Motivation, even in its greatest moments, is a sugar-high. I think software developers know this more than anyone….because motivation alone will never ship large projects.
The first few weeks of a large project are tons o’ fun. Nonstop caffeine, diagrams, and clacking mechanical keyboards. But towards the end, when the only thing left to do is….allll of the stuff you have been putting off :) — it is never something you can be motivated about. You just have to do it.
I’ve had a couple stressful weeks. One of those weeks where you have sooo many small things to do, that you can’t focus on the big thing that you really*should* be doing. Death by 1,000 cuts.
That being said, I spend every morning writing down 5 things I am grateful for.
And this morning, I realized something: things are actually going very well. My relationship is going well, my physical fitness is going well, my finances are going well, I am still making time for friends and family…and even though I “feel” overwhelmed and unmotivated, people are happy with the work I am doing.
Sitting down and thinking about that….reminding yourself that your actual RESULTS are NOT your FEELINGS.
In terms of “motivation” — I have absolutely none. But here I am at my computer, writing down my 5 things….and planning my day ahead….and knowing I can trust myself to get it all done, because I always do.
It’s not an “impressive” amount of work. Like I said, it’s a bunch of little, but important things that need doing. Motivation will not be showing up this morning, but I am not worried about it at all. Why?
Because it has never been about motivation. Motivation is not reliable…you can never count on it.
Can you use it? Sure! If you do feel motivated, you can push yourself a little harder that day….accomplish a little more than you planned. But again, you can’t rely on it. Many days it just literally never shows up.
When most people decide to “get in shape”, they go buy an expensive gym membership….buy a bunch of gym clothes, preworkout, protein powder, etc. For 2 weeks, they show up at 4 AM, and a second time at 5:30 PM after work. Their weight-loss trackers get filled out, their workout plans/apps are used religiously, they cook healthy meals, and go to bed at a decent hour.
But suddenly, it all stops. Sometimes it “fizzles out”, sometimes it’s like hitting a brick wall. It’s no longer “new”, “novel”, “interesting”….and motivation has left the building.
I myself have done this THOUSANDS of times. There have been so many times where I have relied purely on how I was feeling….spent several days working intensely, with skyrocketing productivity and dopamine firing on all cylinders.
But then it stopped. Sure, a lot did get accomplished — but when the motivation went away, that’s it boys. That’s all we got.
Being productive consistently is not a sprint — it is a marathon. You will, just like everyone else, hit your wall. Whether you have more or less natural motivation than most, every single person has a wall.
So as I sit here and basically ask myself “How are things still getting done? How are we still improving, with zero motivation?”
The answer is: Schedules. Systems. Committing to something that you KNOW you can do, every single day, without failure…even if that amount of work is not impressive.
Here are some examples from my own life:
“Write down 5 things you are grateful for, every day” — it’s not a “journal”, it’s not a “novel”….but I KNOW I can squeeze out at least 5 things.
“Exercise 4 days a week” — some days I workout for 2 hours. Other days I work out for 20 minutes. But I know I can manage 4 days of working out, no matter what.
“Read at least 1 page every night” — most nights are more, but no matter how tired/sick/unmotivated I feel, I KNOW I can do 1 page every night, without failure.
So today is not going to be “2 hours of working out, 3 chapters of reading, and 4 pages of journaling. It’s going to be 20 minutes of working out, 1 page of reading, and writing down 5 things I am grateful for.
The “motivated” folks will beat me out of the gate today, but I know what happens at mile 2…..at mile 5…..at mile 10. I know as long as I can keep doing my small, daily, unnegotiable tasks….things are going to be just fine.
- The way you “feel” is not objectively how well you are succeeding. You might feel great while sucking, and feel awful while succeeding. Focus on objectively succeeding.
- Build and follow small, but consistent systems/schedules. Make them small enough where you will never fail to do them. You are allowed to do more, but never less.