(pls excoose the typos)
People have commented on my ability to self-motivate as if it’s something special I possess. Naw, I just have a few tricks up my sleeve.
Follow this and you can bypass the rest.
DON’T THINK ABOUT IT. JUST DO IT.
I swear, we spend more time thinking about the thing, dreading the thing, making bargains with ourselves about when we’ll do the thing, telling ourselves why this is no the right time for the thing, and all the reasons why we don’t want to do the thing, how much we hate the thing, how we could change our life so we would never have to do the thing. This is the painful part of it.
Just stop. Don’t think. Just do it.
Now for the rest:
Why Do You Want To?
If you are procrastinating you are tellin yourself all the reaosns why you don’t want to do something. But there are probably some reasons why you want to, too.
The following sequence is based on an article I wrote for a blog once, based on a book I read called, Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything–Fast. (Note, this is an Amazon affiliate link – maybe the tiny percentage I’d get from you buying something on an Amazon could go towards my art practice? It would be at no cost to you. But you might also find it at the library – I did) Moving beyond its get-rich-quick-scheme-like title, there are some psychological reasons it works, but it is pretty much the least painful way to get started on something that I have ever experienced. I’ve done it to my kids, (it works, but after a while they get annoyed at me). I’ve done it so often for myself that just starting the 2 step motivated me last time.
- Re-establish your freedom. You don’t have to do anything you don’t choose. We forget that we are more free to choose than we think. You don’t have to do this. Yes, of course there are consequences, blah, blah, blah, but we can choose. That assignment you should do or you will fail it? You can choose to fail it. You won’t die. You might not even fail the course. That project you are supposed to do for your boss? The work you have to do for the gallery showing next month. You don’t have to do it. You really don’t! Re-establish your freedom.
- Ask yourself what benefit might there be if you do whatever it is. What could you could possibly gain if you were to try. What is in it for you? Not for anyone else. You. get a piece of paper and a pencil and spend some time writing it down. Dig deep here.
- Ask yourself to rate, from 1 to 10, how ready are are you to act: one not being ready at all, and 10 being total ready. Don’t over think it but be truthful. It’s OK if it’s a low number (I’m often a 2 or 3).
- Ask yourself why you didn’t pick a lower number. Oh, what? I love asking kids this question! Inevitably you will discover that you actually have some motivaion already. Most people do. You already have been thinking of some of th pluses, and you might also answer, well it’s not that hard, or it won’t take that long. **
- Now, imagine what it would be like if you have already done it. How does it feel? What would the positive outcomes be for you?
- Ask: why are those positive outcomes important to you. You’ll probably come up with some predictable responses, but use the “5 whys” technique here to get to something that is actually meaningful to you. The reason you want to get to something real is because it’s often the most meaningful reasons that motivate us the most to change.
- Ask: What is the immediate next steps, if any? (*add the if any because this allows you the freedom to choose if you will do it or not. But if you find your own reasons then you probably will give it a try – at least on some small level)
- Do each step in sequence, it builds on the pevious step
- Aim to frame things in the positive (ie. change: so I don’t feel bad, to so I would feel good).
- Focus on what is in it for you, not how it might please someone else
** If you pick 1, ask yourself what it would take to move it from a 1 to a 2. Then ask yourself how do you feel about an action that requires less commitment.]
The Shoulds – who is speaking please?
There are a few reasons why these steps above work so effectively. First a psychogical concept known as psychological reactance can cause us to resist doing even the things we like to do if w feel like we should be doing them. Basicaly this hinges on the concept that when we feel like we should something, we are not speaking with our own voice, but with the authority figure(s) in our heads.
The issue here is we want to be autonomous. We want to be in control or in charge of our own desitines. We want to do as we choose, not as others choose for us. But whenever we catch ourselves using the word should, it’s highly likely that this is something we have absorbed from past authority figures that influenced our lives. It’s the others that live in our head. This technique above moves us away from that authority and allows us why we want to do it for ourselves.
Move the Fire Somewhere Else
Ever notice that when you are feeling down, only things you are bumming you out come to mind. But you might just start off with the thig that tggered it, but next thing you know it’s just dasiy chained itself to all of the othe things that are bothering you? And yet when you’re happy, it’s like you can’t even really relate to any of that? Ever notice tha when you try to cheer someone up who seems determined to be miserable that it really does’t matter what you say; they resist it like they want to be miserable?
