Get Going

The last two weeks I started to learn more about what motivates people to do what they do. I myself experience varying levels of motivation. Sometimes I feel very motivated to do a lot of stuff, especially on the weekend, and sometimes I can’t motivate me to do a thing. What I already learned previously (and I even wrote about it earlier) is, that you can’t rely solely on motivation to achieve excellence.

In my previous article I wrote about how discipline is more reliable then motivation. Although what I discovered since is, that sometimes discipline alone is a pretty bad impetus for doing creative work like writing or even programming.

I’m currently in the process of reading some books about the theory of motivation in general, and habits as a tool to hack motivation in particular (Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Superhuman By Habit: A Guide to Becoming the Best Possible Version of Yourself, One Tiny Habit at a Time). I already have plans of writing a more in depth article about this topic – the following lines are more of a case study on how to deal with a sudden lack of motivation.

Leisure work

Today I woke up and after accomplishing my daily morning routine – some light training for body and mind, and drinking coffee – I sat down on the couch with my MacBook on my lap and I started browsing the web. Usually I check Twitter and reddit and then watch some of the recommended videos which seem to be most interesting on YouTube.

After finishing this “leisure work” I realized that if I don’t stop right now, I basically could do this all day. Although I would feel awful in the evening because I achieved nothing and completely wasted my precious time. So I stopped wasting my time watching YouTube videos and reading stuff that makes me angry on reddit and instead started thinking about what I could do with the rest of the day.

The lack of joyful things to do

Quickly thousands of activities crossed my mind. There are a ton of useful tasks to do: I could work on the backlog of one of my GitHub projects. I could read a book or a magazine. I could (or even should) mow the lawn. I could do various things around the house. I could learn some new JavaScript framework or other programming technique…

And there are even a lot of things to do which usually are considered more pleasant: I could watch The Lord of the Rings again. I could go out and meet friends. I could play computer games. I could play with LEGOs. I could drive somewhere where I never was before…

So many things to do and none of those things – neither one of the reasonable nor one of the pleasant activities – seemed to be something I would enjoy doing at this very moment. One psychological effect which operates here is the “Paradox of Choice”. We’re so afraid that the option we’re going to choose is worse than another option, that we do not want to make a decision at all. You may have experienced this first hand when deciding which movie to watch on Netflix – after browsing hundreds of movies you decide that you can’t decide and you quit Netflix without having to settle for a movie over another.

But not deciding to do anything at all is not really an option when determining what to do with the rest of your day. Although pointlessly browsing the web and wasting your time online may be pretty close to doing nothing at all.

Just do it

After thinking about all of my options of possible activities for today, I quickly realized I was not in the right mood to do anything which required my mind to work at full capacity, like programming or reading a book. I also couldn’t decide which one of the pleasant things I should do, furthermore at the end of the day I may still feel guilty for doing nothing meaningful, even if I had played computer games instead of just wasting time surfing the web.

What remains is doing some manual work which does not require too much thinking and creativity but just some discipline to start doing it. I decided to clean up my flat and it turned out to be a pretty good activity to choose.

Motivating activities

If you don’t feel like doing anything at all there is no way (I’m aware of) to just get motivated out of nothing, it doesn’t matter which task you’re going to choose. However, there are tasks which can help you to build up motivation, so after finishing such a task you might feel motivated again to do other, more complex activities.

Sport – or more broadly speaking any form of demanding physical activity – is a very effective motivation booster. The downside of utilizing sport to enhance your motivation is, that it is also pretty hard to motivate yourself to start exercising in the first place. It can be easier to choose an activity with an immediate positive outcome. If you’re choosing to clean your car or mow the lawn, you might not feel like this will be a lot of fun to do but at least you have accomplished something useful.

Cleaning and especially cleaning your flat – or at least the room you’re spending the most time in – is one of the most effective motivation boosters. For the rest of the day, and most of the time even for the next couple of days, you’re profiting from the positive effect of a clean and tidy environment which is the result of your work.

If your living space is a huge mess and cleaning it up would take a lot of time, it might be very hard to get going. But if that’s the case, all the more important it is to do something about the situation. Take baby steps. You may decide to just clean one room or maybe even just your desk. After you’ve finished your desk you may feel like cleaning the rest of the room too, or maybe not, but hey: you still have a clean desk now.

Going on

So in the morning I decided to clean my flat and after finishing the work I found the motivation to write this blog post about finding motivation ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. After I have finished writing this article and after uploading it to my blog, I have no idea what I’ll do next. There are thousands of options, maybe I’ll play computer games or I’m going to work on the backlog of one of my open source projects…

It doesn’t matter what’s up next, at the end of the day I can look back sitting in my tidy and clean living room, thinking further about this article and although I might have wasted the rest of the day I’ll still have the feeling of having accomplished at least something.


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