Here comes a long and serious post. I spent a year writing this post. How to get motivated is a hard topic. Yes, a year. I wanted it to be concise, hopefully not pretentious, nor arrogant, nor useless fluff. For you, I spent lots of time overanalyzing the process of motivation and I hope this is helpful to some of you who keep asking, “How do I get motivated?” since my motivation seems to materialize from nowhere. You’re probably not going to like my answer, because it’s all about introspection.
New Year’s Resolutions – Ew.
This New Years could be a heavily or joyful one, depending on what your answer is to, “How was the past decade?” When I bring up New Year’s Resolutions with my friends, they hiss at me and some are bold enough to remind me that if I have to make it a resolution, I am probably procrastinating on whatever it is. That’s a great point!
I haven’t written a New Year’s Resolutions post probably in a few years. Sometimes I feel like goals are more attainable if you hold yourself accountable by telling absolutely no one. The first rule of Fight Club. It’s easy to feel like you’re progressing on a goal by just talking about it, when it reality all you’ve done is imagine working on said goal. Imagination is a useful tool for goal-setting if used properly. Most of the time, we use it as enjoyable procrastination.
Have you ever been accused of being a dreamer or of wishful thinking? Do your friends sourly change the conversation when you start to talk about your goals? Maybe you’re a serial procrastinator.
Some of my past New Years Resolutions:
- Tackling Social Anxiety – this was a multi-year challenge
- Making new friends – a real problem when you’re very introverted
- Learning to cook
- Getting a driver’s license
- Starting an art series I can commit to
- Weight loss
- Making more art (my goal is maintaining at least 20 pieces per year, which I’m very consistent about now)
How to Get Motivated
Why do anything?
With any goal you set, I think you need to very clearly answer the question, Why? I feel like too many people do what they think they should do or because of peer pressure. That’s not real motivation, and that’s why it feels like you need encouragement. “To be happy” — that’s not motivation either, that’s thin as air because happiness is hugely subjective.
If someone locked you in a cabin in the woods right now and told you to work on your goal, why would you bother? Why care? Why not just sleep all day and enjoy the fireplace and forest making delicious smores? Why not just play video games all day? If you were the last person on earth, why would you bother chasing said goal? I think you also hit real motivation when you can answer that question very succinctly and quickly.
The lack of clear motivation and fantasizing is why I didn’t tell anyone my plan was to seriously lose weight in 2017, aside from people are probably very tired of hearing that kind of stuff (rightfully so). I tried so many times before.
This time, I made the change because I had a long, specific list that demonstrated a connection between being overweight, bad eating habits and a lower quality of life as a disabled person. I have an image of myself being capable of feeling energetic, looking a certain way I want to look, and being an active person for the rest of my life.
I’ve reached my goal even if it took a year and a half to do it, and I feel so much better because I improved my health dramatically in the process. It probably improved not only from weight loss, but the general change of lifestyle habits. I have a better self-esteem because finishing goals makes you feel more sure of yourself.
Use Your Imagination to Motivate Yourself
Some techniques for finding a real source of motivation involve imagination and the exact kind of fantasizing that usually makes us procrastinate. When I first started going to the gym, a personal trainer asked I visualize someone I admire for their lifestyle (and fitness in this case) and then me being there with them, doing it with them. Finding someone you admire is a great way to motivate yourself because it is positive and makes it feel possible.
Visualizing works for virtually any goal. The whole reason teachers and employers ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years?” is because that ultimately defines how you’re going to approach everyday and your attitude, even if only subconsciously. Yet, this requires zeroing in on yourself to an extent that makes most people uncomfortable, especially if you start to compare yourself to others too much.
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Healthy Goal Setting
Just like anything, I think there’s a healthy and unhealthy way to set goals. In my opinion, you should let go of the word success. “I want to be successful” is just as thin as “I want to be happy” for the same reason — too subjective, ambiguous.
Goals are travel points, not successes and failures. You start at Destination A and find a path, however squiggly, to Destination B. Or maybe Destination B starts to lose interest and you go on a detour to Destination C. This is also a better way to look at goals, because you can’t teleport and travel takes time, effort, and some planning. You break everything down into steps and slowly make your way towards your goal.
The vision I have of my life involves a great deal of freedom. I would say that is my greatest motivation for all that I do. Freedom of time, freedom in personal life, freedom to be creative, then creative freedom. That vision involves plenty of friends, a family, a place I can call home.
Others might be more motivated by something like comfort, security, belonging, excitement (this is not some official list, of course). It all depends on the person. You may ask, “Doesn’t everyone want freedom?” Not necessarily, some people will exchange a long commute and long hours at work for comfort and security, where as I’ve lived most of my life without that reassurance of either in exchange for freedom. As much as bosses are annoying and the grind is exhausting, there are benefits to being a salary employee over self-employed.
Case Study: Why start a business and how to stay motivated?
As Justin and I are entrepreneurs, sometimes we get sucked into a conversation where another person expresses they want to start a business. If you approach me with this, I’ll ask, why? As the conversation progresses, I get a feeling more that said person doesn’t want to really start a business (knowing what the entails), but feels stuck, bored, or overworked in their current job and needs to move onto a new job because they really value security. I’d love to encourage everyone to be an entrepreneur, but I don’t think it’s for everyone.
I started a business for so many reasons. I always saw myself in a position of managing a project, I wanted to be a leader. I was the “problems with authority” kid in school. I hated the strict routines, the structure that actually had negative impact on my schoolwork. I always wanted to work for myself for as long as I remember.
It also started becoming fairly obvious that I couldn’t pull off the work full-time, then be creative in my free-time lifestyle. I either had to make it work to be creative, or stop being creative. That’s pretty much life or death motivation for me considering the need to create is as important as eating and sleeping in my world. I can’t see myself doing anything else. Sometimes, things have to feel that dire. Five years later, it’s starting to feel like we’re there and it’s not impossible, and I’m forever grateful I can wake up everyday to create while building a future.
Starting a business is genuinely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and both of us regularly felt like giving up, expect that we have a clear motivated image of where we want to be and why. This becomes even more important when, inevitably, not everyone will cheer you on, some people will be bitter, some people will be envious, and most people will try to be helpful but mostly distracting. You have to be able to “cut the noise out”, as they say. Staying motivated is just as much about staying focused.
Where to start?
So now you probably feel a little frustrated. This didn’t automatically solve your problem. You’re right, it’s not that easy.
I like writing, so my impulse is to write about it, but maybe you rather meditate, or think about it while you exercise, or talk to your best friend, whatever makes it flow. “I want to do (your goal) because…” or “I care about / need to do (x thing) because…” and go from there until you get something that feels real.
I hope this helps someone out, and feel free to add your own ideas in the comments. This doesn’t read like an inspirational self-help book because reality is a lot more gritty and unforgiving, however I hope this leads you to realize that cheering and coaching yourself is just as important as looking for that encouragement from others. If one of your goals is to work on your social anxiety, I have a long article on my thoughts and struggles with that too.