Sunday, March 16, 2014

I Can't Get No… Motiva-tion!

Around this time of the year, according to Statistic Brain, a lot of people are struggling to keep their New Year resolutions. "What gives?" one wonders, and the answer to this is simple: lack of motivation, or, more accurately, lack of proper motivation.

So it makes sense for me to do a follow-up on the last year's post (in which I shared tips and tricks that help me stay on top of things).
In this here now post I will give out some of the tips that specifically target motivational part of achieving goals. Hopefully, some of these (possibly crazy weird) tips will make sense to you enough to implement them in your own life.

Before I get into it, let me say that this is not the kind of motivational guide that talks about support system (which, absolutely, is a great thing, and you should ideally have it and if you don't, feel free to share your motivational struggles in the comments, and we'll get through this together!) or 12-step programs or normal things.
This is going to be about weird little tricks that totally work for most people, but most people are not weird enough to either come up with them or to admit that they use them.

So, get comfortable, it's going to be a long ride.

Set the Stage.

Let me put it out there - no one likes to work in a meh environment (official term). Otherwise, cubicle workers would be paragons of productivity, and companies wouldn't need to sink billions of dollars into motivation-building activities.

There is a lot of advice on organizing your workspace to help yourself be motivated, but the truth is, you can organize the crap out of it, but if you're not going to keep it organized, it won't matter in the long run. Plus, I've seen people achieving great things in cluttered environments and avoiding work in the most pristine conditions.

So, make it cozy and inviting instead. The whole point behind this is to get you to want to be in your work space, and then, once there, you have a better chance of accomplishing something.
Find task lighting that is bright enough to get work done, but isn't too glaring. Comfy chair is a must (but maybe don't go full hog and stop before getting a La-Z-Boy). Put up some sweet art - not necessarily motivational, just something that cheers you up. If it helps you, make a goal board, where you pin images that represent the goals you're working towards. Maybe get some plants or flowers.
Keep it fairly spare, though, to cut down on visual clutter (because, depending on the type of work you do and the kind of person you are, you'll supply daily clutter anyway). Make sure that there is adequate (by which I mean "ample") work surface for you to start with (if it gets cluttered later on, that's manageable, but if there is not enough to begin with, you'll just avoid working there altogether).

If you can, paint the space an inviting color. My office is mango orange, because I wanted it to look attractive both during the day and during the evening. When we bought the house, that room was a formal dining room, and painted the color of beets. I'm sure it was all very trendy at some point, but I dreaded walking into it. Ever since the color had been changed to the energetically friendly mango (and softened by charcoal grey furniture and rug), I love sitting down at my desk.

Deprive Yo'self.

In the day and age where the popular sentiment goes "Treat Yo'Self", I'm going to go against the grain and ask you to deprive yourself if you hope to achieve anything.
By which I mean - close that browser window (WAIT! Not now. After you finish reading this post!), put away your smart phone, and maybe even turn off that TV. In other words, remove distractions.

I don't know about you, but when I'm in the "get stuff done" mode, but I'm not feeling particularly up to task, my brain might appreciate my desire to accomplish things, but it might try and sneak in a twisted idea of "it's too hard to accomplish sorting my sample swatches, but I can totally accomplish catching up on my FB feed". And because I'm not functioning at full capacity, I get totally sold on that line of thinking.
But if I log out of my FB (HA! Take that, brain!), and even maybe - in extreme cases - remove Firefox icon from my dock, so it takes a couple of extra steps to get to my opium of choice, then I stand a chance of coming to my senses before that precious half an hour has disappeared down the proverbial - albeit metaphorical - drain.

Also, deprive yourself of infinite choices and set concrete deadlines, because it's the limitations, not freedoms, that help us stay focused. Deadlines can be as ridiculous in reasons as you want: maybe you need to write that book pitch by your birthday, or maybe you need to do taxes before "Bachelor" starts. It does not have to make sense, it just needs to be realistic time-wise, and be non-negotiable.

Having said this,

"A Diversion!"
(said in Legolas' voice, of course).

Our brain can't focus on the same task for very long before it gets tired. Some of us are better at the whole focusing thing than others (which is why some of you will never finish reading this rambling essay, and I won't blame you). So it's smart to build in some tiny diversions for your brain to focus on as a way to keep it functional for the task at hand. Otherwise, the brain goes, "Screw this, I can't be bothered," and convinces you to go on Instagram.
So, remember how I said to hang some art that makes you happy nearby? When you feel yourself losing your steam, take a look at it (or glance out the window), then get up and move a bit (or just stretch), maybe sniff a candle or flower or something, and eat a chip. (You know how to eat only one chip? It's to have only one laid out for you close enough to not need to go to the kitchen, but far enough that you can't absentmindedly reach and eat it. You're welcome.) Listen to music that does not have complex melody or lyrics, so it can stay in the background of your perception, distracting just enough of your brain as to keep it happy while staying focused. Hit up as many senses as possible.

