First Things First

I saw a Facebook post go by celebrating the knock-on effect of dopamine. The syllogism went something like this: I treated myself to a fish tank I could not easily afford, but I just love that fish tank. Every time I see those little fishies swimming in their beautiful little world, I am happy. On the strength of that happy (a dopamine hit), I was motivated to tackle a bunch of other stuff I had been putting off, like organizing my kitchen shelves, because dopamine isn’t just the reward chemical, it’s the motivation chemical. Now I’m going to follow my joy. Pretty soon my house will be clean, I’ll have a savings account, and nothing but blue skies in every direction.

My instinctive reaction was, “Yeah, but you spent money you couldn’t comfortably spare, the fishies might have all died, and you were probably getting to the ‘my kitchen is driving me nuts’ point anyway. Besides, that dopamine stuff has lot to do with turning people into compulsive fish-tank hoarders, as everybody well knows.”

Do they really? I got to thinking… My parents’ rubrics were business before pleasure, and work hard and “get ahead,” whatever that means. What I saw as a kid though, was two devoted coffee drinkers who also smoked and tippled heavily right through the week (as did most of their peers), and a father who got a migraine most Sunday nights before starting out the week at a job he was outwardly devoted to. Mom’s housekeeping would be called compulsive by current standards. If business comes before pleasure, when does pleasure ever get a turn?

I’m also reminded of James Clear’s admonition that the most important part of building a new habit, is associating the habit with something pleasurable now. When you floss, if you stop to grin in the mirror at your pearly whites and say to yourself, “Good job! I’m proud of you!” you are more likely to keep up the flossing. If you bundle the daily walk with catching up with a friend, or admiring the botanical gardens, the walk is more likely to remain daily. Something about how you go about the new habit itself–not the result it produces–has to be attractive, or the behavior is hard to sustain.

And then I thought about how my day begins–with my now famous cup of jasmine green tea laced with manuka honey. I start the day with a treat, and with my treat in hand, I go to the computer and do some writer “work.” I use quotes, because I do love my job, and I would much rather do writer stuff than house work, yard work, marketing stuff (blech), or errands. As a matter of fact, when I started writing for pleasure, my migraines began to wane. Hmm.

In other words, I start my day with joy. THEN I deal with litter boxes, laundry, and life. I honestly don’t think I could do it the other way around very well now, though I ordered my life in the business before pleasure direction for decades. Now, I would… pout? Stall? I’m not sure what the right word would be, but I function better if I prime my emotional pump with some pleasure and indulgence.

How does motivation work for you? Lean into joy, or start with the hard stuff and celebrate after the race is run? Some of both? Depends on the context? Do tell!

PS: Lord Julian’s fifth mystery, A Gentleman in Search of a Wife, is now available for pre-order on all the web store and the retail sites, and even has its spiffy final cover!

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9 comments on “First Things First

  1. I start with the hard stuff so that I can feel good that I did it and not have to think about it the rest of the day. I’m talking mostly about exercising these days since I really dislike it and always have but I also know I need to do it (and not just the post-knee replacement exercises that I hope to discontinue next month since it will be a year since my surgery). So I do it as soon as I wake up but before I sit down at the computer to play my morning MS Solitaire games and read my emails. I also do it first since I found years ago that if I put it off until later in the day, I almost always found something more “important” to do and then I didn’t do it. It’s similar to what I’ve always said about voting: I vote so I have the right to complain! Yeah, not noble or anything but it works for me.

    The new cover is pretty and I’m looking forward to the next adventure.

  2. Hi Grace and All the blog contribitors,wishing you all a very good morning on this calm and sunny Sunday.It seems a long time since I last posted a comment on your blog.Last year was a very challenging time for me a roller coaster of health issues that could not be ignored.My stubbornness and stupidity made things worse,but I finally got it together and let people help me and give my family a thank you.Motivation has been difficult this Winter for me.I sometimes feel like the old car I once had that would not start on a cold and frosty morning.I called it all the names under the sun and still it refused to go.The best way for me now to get my motivation moving is to shame myself.Accuse myself of being lazy and a slouch.I tell myself I am letting things go and I can do better.But what works best??? The SUN comes out and my motivation leaps into action.This works for me and now Spring is on its way I hope to get things done.Take care one and all

    • It is lovely to “see” you again! I think I may need to get “My stubbornness and stupidity made things worse” tattooed somewhere I see everyday or maybe on a throw cushion!

  3. I am definitely a Work First person, only relaxing if the (never ending) list is completely checked off
    My spouse is play first, maybe I’ll eventually work if I ever get around to it

    Harmoniously blending those two outlooks is a challenge!!

  4. Pingback: Leaping Lordlings! | Grace Burrowes | I believe in love.

  5. My husband and I start our day with a cup of coffee and cookie in bed. Yes, the coffee maker is on a timer in the bedroom. It helps.

    If you really want to see me move, however, make me angry. And there’s an unholy joy in that, too. I take medication for it now.

  6. I am
    In “the work routine”. I get up, put the dogs out, feed them and then start the coffee. My treat is a 30 minute reading time- and I cherish it.
    I get up earlier so I can read & spend time with the dogs before work but it’s definitely worth it!

  7. After years of work first-and second and third and..,I now start each day with 20-30 minutes making and/or creating. And even with only 15-20 minutes for lunch, I sit down not at my desk and read while eating. And I do stop at the end of the workday. Those exams will still be there to be graded tomorrow…. For me it is less about work or pleasure first and more about setting clear limits. My 20-something daughter said I’m her role model for work-life balance, which made me grin ear-to-ear!

  8. When and how I motivate myself? It definitely depends! Ideally, upon awakening, I sit up in bed, get my phone and work the NY Times Spelling Bee puzzle: a low-risk, affirming little brain challenge. If I don’t reach Genius level, I enlist the help of my husband. He loves it when I ask for help. We laugh about whatever I missed on the puzzle, have a cup of tea together, and then I can get to the computer and work. When stuck or frustrated, I take a break to complete a small task (clean litter boxes, clean the counters) AND identify the rewarding aspects of that break: I tell myself, “you’re moving,” “you’re changing your focus of attention, resting your brain,” “you’re nurturing the kitties,” etc. Reframing short but onerous tasks makes the break from work more restorative – maybe not rewarding per se – but certainly constructive.