Have you ever been in a place of deep unmotivation? I used to blog regularly. When I first started my blog, I scheduled it on my calendar as a time for reflection every Monday morning. Later, when I became a consultant, my blogging happened most often on airplanes. I almost always had a topic I was inspired to write about after a few days of coaching leaders around the country. There were times that I was writing for several publications and even had multiple articles in the queue ready to be published. And then life happened. I can blame it on several major transitions in my life, but there was always an excuse to not write…I’m too tired, I’m not getting paid for this so I need to prioritize the paid work that needs to be done, I need to read instead, I need to focus on my kids…the bottom line was I wasn’t motivated to write. When I finally stopped to analyze the why behind it is because I just didn’t think I had anything to say. What do I have to share that someone hasn’t already shared? Excuses are easy. Dedication is not.
I knew that I needed to write. Writing has long been the way I process and reflect. It’s a major component of my own growth. Back in the fall of 2019, I began working with my own coach. I believe that one-on-one coaching is the best mode of professional development, so why wouldn’t I have my own? Toward the end of 2019, he urged me to spend time thinking about my goals for 2020. I had to think about all of the areas of my life in which I wanted to grow. I wrote four goals for the year: two are professional and two are personal. Then, I broke those into six smaller goals that I want to accomplish by the end of the first quarter. These are almost more like action steps to push me towards the bigger picture. One of them is to write 1500 words a day. I knew that I had to make a tangible commitment to renew my writing habits. This is day 1. And I’ll go ahead and admit that I’m almost at the end of January when I’m writing this, and it follows a coaching session where I had to straight-up tell my coach that I hadn’t written a single thing (other than social media posts) since the New Year. He is holding me accountable. I have to tell him that I wrote next week during our coaching session. He also gave me permission to just sit down and free-write. I don’t have to worry about my outline, or what chapter I’m working on, but just to get words on a page. And it’s working!
This reminds me of my days teaching second graders. I loved Writer’s Workshop and used it for almost ten years to teach my students how to be better writers. I often told my students that the message in their brains was more important than correct spelling or nice handwriting. I would tell them to just get their message on the paper, and we’d spend time revising and editing later. Here I am, needing someone else to remind me to take my own advice. This quote by J.R.R. Tolkien adds some push, as well, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Now, I truly think Tolkien was talking about more than me writing a book or a blog post, but the sentiment can be applied to every area of my life. If reflecting is important to me, and sharing my message can help others, why am I choosing to read for pleasure on an airplane instead of writing my 1500 words for that day? It all comes back to motivation, determination, and dedication.
There are different ways to find that motivation. Some are extrinsic and some are intrinsic.
I asked some people from my PLN (via Twitter) how they stay or get motivated. One friend, Sarah Johnson, says, “[It] helps me to set a goal and use a timer, putting away distractions for the allotted time…especially my cell and social media. I tend to need accountability, so setting my calendar with allotted and regular writing time each day helps.” I mentioned earlier that scheduling my writing time on my calendar each week helped. It’s a bit more difficult with an inconsistent daily schedule like mine. I do like the idea of setting a timer and staying fully focused during that time. Social media, emails, phone calls are all very real distractions. Unless it’s one of my children calling with an emergency, I need to block out those temptations and focus on the work at hand.
Bryon Carpenter also likes to put it on the calendar, but performs best under pressure, intentionally procrastinating until closer to the deadline. I’ve never really been a procrastinator. I think it goes way back to my early childhood of wanting to be a people-pleaser. That followed me into my life as a student and caused me to work on assignments as soon as they were assigned. I think that was a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. I was working for that good grade, but also for the feeling of pride when I met or exceeded others’ expectations for me. It doesn’t really work for goals I’ve set for myself. I need that accountability of a goal and it helps if I share it with someone (like my leadership coach) to help me stay (or get) on course.
Noa Daniel says, “My personal strategy is to make the work I love to do the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or mountain – that I get to reach for only after I do the work I try to avoid. It’s the only way to motivate myself to get that stuff done.” This is a clear example of extrinsic motivation. Working to accomplish something in order to achieve something. I know a lot of people that this works for. Many people use this strategy for weight loss or fitness goals. Again, I don’t think this is a good strategy for me for daily motivation. There isn’t any “small” reward that would push me to write my 1500 words a day. Possibly setting a bigger reward, like a vacation, for when I finish the book would be a motivator, but I need the immediate push for the day-to-day work.
Robert Dunlop takes a more physical approach to reach for some motivation. He says, “I take a shower or exercise. Wakes me up and gives me the energy to initiate a new task.” This definitely helps energize me after a long day. Often when I am feeling the most tired, I’ll make myself workout and then I have renewed energy for the next few hours. I may need to try this in correspondence with my writing time.
Jeff Kubiak says that he takes breaks to reflect, breaks the work into shorter segments, and focuses on the future outcomes. And in his words, he “listens to epic tunes.” I like Jeff’s productivity strategies. He nailed much of my growth philosophy as far as setting a larger goal (future outcome), setting action steps (shorter segments) and taking time for frequent reflection. I’ve believed in that process for years, and I’m finally back on course to practice it with my writing. Epic tune selection is up to the listener.
So, it all boils down to finding what motivates you. And giving yourself permission to change that “thing” you are working for depending on your goal. What motivates me to exercise each day is how I feel after a workout. What motivates some people with eating goals is a cheat meal at the end of the week. What motivates my son to play video games is achieving higher levels each time. And, right now, what motivates me to write is a daily goal and a coach who asks me regularly if I’m writing. Ultimately, it comes down to each person. Eleanor Roosevelt, a leader before her time, once said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words. It is expressed in the choices one makes, and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” What choices are you making today to learn and grow?