However - and this is crucial - under no circumstances should you go on the internet. Much like with chips, you can't stop at just one web-instance, and - unlike with chips - you can't isolate them. Any form of social media is designed to keep you there, with all the links, posts, albums, collections, etc. Everything is linked to something else, so, even if your intention was to only check "that one thing", either you will be roped into spending more time there than you thought, or you will have to interrupt yourself and deal with the sour unsatisfied feeling that will stop you from feeling motivated. Because your brain will not feel accomplished until it reads the whole internet, so don't even start.

Break It Down.

One very important thing that I do to stay motivated (which, incidentally, also helps me to stay organized) is breaking tasks down in bite-size increments and roughly evaluating the time it will take to complete them (or get to a stopping point).

Now, for sure, a lot of (and by "a lot" I really mean "almost all") things take longer than estimated. However, even a rough estimate can go a long way towards making one more comfortable with the idea of a project. Sometimes the reason we don't tackle something is because it LOOMS over us like an emo iceberg with no concept of personal space, and it's just so scary.

What I found, though, both for myself and for those around me, is that a cool estimate can bring a welcome reality check to something that seemed unsurmountable. Like when my teenage son realizes that it would take him 20 minutes tops to vacuum all the bedrooms and the stairs. Because, I'm sure you'll agree that "Vacuum ALL the rooms" sounds like who would even want to attempt that, but "This will take 20 minutes, AND will get my parents to stop nagging" seems like a pretty good deal.
Similarly, "stain this piece of furniture" seems like "OMG who has that kind of time also stain is scary", right? But if you (and by "you" I mean "I") break it down to manageable chunks of "sanding", "wiping", "painting 1st layer", etc. and then realize it's totally possible to take week-long breaks in between, then it's an alright kind of project. And then I don't take week-long breaks in between (except when I do, of course), because now I'm all excited about the staining instead of being intimidated by it.

Play Some Tetris (with your projects).

I am pretty sure everyone has played Tetris at some point, so you know how it works: you try to find spots for weird-shaped groups of blocks to make entire lines of blocks go away. Can you guess where I'm going with it?
That's right. We all have busy lives, whether it's a busy life of trying to keep up with 4 TV shows, or a busy life of training for a marathon, or a busy life or working and raising kids, or even a busy life of partying and staying just sober enough to not get fired. We get it. We don't judge.
A lot of times what I hear from people is that they don't have time for organizing/joining the gym/starting a garden.

Well, guess what? You do, you just don't know it. Most moms (and responsible dads, I suppose) already know this secret: in each life there are hidden pockets of time when you can sneak in a task/project/cookie… wait, that last one was from a different train of thought.
In other words, load the dishwasher while your child eats desert (by which I mean "makes a mess"), check their homework during commercial breaks, and nap while the baby naps. HA! Just kidding about that last one. That never happens, of course.
But what if you don't have children, you might ask? Don't worry, it still works: you load the dishwasher while the tea kettle fills - or EVEN - I know, so exciting! - make a race where you have to sort the mail into piles while the tea kettle is filling up with water, and if it overflows, you lose, but if you win, then you get to be the king/queen of life (for, like, 5 minutes, but hey!)

Of course, there are some tasks that you should never try to squeeze in between other things, such as making grocery lists in the middle of a love-making session, although I know for a fact that some of my friends have engaged in that. But, like I said, we don't judge here in the Back Row.

Gaming the System.

Why do toddlers love doing chores? Because to them, it's a game, and until they learn that chores are not fun, they are very excited to sweep the floor (not that they are super effective). But seriously, little games can go a long way toward keeping one motivated.
By the way, this is one of the reasons I try to stay away from the word "chore", because that word alone sucks motivation right out, in a Dementor-like fashion. (That's right, a Harry Potter reference. Deal with it.)

So, make boring things more playful. For example, no one knows it (except now that I've told you), but I routinely imagine that I am a moderately well-off Renaissance Scottish duchess when I am getting my toddler ready for bed. Because I'm pretty sure even Scottish Renaissance duchesses still had to wrestle giggling and wriggling toddler dukes into their sleeping clothes while barking, "Take your foot out of my face! Put on your pajama pants!" Except, you know, in Gaelic. Probably. Also, they probably had nurses for their baby dukes (ha!) but in my world, we have just survived a plague, and are plum out of available nurses. Also, my husband is off to war and is not available for help (except when he is).
Try it! You're not doing taxes, you're James Bond trying to um… make sense of some secret papers. Or maybe a mafia accountant and all the exemptions are code for something sinister. How you like that "energy efficiency tax credit" now, huh?

