Motivation is a fickle thing. We all find ourselves subject to its whims, usually at the most inconvenient of times (hello deadlines!). To see peaks and troughs in your daily drive is totally normal. Things like energy level, social interactions, and even the weather can impact our desire to get things done. When it comes to practicing good self-care, however, our general levels of motivation can be both an excellent sign of our current state and a great place from which to build ourselves back up.
My motivation is perhaps the most effective indicator of my state of mind. When I’m feeling acutely anxious or depressed, my ability to get things done flies out of the window and away to some far-off land. It’s not necessarily a question of desire. I usually know what I need to do to put myself back on a positive path. But knowing and doing are two very different things. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve become stuck in a cycle of knowing what I ‘should’ do and criticising myself for my failure to do it. This is neither helpful nor compassionate.
Over many years of handling these lengthy dips in my motivation, I’ve developed some pretty helpful techniques to get myself moving again. I like to think of it like giving a car a jump start. Since this is a sewing blog – and I’ve written before at length about why sewing/creativity is so valuable to mental health– these tips are written with creative hobbies in mind. They are techniques that I apply specifically to my sewing, although I’m sure that they could work equally well elsewhere. The tips I’ve put together in this post are also framed by my own battles with mental health, so they’re particularly sensitive to that. However, I definitely find myself applying some of these tools on days where I’m perfectly happy but just ‘can’t be bothered’. So hopefully there’s something for everyone!
*This post isn’t intended to serve as either a diagnosis of or a treatment for mental illness. I write about sewing and self-care because, for me, creativity helps to bolster a positive outlook and has assisted my recovery. However, sewing is not a panacea. I was helped by doctors and therapists, as well as a host of other important interventions. If you’re struggling with your mental health, please reach out to a professional or someone you trust.*
- Be Kind
If life were accompanied by its own set of rules, I would campaign for this being number one. We forget it far too often, particularly when it comes to our relationships with ourselves. I want to begin with this tip because it should frame your understanding of the others. Nothing that I’m saying in this post should be a starting point for self-criticism. I’m presenting a number of techniques that work for me when I’m struggling to find motivation. But there are days (and, let’s face it, weeks) where nothing is quite able to penetrate the walls of negativity that I’ve put up around myself.
If you find days or weeks where your motivation wanes – when you just can’t get yourself to the sewing table – it’s ok. The worst thing that you can do is add a layer of self-criticism into the mix. It will only further diminish your motivation. I mean, who has ever told themselves ‘I’m such a failure’ and felt more desire to get things done? Kindness should be your watchword. When I’m in a mindset of self-compassion, I usually find that my periods of low motivation pass by the fastest. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Few of us are taught to cultivate self-love. But learning to be kind to yourself truly is the jumping off point for all great things.
*A side-note: I always struggled with the whole concept of self-compassion. On bad days, I still do. If you’re having difficulty developing a mindset of kindness, I highly recommend looking up metta meditation (there are some on the Insight Timer – a free meditation app that I use). I know this isn’t everyone’s thing – and it’s totally not sewing related – but it’s a really incredible tool!
- Small, Achievable Tasks
Now we’re on to the concrete stuff! One of the greatest drains on our motivation – particularly when it comes to creative projects – is looking at a big task as one complete whole. Creative hobbies are often very involved, with lengthy projects. If you can only see the long hours ahead of you from start to completion, is it any wonder that your motivation to get started might disappear?
When I’m feeling anxious or depressed, it’s really easy to get stuck in a feeling of overwhelm. Everything becomes a bit overwhelming – getting up, getting dressed, showering, eating. When you’re investing so much energy to just do the things that you need to (like eating), thinking about an optional hobby like sewing becomes totally unimaginable. However, doing something creative is also a powerful path back towards yourself. The important thing is working to build a bridge between your current state and a place that gives you enough energy to work with something creative. To make this achievable, it’s so important to break any projects down into bite-size chunks – little tasks that could be accomplished in a really short amount of time.
The great thing with sewing is that our projects already come packaged in steps. Writing these steps down in a list can be really helpful – i.e. sew front bodice to back bodice; insert zip etc. Doing this condenses the instructions even further and makes them appear even more manageable. You can break the steps down as much as you want, to meet the demands of your life. Sometimes motivation wanes simply because we have so much else going on. Having bite-size tasks that can be accomplished in five minutes is a great way to get in some creative time, regardless of what else is happening!
A word of warning – don’t rely on yourself to do a task breakdown when you’re in a low place. When you’re already lacking motivation, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to invest energy in this. I tend to do a project breakdown at the start of each new project – this allows for any bad days and gives me a pre-existing list that I can turn to at any time.
