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Friday Q&A – Motivation

Friday Q&A – Motivation published on

I was recently asked the following questions by Katie (her DA page is here!):

1. How do you stay motivated and excited to work on things?
2. Do you ever have days where, despite your best efforts and wishes, you end up doing nothing at all?
3. How do you get out of those funks and back into productivity-mode?

All of these questions are related, but I think each one of them is worth addressing separately. So I’ll be going through them for the next three Friday Q&A blogs. Today, we’ll focus on the first.

Motivation is a tricky thing. In part because, unlike a wide variety of articles I’ve seen on the subject, I do not think there is one way that is guaranteed to work for everyone. I know for a fact, for example, that what I do to keep myself motivated and engaged will actively destroy Cory’s ability to be motivated and engaged. We have different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.

So let me be clear at the beginning: This is how I, personally, stay motivated. I am sharing this as a behind-the-scenes look at my process, rather than a recommendation.

The only thing I would actively recommend for everyone is to study yourself. Figure out how you work, what naturally gets you moving forward, and see if you can cultivate that. Don’t wait for the Muse to strike. Rather, create a way to summon the Muse. Or at least, build a birdhouse for it. Maybe add a nice bath. Bit of statuary. You know, encourage it a little. Matt, Cory, and I talked a about ways to do this in a podcast a while back, so that might also be helpful.

So, with that caveat in place, here’s what I do to keep myself motivated. Or, at the very least, getting things done. That’s not necessarily the same thing either, but that’s another talk entirely.

1. Plans within plans
(within plans…within some more plans)

I am a planner. I need goals. Something to strive towards. Without them I get exceptionally anxious. If you’re a fan of typology (which I am) as an INFJ I’m not nearly as focused on the journey as the end result.

Here are what I make plans for:

1. My goals for the year
2. My goals for the season (I break the year into 3 task-based seasons)
3. My goals for the month
4. My goals for the week
5. My goals for the day

…Like I said, I’m a planner.

I make checklists for all of these time frames. I have white boards dedicated to seasonal goals, each task with its own big box waiting to be checked. Every Monday morning I sit down first thing and draw up my goals for the week. It will include my LeyLines upkeep goals for page quotas, business goals for things like taxes or classes or convention registration, and optional goals that it would be good to meet, but okay to miss.

Then each day, I look at those weekly goals and choose some of the tasks I want to get done on that particular day. I make a checklist for the day and post it side-by-side to the weekly goals. Sometimes I’ll break a weekly goal down into smaller components for a daily goal. “Register for Convention Z” might become, “check website, download form, fill out form, mail form and payment.” This can make tasks that are perhaps more difficult for me (like making phone calls, which I absolutely hate doing) seem more manageable because each task is so small.

I feel great whenever I cross something off a list. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and progress every time I do.

2. Find a Planning Partner & Peer

There can be a massive draw-back to planning. Sometimes it can get entirely out of control, and actually hinder motivation rather than drive it. That’s why it’s so important for me to have a planning partner.

Cory is the co-owner of our business, cares about the work we’re doing, and brings an entirely different perspective to the table. His input is invaluable.

Each month, Cory and I will go out to a restaurant and talk about Moko Press goals for the month. At year’s end, we’ll also talk about annual goals and seasonal goals. We examine what directions we’d like to move in, what new things we’d like to try, and review what worked and what didn’t for previous activities. This is amazingly helpful for a lot of reasons.

Cory is a very journey oriented person, (INTP, for you typology folks at home keeping score) so he helps balance out my goal fixation when it starts to get out of control. It’s easy for me to over-load on goals, give myself impossible tasks, fail at meeting my vastly over-blown expectations, and then beat up on myself for doing so. It’s also easy for me to ignore what I’ve already accomplished, because I’m constantly fixated on the next goal I’m trying to reach. This can become very discouraging, because it feels like I’m never making any progress. Talking with Cory forces me to take a moment and appreciate how much we’ve done together. It gives me confidence that we’ll be able to tackle the next set of challenges.