Also, pro tip - keep that game inside of your head. Don't refer to your toddler as "your highness"; it sends a bad message. Though, that's actually the best part - it doesn't matter how corny or fantasy-fullfilling your game is, because you're the only one who knows it's even happening.

If you're not ready for a full-on role-play but are competitive, try little races - to see if you can complete a task before something ends to begins, like using a commercial break to fold the laundry - can make all the difference in whether a task will get done. Don't space out to that Dodge commercial, don't pull out your smartphone, get up and race to finish something! How do you know if you have a realistic chance of completing the task? Remember that first bullet on the list? Having previously assessed the time it will take something comes in real handy during times like this. And if you have way too much laundry to fold? Break it down - first commercial break you throw everything into piles by type of clothing; second break - all shirts get folded; third - all pants, etc.

Make like Pavlov and Train Your Brain.

So, who amongst you remembers the experiment that Pavlov, a Russian biologist did a loooong time ago? I'm sure you remember the expression "Pavlov's Dog" but what was it all about? Wait, don't google it, I'll tell you: he would ring a bell and then give a dog some food, so eventually the dog would salivate just at the sound of bell even if no food was present. And if you think that you're better than a dog, think about some LEMON right now. Feel that saliva? Yeah.

So, since we all have different dominant senses, take a moment (if you don't already know this about yourself) and figure out what is yours - hearing, touch, taste, sight, or smell? Then figure out how to tap into that for motivation.
Perhaps you have a super fancy candle that primarily (but not exclusively) gets lighted when you're doing the taxes and/or bills. Perhaps you have a cool mix that you make specially for that big gardening project (don't be lazy, make a playlist instead of spotifying it, it will be worth it!). The point is that you train your brain to expect some good things when you're tackling whatever it is that you don't want to tackle.
My personal reward for keeping my desk in order is how gorgeous it looks when I clean up, because sight is my primary sense, but music helps a lot to power through the more tedious of tasks.

Plan for Breaking the Rules.

"Whaa?" You are saying right now, probably. Or not, if you're at work or are reading this in bed while your significant other/cat/dog is snoozing next to you. But hear me out.
It's hard to even comprehend some tasks without proper sleep/caffeination, let alone finish them. And it's important to at least attempt to get enough sleep to stay motivated, because no one wants to sort laundry or go to the gym or even dig garden beds on 4 hours of sleep.
But if you attempt to always go to bed on time, you're fooling yourself and are setting yourself up for failure and the wrong kind of guilt (we'll get to the right kind of guilt in a bit).

However, suppose one day/night/evening you just can't stand to see the sight of those un-hemmed curtains in your living room, and you just HAVE to whip out your sewing machine (or some Heat-n-Seal tape) and finish that task. And sometimes you get so motivated by this small victory, that you stay up and finish a bunch more projects. That's ok, as long as you realize what you are doing on some level and are directing this new-found energy and motivation somewhat. And, you know, don't have a major test the next day. Or something.

Guilty As Charged.

Remember when I talked about the right kind of guilt? It's the kind that helps you get stuff done, and is the reason that projects that I define as "for myself" don't get crossed off my to-do list as readily as the ones that I designated "for kids" or "for blog" - because, of course, the blog is not for me to spout off, but for to educate the readers on stuff. Maybe even stuff like motivation.
Anyway, this may actually not work for everyone, but I found that when I find a proper guilt built into a project, I stay a lot more motivated to achieve it.
I mean, the complete and total truth of it is that my boys could not care less if their bathroom is covered with peeling wallpaper or some shiny (by which I mean, eggshell) new paint, but if I convince myself that it is, in fact, the exact opposite, then I'm going to find little chunks of time to peel that stupid old wallpaper, and get enough sleep to tackle the prep work, and remember to pick up the right gallonage (it's a word, alright?) of paint. Ultimately, it does make everyone feel a bit (a lot) better to be in a renovated bathroom, but if I was honest that it's really me who can't take another look at the faded 80's nautical border, then I'd just tell myself to deal with it, and then we'd still be looking at nautical faded 80's borders 5 years down the road. Just sayin'.
Also, the right kind of guilt made me whip out a really snazzy jewelry organizer for a friend. If it was for myself? Pffft! No way. But if I ganged up both her organizer and mine together? Then it would've had a good chance to get done. So, be smart and guilt-trip yourself, just do it safely.

And lastly,

Tactical Retreat Prevents Ultimate Failure.

Sometimes, you might not be feeling it. Like, totally. So, rather than struggling with it for hours, staying up through half the night, and walking away with barely anything accomplished, just admit it to yourself, and switch to something else or take the night off entirely (and by that I mean, "go to sleep", not "stay up trying to read the entire internet"). You'll be more rested and have more energy and brain power to actually tackle the task you need to tackle.

No comments:

Post a Comment