I spent almost all day unmotivated to do anything. I moped around, slowly fed the dogs, slowly shoveled eggs into my mouth, avoided any productive task. Then I remembered that I could motivate myself. I busted out my Motivation Toolkit and dug up that energy reservoir that was waiting to be tapped.
Motivation is talked about too much. It seems like twice a year there’s a scientist that comes out with the new secret to motivation that will forever keep us motivated to do the things we want to do. You buy their books every time and read the motivational message about the secret to motivation. Damn they’re motivating! You’re excited all the way through the book! “HELLO WORLD! I AM MOTIVATED!”
Then you wake up the next morning extremely unmotivated.
You don’t want to get out of bed. You don’t see the point in moving on. You eat too much sugar and crash into immobility. You stop caring about your passion.
Sometimes being unmotivated is just ‘meh’ and sometimes it’s the deepest, darkest corner of hell. Either way, nothing is being built. We’re builders! If we go too long without constructing something we die.
At a certain point you get motivated enough to go read something motivating. That works for a minute. You soak in every single one of the greatest motivational ideas in the world.
Then you exit the Window of Motivation and realize nothing happened. You read everything about motivation–you know all there is about the thing, why isn’t it hitting you!?
Because you didn’t do anything.
Without action, knowledge only leads to frustration.
You don’t need to go read lists of “50 Ways to Motivate Yourself” or look at pictures with exciting quotes on them. You don’t need to find the perfect Tumblr picture to find that motivation. You don’t need to read the right book. You don’t need anything external to get motivated right now.
You don’t need this blog post.
I’m going to show you my 7 Motivation Murderers and then I’m going to give you the tools I use to kill them.
We can often get to where we want to be (in this case, a motivated state of mind) by taking away what’s holding us back. We simplify our situation to open it up to where we want to be.
By the time we’re through here you will have a heightened awareness for those things killing your motivation. More importantly, you’ll have a set of tools to eliminate them immediately.
This is a long post so go ahead and skip to the Murderer currently tormenting you. Here is the list of them in order:
- Loss of Meaning
- No Skin in the Game
Enjoy and Godspeed!
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. – Melody Beattie
This guy is a bitch to shake. Every day I have to kill him. When Ingratitude is around it’s hard to get anything done because it’s stuck in the past. All it sees is everything that isn’t here that ‘should’ be. When I do finally get some work done it’s with a grudge and so it sucks. Work becomes a grudge instead of a source of optimal experiences.
If this single Murderer is killed you will have done enough. If you can live in a constant state of gratitude your life is going to be rosy as hell. Imagine feeling grateful all the time! That’s like falling in love with life. Amor fati!
The godfather of lifestyle design, Tim Ferriss, once said that making a list every morning of the things you’re grateful for is the single most powerful thing you can do to make your life better as a whole. This is coming from a guy whose expertise is in finding the most potent piece of any system.
Becoming grateful for your life–as it is right now–is the most important thing you can do to productively move forward. It’s easier to work towards making money when you’re grateful for the money that let you eat (read: “live”) today.
How do we cultivate this? Make lists! I would be a piece of shit if I just recommended you make a gratitude list. Every fool (and non-fool) has already done that. I think I’ve found some unique ways to find gratitude that you’ll like.
1. Make a list of things you’re grateful for. Let’s get the standard out of the way. It works. If you sit and write all the things you’re grateful for right now then you’ll see that feeling of gratitude begin to deepen. You’ll feel better about what you have right here and right now. You’ll begin to see that your situation isn’t so dire. It’s important to break past the point of being obvious. Make a list of 50 things you’re grateful for and you’ll find appreciation for things you never would have noticed before. One Thanksgiving I made a list of 500 things I was grateful for and it blew me away how easy it became after realizing how many awesome little things there are in our world.
2. The things surrounding you right now that you’re grateful for. We are constantly surrounded by things that are making our life possible, comfortable, or better in some way. Right now I see an amazing machine that I can type thoughts into a spread to thousands of people in a blog constructed on the internet. There’s my phone sitting right next to me that’s speaking to a satellite in space right now. There’s a book of poems, Antifragile, Mastery, and The 4-Hour Chef all written by authors completely dedicated to great knowledge. There are an assortment of pens and paper that I can use when I want to stop looking at a computer monitor. My fingers are healthy enough to type these words out to you. My brain is functioning enough to make them worth reading. What’s around your screen? Your eyes seem to be working well. Maybe you’re in an office paying you what you need as you plan your great escape. Maybe you’re at home in a couch designed by someone to be comfortable to you. Maybe your air conditioner is working well. Maybe it’s the heater.