I don’t know if there is anything in the scientific literture on this, but I can’t help but think that like-minded (pun intended) neurons are stored in the same brain area together and when your neurons are firing in a particular area of the brain, it’s firing off neurons close by.
On some level when we are telling ourselves we should be doing somehting we are also asking ourselves why we aren’t doing it. And we are more than willing to answer why. It’s almost a salve to the pain because it feels good to justify our actions (or inactions) but it also takes a toll because not negative headspace, it involves a form of relivign the pain we are trying to avoid. Andow are we going to want to do something if all we can think of are the reaons why we don’t?
Procrastinating is Not only painful, Its Exhausting
Besides the issue with procrastinating is that our minds are wiried in such a way it keeps on nagging at us, which means we are getting those mini-hits of pain frequently, it uses up cognitive energy.
The day that I procrastinate is the day where I don’t get much done and it’s a day where I need to cut out early – even after all the resistence is gone. Procrastination is tiring.
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t actually do anything I really want to do when I’m procrastinating. It’s ok if it means cleaning but how many of us are procrastinating by being on social media? So then I’m using up all this cognitive energy and all this time. I hate tha. That’s almost enough to get me going.
“I work best leaving it to the last minute”
Ok. So you’re saying you’e just like the rest of us.
If you find yourself always leaving things to the last minute, you are like the majority of us. You’re normal. It’s the fear of a pending deadline that triggers your adrenaline and it’s the adrenaline that finally gets you going. Adrenaline and fear replace the dread of getting started. It’s an approach. A common one. Don’t think these are actually your special powers.
I think it’s fine if you are battling procrastination, and it’s not nagging at you and it’s not affecting anyone else.
And it does mean sometimes you don’t have the time to make a good job great. Or the time to objectively decide whether the good job you did is actually just an ok job. It sometimes means that you make other people anxious or other people have to nag you (and resent you). And if your hoped were to write that novel some day wellll… someday you might. Some day.
If you are saying this, I suspect that you are not that committed to geting motivated at the moment (or maybe ever). You’re probably here because you’re procrastinating. 😉
Reasons Why We Delay
There are a number of reasons why we procrastinate. Sometimes it helps to know because then we can figure out how to help it. But sometimes, we can overthink it and overcomplicate it. What I would say here is a bunch of clichés: don’t borrow trouble and don’t fix what isn’t broken.
Don’t focus too much on why you aren’t motivated unless you have an ah-ha moment that can be fixed. Because, wow, trying to figure out why you aren’t motivated is usually just a form of prastination that makes you feel even less like doing it.
Also, sometimes we just procrastinate and knowing why is meaningless. Sometimes it’s as simple as we are just not in the right headspace. Other times it’s just habit. Just don’t think about it. Just do it.
But sometimes it helps, so if you here are some things you can think about.
Fear of starting
It’s that first hurdle of resistence that we struggle with. The more you procrastinate the more you grow that hurdle. I think part of it is there is friction to get into the flow of things. I experience this frequently. I get into things deep. It’s work to resurface and it’s work to transition. I resist that friction. It’s work to focus. But here’s the good news: it’s short-term work, not that hard and you’re getting the work of starting and getting focused with the work of doing the job itself.
There are a couple of tricks I use with this.
Go for a walk.
This works if whateve you have to do is in the same space as you are in. Sometimes I just need a bridge between things, and a walk gets your blood flowing. I also try to meditate on a walk which is a challenge, just simple things like concentrate on my brathing. Makes me feel like I have had a bigger break than I atually had.
Imagine doing the task.
This works because you can use it to bargain with yourself and get out of actually doing it! But really try to imagine it with as much detail as possible. More often than not, this is all we need.
…failing that choose to do just 5 or ten minutes
My least favourite choice, because it can be to easy to do without actually committing. You do a half-assed job, or do somehting that is dead easy or really doesn’t need doing, etc. But if it’s something like cleaning a room, it works great!