- Create A Multi-Purpose Space
Like me, you may be lucky enough to have a designated sewing space. They’re truly a gift. However, when my motivation to sew has evaporated, having everything contained in a separate room becomes a bit of a problem. I just avoid the space like the plague and don’t have to think about anything sewing-related. When I had a sewing area incorporated into my living space, I found myself sewing a lot more when motivation was low. This is largely because I would find myself walking past my sewing area, seeing something that needed doing, and just getting on with it.
Now I’m not suggesting that we evacuate our sewing rooms. But it’s helpful to find small ways of making the space feel more multi-purpose. A lot of this is about using the room’s advantages. If, like me, you have a big window, adding a comfy chair for reading in the sunlight might be a great option. If your room is hidden away as an escape from the family, capitalise on that! Add a kettle and some snacks, or a blanket so that you can take a cat-nap. Basically anything that gives the room an added, non-sewing purpose. This way, you’ll find yourself going to your sewing room even when sewing motivation is low.
Where this isn’t possible, it might help to develop a list of non-sewing tasks that can be accomplished in your sewing room. I like to clean my room in between projects, for example. Often, cleaning feels much more achievable than sewing does. Sometimes I like to reorganise my patterns or fabric stash. Alternatively, maybe you have some decoration ideas in mind to brighten up your room. For more on this, see the ‘Emergency Tasks’ tip at the bottom of the post!
My sewing room is super small. But I recently moved my mannequin so that I could throw some cushions down and read in the sunlight. I’ve ended up spending way more time in my sewing room and, often, will just wind up doing some actual sewing!
- No Zero Days
The ‘No Zero Days’ mindset has been one of the most valuable tools at my disposal in confronting my motivation. The idea is that you work out the things that you want to achieve and commit to doing something towards that goal every day. No Zero Days. For me, this means doing something sewing-centric (choosing a project, working on pattern construction etc.) and something blog-centric (writing a post, replying to comments, social media posting etc.) each day.
The No Zero Days mindset is great because it gives no requirements on how much or how little you do. You’re simply committing to doing something. Even if it’s 11:30 a night and the day has totally passed you by, there’s always something you can do. Make a list of things you could post about on your blog this week, trawl through some online fabric shops to help plan your next project. Just do a little bit of something – even if there’s no way that you can drag yourself to your sewing table today.
Always remember, however, to forgive yourself. If there’s a day when you just can’t get anything done – you’re too distracted, too low, or otherwise – be kind. It’s no big deal. Learn from it and move on. You’ll do even better tomorrow!
But really, where would I be without my bullet journal?
- Emergency Tasks
Along with my breakdown of bite-size tasks, I always like to keep a list of ’emergency’ tasks. These are to accommodate my worst days and help me stay on track with my ‘no zero days’ commitment. Essentially, these should be tasks that you think you might be able to achieve if all else fails – and they can be tailored to the things you most struggle with. For example, when I’m in a state of particularly acute anxiety and panic, distraction and absorption become my priorities. I can typically get about the apartment just fine but my mind is racing non-stop. Tasks on days like that are typically focussed on things that I find really absorbing – so it’ll be sitting on the sofa with RuPaul’s Drag Race on TV and doing some cross-stitch. Relatively low effort but still super engaging for my mind. Alternatively, on days when I’m just super low, my priority is typically to get my body moving. Those are the days when I would work on cleaning my sewing room, reorganising my stashes, or otherwise. I might also set aside some hand stitching that I can do in a comfortable seat.
The important thing here is to work with yourself – that’s what makes this a self-care centric practice. Do some experiments. Watch yourself as your motivation peaks and troughs, see what works when you’re in different states of mind. Trial and error is no bad thing. This should be tailored to you and your needs.
This is true for everything I’ve listed. These are tips that speak to my personal experience. Although I believe that they can be translated to different people and different experiences, they might not appeal to you. And that’s ok! Maybe they simply give you ideas of your own that you can adapt to suit you. I wrote this post as something of a guide for potential ways to navigate low motivation. More than that, however, it should hopefully show that there are ways – even on our bad days – when we can move ourselves forward whilst always respecting our needs in any given moment. It’s not about forcing, pushing, or criticising. Rather, it’s about attentiveness and limitless compassion to ourselves – this picture will always look different, depending on your situation and frame of mind. Just be kind to yourself and the rest will certainly follow.
If you have any of your own tips to share – or general thoughts to add – please comment below! I’m always super excited to hear what other people do and have a conversation about the many aspects of using sewing for self-care!