3. Make a list of lists of things to be grateful for. Create a list of categories of things to be grateful for. What relationships are you grateful for? What people in your life? What are the best moments of your life? What skills are you happy you have? What books are you happy you read? What habits are you happy you have? Make your own list – then dig in and expand them!
4. Make a list of the worst happening to you right now. Then find the good in them. I know, this doesn’t make any sense at all. Aren’t we trying to starve Ingratitude? Wouldn’t this be feeding it? If we stopped at the first part we would be, but the second part brings us back into gratitude. What are the worst things that have happened to you recently? Did your partner cheat on you? Did you lose a bunch of money? Did you get food poisoning? Did you fall into depression? Did you forget to sign up for the StartupBros newsletter? Did somebody flake on you? Did you get rejected? Find one miniscule things about each that ended up being a good thing. If you need to go back farther to get more perspective then do so. It’s hard to say, “I’m grateful that I lost money in my business.” It’s easier to say, “I’m grateful I learned X about my customers, in the long run it will be worth having lost X because of it.”
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – JFK
6. Saying “Thank You” to nothing. All of these things are designed to do one thing: make you feel grateful. It’s not always necessary to target your gratitude though. You can just feel grateful for no reason. This is the end-goal anyway. When you can feel grateful for no reason then you have found amor fati. Your default state is a love for your fate. That’s a place worth getting to.
The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude. – Friedrich Nietzsche
Pick your weapon and slay Ingratitude before it drowns you in an unproductive, stress-inducing swamp of suckery.
Gratitude and motivation are close. As soon as you’re grateful for the things around you it becomes easy to motivate your actions. Remember while you do any of these exercises that the whole point is to feel grateful. If you’re not feeling it then it’s useless. Notice what happens to your motivation when Ingratitude as been slain–it’s right here.
Hatred is active, and envy passive dislike; there is but one step from envy to hate. – Goethe
When Envy has you in it’s grasp you’re blind to everything you have (and, OMG–ungrateful!–you’ll notice a lot of overlap in the Murderers) or you see it as worthless. You are only aware of the greener grass that’s never on your side of the fence. The most peculiar thing is that once you get to the other side of the fence the grass is pretty dull and you discover you left your own green grass in search of somebody else’s. Most people die without realizing that they were the ones coloring the grass. They were the ones killing the grass they stood on by neglecting it and, in most cases, shitting all over it (not in a fertilizing way).
I’m envious every day of those people who look like they’re having more fun. I’m envious of those people who are smarter than me. I’m envious of Nassim Taleb that he has developed a mind that is so great he could produce a book like Antifragile.
We love to make stories. Humans thrive on the narratives we create. Sometimes we don’t treat ourselves well in our stories though. We assume that a highlight somebody shared represents their entire life. We assume that their creation is better than ours because they have talent we could never have. We assume people like them because they were born likable. We want their things, their partners, their experiences, their lives.
Envy will make you forget that the only life worth living is your own.
Indeed, it’s the only life you will ever live. Envy poisons desire so that we can’t trust it. Envy will focus your energy on being a victim of ‘not having’. Envy will take so much of your attention that you forget to do what’s important. You forget to see the progress that you’re making and so you lost motivation. How can you be motivated to build in your own life when it’s so hopelessly inferior to those lives?!
Envy is dumb. Let’s kill it.
1. Notice your reactions to the successes and failures of others. If your friend scores a win and you cringe, you’re envious of them. If they suffer a loss and you feel relief, you’re envious of them. Be honest with yourself. “I would never!” Yes, I know. Me either. Let’s detach a bit. Look at people in the news. How do you react to bad things (the only things reported in the news) happening to people? How do you feel when you see a car you want driving down the road? If you admire the car that’s fantastic. If you admire the car and then make a dig on the driver it’s not. Who are the people you like to hate on?
When you spend time being envious of people for having more (money, peace, happiness, perspective, intelligence, ‘time’, family, anything) than you then you certainly aren’t focusing on creating more of that into your own life. When you notice your reaction to others you can begin to shift it.
2. Kill Facebook. Facebook is a place for people to go and yell about the highlights of their lives. It’s great, I love sharing things I’m doing with friends and family that wouldn’t otherwise know about it. By spreading my ideas on my Facebook page I find friends who connect with me on different levels than I normally would have. It’s a great tool.
