Staying Present and Motivated in Uncertain Times

Katie Lenihan, a recent graduate of University of Limerick shares her own experiences in overcoming challenges faced during lockdown and some tips that have helped her stay motivated.

Showing up for yourself is often the hardest part and small progress will give you confidence to continue.

With the extension of lockdown, it’s natural to think about the future. Sometimes, it all seems worth it when we can imagine a future where we can all go back to normal and resume a life which involves pre-COVID plans, where we can see our friends again, make new ones and things can go back to the way they’re supposed to be. Lately, thinking about what happens after lockdown has left me feeling alienated, like I’m waiting for a future that seems to be drifting further and further away. I think back to festivals, gigs, nights in with friends and I’m jealous of that version of myself who took socializing for granted and did not have a single thought or fear about a nearing pandemic.

When I graduated last January, I couldn’t see a life for myself in Ireland, so I got, what was supposed to be, a temporary job to save money to travel. I clearly have great timing. Going into lockdown in a situation I wanted to leave was disappointing after struggling to finish my degree. By the end of college, I just wanted to get it over with, anticipating what was next and I found that once we went into lockdown, I had a lot of expectations for what was to come after.

 It was easy to visualise the low case numbers and we could see the impact of our efforts as the numbers fell. This time around it’s difficult to see an end, never mind imagining what that will look like. As a procrastinating perfectionist, I have a difficult time facing things that won’t immediately give me results. If I don’t see a clear future, I struggle to stay motivated and the possibilities of the end result often stop me before I can start.

Now faced with this, ever-threatening yet invisible virus, all of these anxieties have this new aspect to them. While following guidelines and limiting interactions, it’s easy to feel a strange sense of being overwhelmed by the pandemic but also very underwhelmed with the current realities of everyday life. This lockdown has made me confront my rushed way of thinking and has helped me to see the value in being present while following steps in a process rather than trying to race to the end and skip the difficult stuff. These small habits have helped ground me when everything around me feels out of control.

It’s okay to start from zero.

What I have learned is that at first, any progress is progress and it’s okay to write without having a set number and it’s okay to start a week without having expectations of what you’ll have accomplished by the end of it. It’s also okay to start again. If you need to start again, you have learned from your past experience. Once I focused more on what I was doing rather than the looming end result, I found I had the motivation to keep going.

Start slowly and continue slowly. 

People have always recommended that doing small bits at a time would help me to get things done without stressing but I would never know how to start because I’ve already thought about the ‘afterward’. Something I’ve always struggled with when I try to form habits is the thought, ‘So, I’m just going to have to do this for the rest of my life then?’ (yes, my thoughts are this dramatic at times). I’m overly focused on my expectations that I will try very hard at the start, burn myself out and then give up before I can get into a habit properly.

Showing up for yourself is often the hardest part and small progress will give you confidence to continue. I will interrupt negative thoughts with the action of showing up. If I want to exercise and try talk myself out of it, I will just change into workout clothes and the decision has been made for me. If I am thinking about doing a project but don’t want to start, I interrupt this thinking and just put my laptop in front with the document open.   

Limit media which leaves you overwhelmed.

Social media to connect with others and for entertainment, but I found it also can lead to comparing myself to others, especially now. Your situation and how you are experiencing the pandemic will always differ from others. It’s frustrating feeling like you don’t have control over your situation at the moment and then seeing others accomplishing things despite what’s going on. Recognize what might trigger negative thinking and try to focus on what you can control. I turn notifications off on my apps to break the habit of opening them unthinkingly.

Get dressed mindfully.

Getting out of pajamas has helped me a lot with productivity but also putting a bit of thought into what I wear has helped me to stay present in everyday life. Sometimes I’ll choose clothes with small details or a colour combination that goes together well and it helps ground me that day.

The impact of positive habits

Of course, my situation didn’t completely change once I introduced these habits, but I have found that they have given me space to think when I get caught up in the big picture and everything seems too big to tackle. I’ve been able to start new hobbies without the pressure of being perfect and have gotten a lot more work done. I’m still eager to see my friends again and to have freedom but now I feel like I’m not just waiting around, that this time does have value even if it wasn’t in my original plan.


Written by Katie Lenihan, a volunteer with the Limerick Mental Health Association and a graduate from the University of Limerick.