It works because we’ve given ourselves an out. We’ve bargained our way into getting started. And once you are in the flow of it, it’s often pretty easy to keep going, in fact it’s easier to stay in that flow than in some other flow and besides now you feel GOOD because you’re doing it!
Don’t Know How
This might be classified as a fear. This resistance can take the form of a vague grey cloud that we don’t really look at because we don’t know what to look at– and that’s part of the reason we procrastinate. Because by avoiding doing the task, we are also avoiding thinking about it. We might not even know we don’t know how to do something, which is like the worst.
So. That’s what the internet is for. Just ask Google.
Sometimes when we procrastinate we are actually tired. And the more we procrastinate the more valuable energy we use up being in self-conflict. On top of this, the way in which we procrastinate drains us. Watching videos, going on social media, endless pointless browsing, activities that drain us even more.
Find music that kick starts the right energy for you. You can always turn it off once you ge going.
If you are really stalling and nothing you can think of is enough to move you over the hump – take a break. But take a real break. Do nothing. Don’t think, don’t do.
Watch how you “take a break”. Get off the computer.
15 minutes of mediation might help you reset.
It’s Too Much Work / It’s Too Hard (I Cry)
I bet you’re not thinking that. Consciously. And yet we often get overwhelmed by a project that feels like it’s too much. There just may be too many forms of resistance to overcome (we think).
This is often a result of two things: first seeing things through an emotional lens and two, only seeing the big picture.
In reality “too hard” kind of stands in for something we don’t talk about: the emotions that are too hard.
The work isn’t hard so much as the experience, fear of, or memory of it being too frustrating, too demoralizing, etc. Maybe it’s too close or has been to triggering our doubts and insecurities when we don’t meet our self-expectations. Those things are hard. But they are emotional. That means they are temporary and that also means that there are many different types of solutions, including being skeptical that our current version of reality or our version of the truth is objective or all there is.
My own personal mantra: Feelings are paths to the truth. But they are not the truth.
Feelings can be managed and manipulated. Find a way.
Big Picture Thinking
Big picture thinking is good but can sometimes trip us up. While it helps us to set our priorities, see a project as a whole and plan, it also has the potential to overwhelm us because we can see all the things we have to do in front of us and it just seems like a great big job. Where do you even start?
Break the tasks down into baby steps. We can only ever do anything right now and there is only so much we can do right now. One foot in front of the next – that’s the only way to get anything done. The later tasks might be roughed out later. Deal with only what is in front of you right now.
Moment by moment. It’s all small. Because we are just weeny people – it’s really all we’re capable of. Next.
Sometimes I get a peice of paper and write everything I can think of down – just do a brain dump. Once I’ve cleared out my brain I start to organize the various tasks and make steps.
There are too many distractions
Well, first of all, you might be training yourself to be distracted. Put your phone down. Doh!
Turn off all notifaction from email and social media. If you have to set a timer for a work period and when you can next check your phone.
Work in a spot where the only thing you do is work – don’t browse the internet, don’t go on social media or watch videos. Just work. Leave your phone where you have to get up to get it.
Switch up your work spot. Go to a coffee shop, a park, a meeting room at work, work in your car if you are lucky enough to have one.
Get headphones and listen to music with no lyrics if their are people around.
Long term solution: practice meditation. This help with being focused and maintaining focus.
All My Ideas Are Bad
Yeah. Maybe. You should do it anyway.
Don’t Want To Waste Time Doing Something That Won’t Be Any Good
Ogh wait, you weren’t done. Ok.
First of all, let’s check our assumptions at the door. Like I tell my dear child, humans are terrible at predicting the future. Like really bad – I knoe because I was a project manager asking experts to estimate the time it took to do tasks they were expert at. So
you don’t actually know if it’s going to be bad (unless you know ahead of time you will judge whatever you do as bad regardless if it is – in which case the solution might be some other kind of therapy), so it’s not time to worry about it yet.
But if you are new at something it’s probably not going to be great. There is just no way we can bypass the time it takes to learn how to do something. And in the end you just might be mediocre despite all the time and effort. I mean, as a human I guess you’ll probably be better at it than a dog, for example.
So maybe it’s not about the job but who you are comparing yourself to?
This is fear. Get clear on what you are in it for.
