Motivation is a myth (I promise)

How many times have I sat down to work on a project, fuelled with good intentions, only to fail at one hurdle or another? Usually, I am so ready to go and driven to get things done and – you know what? – make some good progress. Actually, no, make some really great progress. Every time I move closer to my goal, I am filled with pure joy. Things keep moving. I’m getting things done.

Until I’m not.

Eventually, the fuel burns up. My motivation stops moving. The case remains the same for all of us; there’s only so much you can do until, eventually, you give up. It doesn’t matter what it was you were working on. Your desire to create, produce, make stuff dries up. The project, started with so many good intentions, never gets done.

It takes a back seat, shelved, wedged in between your other ideas.

Motivation on the outside

We once had this hour-and-a-half-long CPL (which means Continued Professional Learning) at my workplace, and we discussed the idea of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, specifically for kids taking exams. The idea behind this is that we perform best when fuelled by intrinsic motivation: that we want to do well, get good grades, succeed in life, and all the rest, simply because we want to. We want to do well, therefore we will try hard and do the best that we possibly can. As teachers, it’s our job to bring that desire out in our students.

That’s easier said than done.

It is so easy to fall victim to our extrinsic desires. Why? Because it’s easy. It’s so much easier to feel motivated by something outside us – by the idea that we’ll be given £20 for every A* or Grade 9 we achieve, or for the fact that we could get into our dream University. There’s nothing wrong with this in the short-term, but it can only take us so far. There has to be something more.

Something more

Life is set up for us to constantly be chasing the next big thing. In our romantic lives, we’re told to find a partner, move in, marry-up, have kids and push for grandchildren. After every milestone, it’s the next big milestone that we push our relationship towards.

The same is true for our work lives. We work, and work, and work, and finally get a raise. We keep going, and going, and going, and finally get promoted. Eventually, though, more money is no longer enough. You realise that, actually, you hate the work – and you quit, unfulfilled.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because 85% of us reportedly aren’t happy at work. As well as that, studies indicate that, after reaching an annual salary of $75,000 (about £57,599.25), further increases to our take-home pay doesn’t increase our happiness.You need something else. Something to get you through the 9-5 grind.

Motivation plus…what?

If you’re not happy at work, don’t hand in your notice, especially not in this economy. Money is great, and you should always have something lined up before moving on to the next big thing. But you do need to remember that, if you really want to be truly happy – and satisfied in the things that you do – you need reason to do it. It needs to be a deep-seeded desire to do what you’re passionate about. I picked work as an easy example, and because we spend so much of our life in the office, but it needn’t apply to your working life exclusively.

Take your hobbies, for one example. Why do you do them? Is it because you have a number of goals to complete, or because you just really, truly, love doing them? That’s not to say that you shouldn’t rely on motivation a little bit from time-to-time; it can be really useful. I feel a flash of inspiration after watching productivity-focused content creators on Youtube, like Matt D’Avella, Thomas Frank or Ali Abdaal, but if I don’t have an internalised reason for writing, I’m not going to do it.

So, to lay the groundwork – the building blocks towards this internalised desire to create and to see my projects through to completion – I start by trying to not get overwhelmed. I have a lot of overarching goals, but by breaking each one down into small, manageable steps, I can work towards the big picture. This so-called big picture involves planning, writing, and scheduling enough content until Christmas, assigning one new blog post to each week of the year, and batch-creating thumbnails for each of them. I’ll plan each of these tasks using my Bullet Journal productivity system.

This method stops me from burning out after the initial phase of motivation has worn off, but I’m always looking for new techniques. How do you stay focused? 

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