I came across a post for authors about how to stay motivated, and the central comparison was, “A writing session is like going to spin class. You put it on the schedule, you dread it, you think about bailing, you hate it while it’s happening, but then you feel so good when it’s over. You just need discipline and aggressive commitment to your goals, and your book will get written.”
This kind of thinking maketh me to curse. First, creativity has its own schedule. I could go to court on Thursdays and know which cases were on my docket, but writing a book isn’t like that for most authors I know. Relationships aren’t like that. Tending a home isn’t like that. So much of what’s important in life refuses to yield to linear,assembly line thinking.
Second, I feel like crap after a workout. Mean, resentful, ugly, exhausted crap. Always have, which makes sense to me, and I often feel even worse the next day.
From an evolutionary standpoint, we aren’t meant to sit on our butts for eight hours, then hustle to the gym and impersonate an Olympic hopeful. If longevity and quality of longevity are the goals, we are far better off going for four fifteen minute walks in the middle of our work day, stretching before we get dressed, keeping hand weights where we’ll use them throughout the day, and doing some yard work in the evening.
In other words, the hunter-gatherers had it right. Nobody ever outran a cheetah.
Athletes, I am convinced, simply find joy in the exertion. They do not dread spin class–most days, they love it. My former husband (the ultra-marathoner) was very clear that his long runs–10 to 20 miles–were mood-altering as he was running. When he got home and showered off, he crashed both emotionally and physically.
But more to the point, the people who study will power and high achievement tell us that delayed gratification is a lousy motivator. Folks who can stick to a task over the long term have cracked a couple codes, and neither of them is unrelenting self-discipline. The first code they crack is how to find joy and pleasure in the task itself, how to build in micro-rewards rather than simply, “It feels so good when it stops,” rewards. Sometimes the pleasure is an organic gift–my former spouse loved to run, I love to write. Sometimes lacing in the reward means bundling a joy with a chore, sometimes it means focusing on the happy parts first, last, and most often.
Snitch some dough, arrange the floral centerpiece first, always queue up the playlist before attempting housework. Add the joy at the start and find it along the way, don’t expect yourself to slog away for days or years before you see a payoff.
The second code most highly “motivated” people crack is how to make it easy to go straight to the desired task. They don’t have tremendous willpower, but they are good at structuring the environment–from social relationships, to physical surroundings, to activity sequences–so the path to the task is simple and short. Their phones are set up to let people know, “I’m meditating now. Will get back to you later today!” or, their running shoes and socks are on the floor on the side of the bed they get up on.
They think systemically, and design a strategy that puts the least effort and will power between them and their goals. (They also get enough sleep.)
How do you approach the things you find it hard to do? How did you arrive at that strategy? I’m starting my ARC list for Yuletide Gems, so…