He also has a much better instinct for feasibility and marketability than I do. I’ve learned (the hard way, most of the time) that when Cory has his doubts about a product or a project, that I need to back up and listen. He’s got an entirely different skill set, and where he’s strong, I’m weak, and vice versa. We work exceptionally well in that way. So when we’re both in agreement on something, it gives me an additional confidence boost.

Half of staying motivated for me is removing doubt and fear from the process. Cory has a level of faith in our company’s future that I still cannot grasp, but it gives me so much hope. Believing that what we’re doing has value, and that it has long-term viability, is key to keeping me going.

3. Spotting Desperate Ideas & Listening to Instincts

There is one particular kind of idea that is a time-bomb in disguise. It induces a frenzy of manic activity that, outwardly, looks like being highly motivated. Then, when it crashes and burns, it takes all my confidence with it.

Cory and I have learned to call these “Desperate Ideas,” and we’ve taken to checking for them at the close of all our monthly meetings.

My desperate ideas tend to have some common aspects:
– An artificially constrictive or unreasonable deadline
– “It worked for person X so it will definitely work for me”
– A belief that if I don’t act NOW, it will have catastrophic consequences
– A low-grade aura of despair or fear attached to the idea

What’s funny about desperate ideas is that, instinctively, I can almost always spot them on a gut level. Yet, despite knowing this, they are the tasks I am most likely to do. Unless they are called out, the fear/despair they induce will over-ride all my best judgement.

Learning to acknowledge desperate ideas for what they are, and let go of the feelings attached to them, has saved me so much heart-ache this last year. Not having to go through a constant boom-bust cycle, through which I have to also juggle all the tasks that are actually useful and helpful, helps keep motivation levels at a healthier and more consistent rate naturally.

4. Uncovering passion

In many ways, motivating myself is far less about inducing a state of excitement, and far more about uncovering the excitement that is already there. Storytelling is like breathing for me. Creating stories is something I think about constantly. In that way, I am always at work, whether I am in a grocery store buying eggs or sitting at my desk toiling away at the latest page. The passion I have for it is so innately a part of my life that I will end up doing it no matter what my situation or goals.

Accessing that passion is more a matter of clearing away the debris of doubt, fear, anxiety, depression, self-loathing, stress, and other feelings that tarnish the shine of that inner desire.

I love storytelling. I love it enough to constantly be pushing forward. I love it enough to accept that I have been, am, and will be terrible at it. That I have so much to learn, and always will. Perfection in the arts is not a summit that can ever be reached, but when you love the mountain, the desire to turn around and stop climbing never fully overcomes the desire to continue on.

Not everything I’ve tried has this level of passion, and that’s okay. Sometimes I’ve thought that I wanted something more than I actually did. For example, I love to sing. I fancied myself a song-writer, for a time. I was frustrated at my inability to develop piano accompaniment to my tunes, so I took up guitar thinking that would be my ticket to easy power chords and epic riffs.

Turns out, playing guitar is hard. The strings hurt your fingers. The chords have to be played over and over again so that your hands can instinctively recall the arrangements needed for each combination. Tuning is an art form in itself, because there is so much beyond the standard to explore.

I took lessons for over a year. I never really got any good at it. Why?

Because I didn’t love it enough. I didn’t love it enough to practice frequently. I didn’t love it enough to explore the intricacies of how it worked, to study music and artists and genre. I didn’t love it enough to build callouses on my fingers. I certainly didn’t love it enough to be terrible at it for more than a year.

Compare that to the piles and piles and piles of drawings I have. The massive lump of a callous on my finger where my pencil rests. The times where I can’t sleep because there are too many stories rattling in my head. My constant hunger for more information, more ways to improve, more techniques I can try.

Sometimes we find that the reason we’re not as motivated to do something as much as we thought we were is because we find the passion isn’t as vast as we thought it was. That’s okay. The experiences expand our skill set and knowledge base, and often there’s insight to be gained. A person isn’t interested in something for no reason. What was it that got us excited in the first place? Is there a link to something we feel more passionate for, buried in the trappings of what we thought we wanted?

It all comes back to that beginning recommendation: Study yourself.

When you find the thing that’s like breathing, motivating yourself will be a matter of clearing everything else away.

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