But it’s a tool and should be treated as one. As humans we need to be careful to use tools to make our lives better.
Facebook is a dangerous tool because it’s a breeding ground for Envy. Your friend that’s married with a kid and a fulfilling career won’t stop posting about it. Your other friend who has seen the entire world has you convinced you’re a loser for not being in all those places. That girl who is partying with every celebrity in the world won’t stop typing in caps about poppin’ bottles. Everyone seems to be on a a grand adventure while you’re alone at home.
Understand: Facebook is a highlight reel.
Monotony doesn’t often make it to the front page (unless it’s ironic). Of course we are going to tell people about the most exciting things in our life. To test this I just looked at the photos of myself on Facebook and was amazed at how adventurous my life is. This is what I found:
-Visiting my baby niece in Seattle.
-Holding a bird at a zoo (is it weird I think this is adventurous?).
-Directing a film in a donut shop.
-Wake boarding in Maine.
-Me talking on TV about politics.
-Me at a friend’s book launch.
-At an exclusive beach in Rhode Island
-At the top of something in Yosemite
-Trecking around Europe with my sister.
-Tracking around Europe with Will
– A road trip across the US .
All this happens in a couple pages of photos. And it’s exciting! It triggered all sorts of great memories. But by no means is it representative of how I spend my life. If my Facebook album “Photos of Me” were to represent how I spend most of my time right now it would be 70% of me in St. Petersurg, FL doing one of three things: reading, sitting at my computer typing and clicking into the Internet, or experimenting with something I read. That’s pretty much what I do. Then I sleep the other bit. And it’s awesome. I love reading. I love experimenting with ideas and then bringing you the results. It’s in no way what my Facebook looks like though.
Realize that everyone manages their Facebook the same way. Correction: most people do. Some people think it’s the perfect place to yell about their breakup or some other fight they’ve gotten in. Thanks for not being on of them. But go look at your Facebook page. Look at the photos of you. What a life! You’re as exciting as those Kardashians I keep hearing so much about! You’re a jetsetting culture-icon hobnobber of massive scale!
I once had a friend in college tell me, “My goal is to make it look like I have the most epic life imaginable” as he handed me the camera to take a picture of him being absurd. At first I was taken aback. Then I realized that he was just being honest about the game that everybody is playing–consciously or subconsciously. Instead of having the best experiences possible people want to make their semi-interesting experiences look like the greatest things in the world.
Going back to the original idea: Kill Facebook. I have done experiments where I killed Facebook for months at a time and it’s been amazing. A few of the benefits:
-I read more books. When Facebook is gone it’s easier to stay away from the black hole that feeds can create.
-I was more focused on productive work. I didn’t have that distraction of, “I wonder what they’re up to” to steal my time.
-I stopped being envious of my friends. I wasn’t bombarded by the highlights of everybody else’s lives to make me feel worse.
-I felt free. I didn’t feel obligated to report anything to Facebook.
-I made stronger connections. When you’re forced to email people you get a stronger connection to them than commenting or “Liking” their stuff.
I’ve gone as far as killing the Internet for months at a time. That means only essentials – email, WordPress, Wikipedia in certain circumstances. It’s great, but killing your Facebook is a huge start.
Maybe you “need” Facebook. Then limit your usage of it. Try setting an hour at the end of the day to do all your social network stuff. I use StayFocused (http://www.bytesignals.com/stayfocused/) to limit my use of Facebook and Reddit to 20 minutes a day. Pick your biggest time-drains and cut them off for yourself.
Oh wow that went longer than expected.
3. Focus on your work. There are always people who are better than you at the thing you’re trying to do – or at least more well-known. There are people producing work inferior to yours making more money than you. As a writer, it can be tremendously difficult to read a masterwork and then go back to your own work.
While writing this I’ve been reading Robert Greene’s Mastery and it threw me into a feeling of helplessness. I’m eons from approaching his ability to so concisely and powerfully express the inner workings of achievement. It’s difficult at times to realize I don’t want to be Greene and I could never be. I haven’t dedicated two decades to deconstructing what makes a Master, he has. Instead, I can let his brilliant way with words make me work harder on this post to make it the greatest thing I can make right now.
Every person is at a different place in their work. We rarely realize that the exact place we are in our work right now is our most valuable asset. In that way I have been able to transform my paralyzing Envy for Greene into a driver for my own work.
