What is Motivation?

My Dad gets up at 6 AM every morning, and I know for a fact that my Dad hates getting up early in the morning. But he does it almost every day, like clockwork. So why does he do it? More importantly: how does he do it? Well, I'm gonna have to ask him that sometime. In the meantime, I'll tell you what works for me. I am terrible getting up early in the morning, but I'm very good at doing other things, like working on my comic every day. So how do I do it?

Much of it can be summed up in an interview with John Norcross on Science Friday on keeping resolutions. I'll sum up the important points and add some of my own thoughts.

1. Take the One Seat. I stole this idea from Buddhism. The idea is that salvation is as simple as doing one thing -- sitting down and meditating. Creating is similar. Find your one thing to do every day. Stop trying to write a screenplay, plan a performance piece and start an NGO at the same time. Choose ONE thing.

You have way to many things to think about. So take the thinking and planning out of the equation, and just find something you can just do. If you're not interested in doing something artsy, just find something to do every day religiously. For Twyla Tharp, her ritual is going to the gym every day. Notice that her ritual isn't directly related to her profession - choreography - but it's the thing that commits her to her labors every day.

A daily ritual becomes an anchor in your life. You can depend on it. It clarifies and focuses your attention, and it gives your day-to-day life meaning.

2. Start Small. Start with a length of time that you know you can commit to. I would recommend 20 to 30 minutes max. I would even set limits. You don't need to make monumental efforts. You'll be amazed how much you can accomplish after a year of doing something every day for a couple of minutes.

If you feel very confident about doing more, do more, but don't do it out of guilt or ego. Do only as much as you are positive you can do every day.

3. Be Persistent. It's more important to be persistent than consistent. Most people that keep resolutions, have resets along the way. Don't worry about yesterday. Just do your thing today.

4. Be Willing to Suck. No end goals here. Your job is to just do your thing whether its good or not. Recently, my buddy Kohl shared this nugget of wisdom with me :

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one—to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes—the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

(original link)

Ira Glass and Jerzy Drozd seem to think the same thing. Just focus on doing the one thing. You'll get better over time.

5. Be Willing to Be a Little Miserable. Sometimes doing your one thing will be miserable. But here's the thing: Misery comes and goes, but your work will still be there after the misery is gone. This is why you keep it short and simple. Even if its miserable, at least its only 20 to 30 minutes.

6. Have Fun. This is kind of a two-parter. First, whatever thing you choose to do, make sure it's something that has an inherent reward in it. That doesn't mean that it's easy to do, but that it is fun, peaceful, enlightening, engaging or somehow rewarding for you. There should be some nugget in it that keeps you coming back.

It's very important that the reward is inherent. While there may be external incentives to doing your thing, you must find something that is rewarding just from doing it.

I think this has a lot to do with why my Dad gets up early in the morning every day, even though he hates it. He loves his job. He's a doctor and he loves his work far more than I will ever love doing art. And so getting up early in the morning is a small sacrifice.

The second part of this is to have fun when you're not doing your thing. Once you've done it, check it off your one-item check list and enjoy life a bit - without feeling guilty about it. Go to the beach, play with your kid, or read a book. Stuart Brown has some really good things to say about this: Play

So what's the secret of motivation? It's not a whoosh of  feeling, or an inherent get r' done attitude. Motivation is habit. It's creating those practices that make it as easy and rewarding as possible for you to do your thing every day.

If  you still find large psychological barriers to doing your thing, I highly recommend Neil Fiore's The Now Habit. It's one of the few books on procrastination that gets past the drill sergeant answers to the deeper issues that can sometimes paralyze the otherwise well intentioned soul.