Maintaining Motivation Amidst Uncertainty

By: Demet Çek, Ph.D. | July 17, 2020

We all need motivation not only for important things we must do but also for those we like to do. Motivation is dynamic as with many other psychological constructs. External and internal factors influence motivation, changing it frequently.

External circumstances created by the pandemic cause uncertainty all around us. We do not know what the future holds for ourselves, our communities, families, friends, schools, jobs, recreational activities, our physical and mental health. While current external factors remain largely uncontrollable, we have guidelines for protecting our families and communities such as physical distancing, but what do we do to generate motivation internally to live the life we want when the future remains unclear? The principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) may help.


ACT posits that psychological flexibility is the antidote to suffering. We summarize psychological flexibility as being present, opening up, and doing what matters. The six factors below help us to further understand the principles of ACT:

1.  Defusion

Separating yourself from your feelings and thoughts so that they have less impact on your behavior.

    • Responding to the thought “Am I always going to be this anxious?” with “Aha! There’s that ‘I will never get better’ story again.”

2. Expansion

Allowing space for unpleasant feelings and sensations rather than suppressing or resisting them.

    • “I will allow the anxiety to come and go. I don’t want it or like it, but I will allow it.”

3. Connection

Connecting wholeheartedly with here-and-now experiences, even unpleasant ones.

    • “I notice a tightness in my chest. I notice that my breath is getting shallower. There is tension in my shoulders.”

4. The Observing Self

Developing the awareness to observe your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

    • Instead of getting caught up in the experience, observing it as if it were a stage show or a passing phenomenon. Captured by the quote “You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”

5. Values

Clarifying what is important to you and defining who you want to be and what you want to stand for.

    • “It is important to me to be a loving and supportive spouse, parent, daughter or son, or friend.”

6. Committed Action

Repeatedly taking effective action guided by your values, no matter how many times you go off track.

    • Showing up for yourself and others despite uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.

An ACT specialist may help you understand these principles in depth and guide you in applying them to your circumstances, particularly when motivation fluctuates from uncertainties surrounding us. Contact your San Diego Psychologist today to schedule an appointment.



Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA: Trumpeter.
Harris, R. (2009). ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.


Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

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