4. Realize that Envy is separate from it’s chosen object. If I am envious of a millionaire’s money and subsequently become a millionaire then my Envy will be pushed onto billionaires. Even billionaires envy the wealth and power of other billionaires. This is possible because Envy tricks us into thinking that it wants something in particular. It will never be satisfied though. Envy is a feeling in itself that tricks you into believing that the next step will make you happy. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve seen this in your life time and again.
The goal isn’t to never want anything again, the goal is to notice your envy and see it for what it is. When you’re feeling jealous of a person because of their car or wife, notice the envy and remember that taking his wife and car isn’t going to get you where you want to be.
Envy is no fun at all. It’s the thing that tricks you into thinking you’re never enough. It tricks you into wanting everything but the things you have. It makes you want all the talents but your own. Envy will have you think that some other person is doing it all right and you should feel bad about yourself because you haven’t done what they have.
If I’m Envying the intellect of somebody else I can’t think of anything creative.
If I’m Envying the things of others my own belongings will go unused.
If I’m Envying the life of somebody else then I’m wasting my own.
If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life. – Oscar Wilde
Some people find impatience a virtue. But if you’re driven by impatience, burnout is just around the corner. If you’re impatient you won’t take the time required to make anything worthwhile.
Being patient does not mean that you have no sense of urgency or that you can’t get things done quickly–you must! Impatience is the insidious thing that creeps up when we hurry. Impatience is what makes us fumble the ball because we’ve already moved on to the next task. It’s what causes us to do half-ass work.
When I’m rushing out the door–Impatiently leaving–I’m guaranteed to leave the tickets to the show or my keys. When I’m Impatient completing a task it will definitely suffer. Quality and Impatience can’t coexist, it just doesn’t make sense. You can’t be doing your current activity well when you can only think of being done with it or, worse, the next activity.
Impatience scatters our brain and disorganizes our thoughts because it’s scared of the present. It’s scared that at every moment you should be further along. You should have that other task accomplished.
You’re right here though.
Even as I write this I have a feeling of impatience. There are other projects that need my attention, Imptatience is creeping in to divert my attention to those things. But I see it, take a breath, and remember that this is the only task that matters now.
Don’t lose motivation to the unorganized rushing mind of Impatience.
Here are my favorite techniques for killing Impatience:
1. Have a map. I was getting Impatient with every task I was doing. This was just yesterday. When you work for yourself there are always an infinite amount of things to do. There are endless to-do lists that only get longer–and there are multiple lists like this for every one of the endless projects underway. It’s madness.
Unless you write it down. Right now make a list of every project you’re working on. Now break every project into tasks. Now map each of those tasks on a shared calendar (I use Google Calendar). This might take you twenty minutes or it might take two hours. Either way it will be well worth the time.
When you have your tasks planned then it’s easier to focus on the current one. It’s easier to forget about that project you’re supposed to do later when you have actually scheduled time to do it later.
2. Focus on the current task. The most important step is this one you’re doing right now. I think some ancient sage said that. If you find your mind wandering while working on a current task then notice it and bring your mind back to your task.
When an idea pops in your head and won’t leave take a break to record it in your phone or on paper. When you get the idea out of your head it’ll stop bothering you. This is one of my favorite things to do. I have notebooks (digital and physical) full of papers of mostly terrible ideas that let my brain be free to do whatever it was supposed to be focusing on at the time.
3. Faith in the Process. If you’re practicing a skill and at a plateau then you will suffer severe Impatience. It will make you doubt everything about your abilities. If you’re an entrepreneur and have suffered several failures then Impatience will begin to whisper in your ear that it’s not working, that you aren’t cut out for it. Oftentimes people listen and quit.
This is why it’s imperative to work with a process that you know works. If you’re going to attempt something difficult you will experience severe growing pains. There will be moments where you feel like an impostor or that you aren’t ‘cut out’. Impatience has tricky ways to make you think you’ll never make it.
You have to have faith in the process that you’ve chosen. Focus on this step. Learn from your failures. If these aren’t possible now with the process you’ve chosen then adjust your process–but do it carefully.
4. Study the Masters. Anybody who has achieved great things has had to fail a lot first. Quentin Tarantino has to go through of eight solid years (almost an entire decade, and that’s short in comparison to others) of nothing working out. The entire time he just kept plugging away, getting better, deepening his knowledge, and learning from his failures. Then “out of nowhere” he made Reservoire Dogs and became every movie-lover’s hero.
