89 Motivation

There are lots of books, blogs, and presentations on motivation.

It means different things to different people.

What it means to me is getting things done that need to be done. For example, I have to get up in the morning so I can do things. Getting up needs motivation. I have to get out from under the duvet and stand up. This can be uncomfortable because it’s nice to lie in a warm bed than it is to stand up in a cold room. I do this because I realise that in order to get other things done I have to get out of bed. My brain persuades my body to do this by saying that it’s simple to throw the covers back and stand up. I don’t think about the other tasks ahead of me on that day. Just two things. Throw the covers back and stand up.

We all need some motivation otherwise we would stay in bed all day.

Once I’m out of bed I open the curtains, tidy my bed a bit, put my clothes on and wash my face. These are all done automatically. The only part that needed motivation was the first two steps of throwing the covers back and standing up. That’s where my motivation did battle with the prospect of discomfort. My motivation always wins this battle. The other tasks that followed didn’t need any motivation probably because there was no discomfort. I was on auto.

Next, I go downstairs and make a cup of coffee and some toast. No discomfort so not much motivation is required.

Then I look at my emails and eat my breakfast. Not a good habit. No discomfort very little motivation.

Brush my teeth. Have another coffee. Very little motivation is required.

I’m going to need some motivation for what comes next. At this point, I usually do something that requires creative thought. Writing a question of the day, writing one of these EyeTools Journal items, writing a piece for a clinical journal or writing a research paper or writing for a book, or editing a research paper. All of this creates discomfort for me because I have to think. I can’t be on auto. The potential for discomfort means I need motivation. Here comes the battle between my motivation and the potential for discomfort. Creating is hard work. Thinking is hard work. And of course, I might not be able to write or think so there is potential for failure which adds to the potential for discomfort.

This is where I set my goal. My goal is the weapon my motivation will use in the battle against the potential discomfort. The key to helping motivation win this battle is to make the goal achievable. Within reach. Something that will help my motivation breach the defences of the potential for discomfort. I make my goals small so they won’t take long. My motivation takes this small goal and confronts the potential for discomfort with it. My goal is small so any discomfort will be short-lived. I can deal with a short period of discomfort.

For example, recently I had to read and edit a long research article consisting of many sections. Each section had been written by a different author in a different style with different levels of English. Once I’d started I realised that this was going to be hard work, involve a lot of thinking and there was a great potential for discomfort. I needed the motivation to get through this.

So I set myself a goal of editing two paragraphs and then I would do something else. Read a few pages in a book or a few pages in several books. Do some housework. Make a coffee. Have some toast. Check my messages. See if the post has arrived. Make my bed. I could manage to edit two paragraphs. The discomfort wasn’t too bad. Then I would do something else and then edit another two paragraphs. Then do something else and then another two paragraphs. Sometimes I got into a flow and edited 4, 6, 8, or 10 paragraphs. Even when I wasn’t editing I was doing something. So the house was tidied and cleaned I made progress in one or more books. Or I had a nap. Most of the time I edited more than two paragraphs but I always approached the work with two paragraphs in mind. Never more. I chunked my work and helped motivation overcome potential discomfort.

If there is a deadline the key is to try and do enough chunks in one sitting to meet the deadline. I had a deadline but it was flexible which meant I could go past it. I did go past it but the work I did was good. I edited all the other authors’ writing and made a paper that told a story and was readable.

Getting through even small chunks lets you see progress and realise it’s not so bad so you are encouraged to do some more small chunks. After two sittings I’d reviewed a whole page. Good only 16 more pages to go. Now my sight of progress helped motivation in the battle against the perception of discomfort.

Frequent work on the chunks means that eventually the big piece of work gets done. So, I get the project done, progress through my books, and get some housework done. Three things for the cost of one.

Standing up and moving away from your place of writing, reading or thinking also helps lower your blood pressure and is a form of mini-exercise. All body movement is a form of exercise but standing up and moving around is more exercise than sitting down and typing.

Also doing something routine between the chunks means your brain works in a different way and a good idea or a solution to a problem in one of your chunks could come flying into your brain. When this happens I have to write it down otherwise I may not be able to remember the idea or the solution. I keep a pen and paper nearby.

Motivation is high because the fear of failure is low. It’s difficult to fail to edit two paragraphs.

Starting with a small win like editing two paragraphs improves thoughts about my efficiency and belief in myself. After completing several chunks and seeing the progress my belief in being able to complete the project increased.

Of course, this won’t work if you spend 4 minutes on a chunk and then 4 hours between chunks. You need to be sensible and proportionate about time spent on a chunk and time spent between chunks. My experience is at least 5 minutes on a chunk or completing one chunk and no more than 15 mins between chunks. Sometimes I spent 40 minutes on a chunk and 10 minutes between chunks. It varies throughout the time I spent on the project. Also, I try not to make activities between chunks too enjoyable. Enjoyable between-chunk activities make it difficult to get back to the next chunk.

The next project is coming and I can think back to how successfully I dealt with the last project using my chunking process. This will give me confidence. I can do it again. I know chunking works for me as I’ve done it before and I can do it again.

Think about the process, the chunking, rather than the overall project. I think about the process and not the output. Completing the process makes the output. The process creates the output.

I also keep in mind the ‘why’ of the project. Why do I need to complete it? In this case, I’d agreed to edit the paper so did not want to let my colleague and friend down and did not want to let the section authors down. It’s worth remembering the ‘why’ of every project.

I use chunking for reading books, tidying the house, writing articles, writing books, gardening, and life administration. I enjoy working like this and the enjoyment gives me more motivation.

So, for me, motivation defeats perceived discomfort through remembering the why, frequent chunking, frequent activities between chunks, and thinking about previous project completions.

Try it and get things done.