about my true goals and priorities going forward - maybe I need to hit the reset button.
  • Just keep swimming - I always have my master to-do list in Trello, and even when I feel too tired to tackle an important big picture task, I can pick something else to do.
  • Taking care of basic needs (not as easy as it seems!) - being sure to drink enough water, eat greens and good food, get enough sleep (the struggle is real!)
  • Listening to musicians I admire for inspiration - while writing this I got a notification about the legendary choro band O Conjunto Epoca de Ouro performing live on Rádio Nacional do Rio and broadcast on Facebook Live - it improved my mood right away.
  • Remembering that small steps add up to big things - today can be seemingly unremarkable and still contribute to a whole.
  • Practice-wise, starting out by playing things that feel good (that I know well), and using them to transition to other things that need more work.

And most importantly:

  • Showing up to practice daily - even if I feel like I’m just wiggling my fingers around, I’m still more productive than I realize. I always think about this quote from artist Chuck Close: “The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work." The momentum of habits builds on itself. I know that I let my practice habit slide a little bit too much last week, so I lost momentum.

I drafted this post on Monday, in the thick of this feeling, and recommitted to showing up to do the work every day (regardless of how I feel). I’ve already noticed an improvement in the outcomes of my practice sessions this week. But, maybe it's not that simple - I think it's more important to unhook from the whole idea of motivation. If I keep showing up and trusting in the process, it probably doesn’t actually matter why I’m feeling unmotivated - consistency will override that feeling.

We all have unmotivated days, and they might make us feel bad, like we are doing a bad job, aren’t cut out for our career, or any number of things that our brains make up. But, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay - we don’t have to listen or take these days so seriously, we just have to do our best, ride the wave, and motivation will come back.

What do you do when you’re feeling unmotivated?