Some people want to don something because they want to prove a point to someone. I’ll show you! I don’t know whether it’s the best motivation because you might get to a point where that person ceases to have so much meaning in your life. Other people are attached the the ida of being something, I once knew this person who wanted to be a writer and had their pen name picked out and everything. But they weren’t actually writing. So this motivaiton may not be about becoming a writer at all, but more achieving a valued identity.
What are your real reasons?
If you fail what happens? Decide if it’s an activity worth doing for the sake of doing it. For the sake of learning about yourself. For the sake of it making you a more interesting person. For the experience of it. To grow your world. Does everything have to have an outcome to be judged as “good” for it to be worthy? It depends on what you are in it for.
Alternatively, examine what you are attaching your self-worth to. If you attach your self worth to things that may be good one day or bad the next or otherwise hitched to some kind of judgement criteria, your self worth goes up and down accordingly. Do you have people in your life that still care about you whether or not you succeed or fail?
There are many more self-esteem and self-worth questions to delve into, and. would suggest to go down that rabbit hole if this is a real issue for you. I wrote some of my thoughts around this a while ago. Getting Unstuck: a mediation on worthiness.
But if don’t want to waste time on something that’s bad or futile, I kind of agree with you. Especially if you are or want to be an artist – it’s hard to justify spending time and effort on something that is pointless. We only have so many alloted hours.
So maybe you should just not do it. Which brings me to the next point…
Part of the issue with motivation is that it is often emotionally driven. The issue with our emotions of course is that they are, for the most part, temporary. So you start of strong with a big surge of emotion and then at some point, no matter how you feel, you will hit that point where, meh, you just don’t feel like it. Or it doesn’t bring the buzz that it did.
Be prepared for the dip
People who utlimate succeed are the ones who either don’t rely on their emotions, or are fully prepared for the motivation to disappear.
Seth Godin wrote a book called The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) (another amazon affiliate link – but don’t buy unless you want it – I got the audio book years ago) on this that’s worth reading. When you know it’s going to happen, it makes it much easier to get through.
Motivation is overrated. Maybe
The flighty state of motivation is one reason why artists and freelancers often recommend creating a schedule and sticking to it. Don’t wait for the muse to get started, show up for the muse. Do the work and motivation will come (sometimes).
In a nutshell, this is about discipline. You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it. Doing it creates habit. Doing it creates a capacity to do it. I can’t stress this more. The habit slices tbhrough friction like butter! Practice self-will and it gets easier.
Turn up, produce crap until you don’t. Repeat.
This is advice that I would give the majority of people who want to live a life where self-discipline is the only thing that keeps you in check. Just do the work. Make a realistic schedule and then show up. This idea of living this life aof freedom sounds romantic. It’s not. Well, it is. But it’s not.
Schedules are not for everyone
I needed to forget the schedules because they were heavily attached to my “shoulds” . The solution was to just deeply immerce myself into the project itself. This is generally how I work even now. Routines do emerge after a while and then you’ll find you have a schedule of sorts.
But for other peope schedules provide incentive to turn up and provide permission to stop and make people feel ok about whatever they did because the whole point was to turn up. This can work quite well for a lot people.
You Are Not the Enemy
If you are doing to procrastinate, procrastine productively.
Get a book called The War of Art. (Note, this is an Amazon affiliate link – but I have this book always on hand – its one of those books you can just flip to a page and start reading).
It has tiny short chapters and you may not like all of it, but what I think is great about it is that it helped me personify Resistance and separate It from our best intentions. So much of our resistance feels very internal and very personal – like a critism on us. Like it’s us, we fail, we are failures. It becomes a kind of feedback loop. We know we shouldn’t procrastinate but we do, wah, wah, wah. We’re lazy, we’re this, we’re that.
Separating Resistance from ourselves helps us see it as the enemy, and often, this is all you need: the belief that something out there’s job is to stop you from doing something worthy. It’s not personal. But when you see it, you can identify it, that’s Resistance, that all it is. Not today, Resistance!
As I wrote this there were an exceptional amount of typos. I’m sure I have not caught them all. But sometimes you just have to put stuff out there. So i apologize. There’s always some but expect there are many more here.