When you are the boss of yourself, you have to be the one to motivate and reward yourself. Rewards are easy. I've bribed myself with myriad things over the years, most egregiously with an embarrassingly expensive makeup brush. I simply wanted the brush badly enough that I stayed committed to my goal of writing every weekday.
Motivation can be trickier than providing an incentive. It seems like it would be easier, and certainly cheaper. I find it much more difficult, however, to consistently tell myself that I should sit down to work because I am awesome at what I do and because I love what I do. Both of these points are compelling and true. When other people remind me of this, I feel buoyant, confident, and enthusiastic. It's really, really hard to maintain this state on your own. Partially this is because telling yourself that you're fabulous feels inauthentic, and partially this is because I forget to practice positive self-talk until I've descended into a dark place of self-loathing and despair. It's much more difficult to dig yourself out of that pit than it is to keep your confidence riding high.
I've been working really hard at practicing positivity. Here are some of my strategies:
1. Make a list of everything you've done today or this week or this month. Put down absolutely everything that required more than minimal effort. That includes loads of laundry, any form of cleaning that improved your quality of life, important emails sent, books read, pages written, lesson plans prepared, all incidents of exercise, and any meetings pertaining to your work (particularly those involving your advisors). Marvel at the labor it takes to move through life.
2. Go to a coffee shop or a yoga class or a bar--anywhere that you could feasibly run into a stranger who asks you "what you do." Explaining your work to a non-expert always makes you feel really smart. You know things!
3. Listen to your anthem on repeat. Internalize the message.
4. Pull out the first graded paper you wrote in graduate school and compare it to the most recent page you've written. Even the clunkiest page of your dissertation will look brilliant next to that first attempt at coherence. How could you not compliment yourself after facing this evidence of growth and intellectual maturity?
5. I'm not above asking my partner or my parents to tell me I'm smart, pretty, kind, thoughtful, and a net-positive addition to society. I don't dig for the compliment because it feels desperate and then I feel loathe myself even more. I just ask someone to pick up their pom-poms and start cheering for me. After their rah-rah-rah I can usually rally for a few rounds of "2-4-6-8-who-do-we-appreciate." I have no shame.
Ultimately, it's less about what you do than how often you do it. It's healthy to be self-aware and self-critical, but you have to balance it with a daily dose of self-affirmation.