5. Take a break. Sometimes we get impatient because we’ve been stuck in a task for too long and our brains are getting pissed about it. Take a break. Go for a quick run or (very) slow walk. Go watch an episode of South Park. Do something unrelated to give your brain 20 minutes to stop thinking about the same damn thing.
Remember this when you’re impatient after six months of failures. Study your own personal hero and remind yourself that they probably went through the same frustrations. The key is to keep going.
I’m getting impatient again. I want to type faster and I want my ideas to come better and faster. They’re better than last week which was better than the week before. I better keep going. Right now is going to make next week even better.
I can’t let Impatience rob me of the creativity available to me now. I can’t let Impatience for this thing to be done ruin the quality of the thing! So I’m refocusing. I’m going to go play with the dogs and when I come back I’ll have the patience of a saint.
Usually once a week Overwhelm takes over my entire life and I can’t do anything. I get pretty much zero done on days of Overwhelm. There’s no motivation to do anything when there’s EVERYTHING to do!
I’ve sat in bed for hours thinking about the amazing amount of things that needed to get done. Then when I got out of bed and found my way to the computer I was so overloaded with tasks that the only thing I could do was go look at Facebook. Then it’s time for dinner. Then sleep. But I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about the EVERYTHING that I didn’t do today.
What a cycle!
Overwhelm comes from us putting too many projects on our plate then losing track of them.
These are the ways I get out from Overwhelm:
Rome has grown since its humble beginnings that it is now overwhelmed by its own greatness. – Titus Livius
1. Subtract. Most problems can be fixed by taking something away instead of adding something else. When there are too many plates spinning then they’re all more likely to come crashing down. How can you simplify your life? What responsibilities can you get rid of? What trips can you get out of? What websites can you stop visiting? What mediocre books can you stop reading? [Check out the “Via Negativa” section of my antifragility essay for a ton of ways to win with subtraction. You may also want to try Input Deprivation.]
2. Organize. This goes back to the first recommendation to escape Impatience: “Have a map”. Organize your life so you can see all your major activities–professional and personal–on a single sheet of paper. When it’s all in front of you then it becomes much easier to digest. Break every project down into pieces small enough pieces that you understand everything that needs to be done to complete the thing (or at least get to the next step).
Schedule time to complete every one of these tasks. You’ll instantly see your overwhelm dissipate.
3. Lower the bar. One of the most universal feelings of our generation is, “I should be doing more.” Nobody is happy with where they’re at. There’s a massive gap between where you are and your ideal place in life. Same with everybody else. It’s not a bad thing to want to have ambitious goals but sometimes those goals can actually get in their own way. If you’re just setting around feeling bad for not having reached your goal then you probably won’t be working hard to get to it.
Lower your bar a little bit. Give yourself some leeway and realize that you’ve been doing a lot of the right things. The goals were probably harder than you thought. You can still get there but it will take more work. Patience!
Overwhelm is one the most insidious Motivation Murderers but also one of the most straight-forward to get rid of. If you are paralyzed by Overwhelm, you have to externalize your life. Get all your activities somewhere you can see them. This isn’t a one-time deal.
Just like your desk, your mind needs to be cleared constantly.
Burnout is the kissing cousin of Overwhelm. If you are Burning out then “Subtract” and “Lower the Bar” are imperative. You have to get some rest before your creative mind is destroyed totally. Take a break. Quit your job and do something lower-stress for a while. Exercise. Ease up on yourself!
The longer you spend in Inaction the easier it is to sit there. It’s comfortable to get ideas and think about them long enough that it’s exciting to tell people about – then you lose motivation to make that idea a reality. Notice what happens to your motivation when you spend a day not taking action – it’s gone.
This is a universal problem we face as humans. There are a million people online who post articles every day about how you will finally beat procrastination. You are promised magic bullets and methods that will completely eliminate procrastination in your life. Of course you are procrastinating by reading the article. Then you continue to procrastinate afterwords.
This is how you kill Inaction:
1. Action is everything. Inaction is killed instantly by action. Action is like a light turned on in a dark room of inaction. Every action you take, no matter how small, will build momentum. Soon you will find yourself in the habit of taking action and it will actually be HARDER not to act.
2. Lowering the bar: Part 2. Make it so easy to begin a task that you can’t not do it. A study showed recently that the best way to get in the habit of flossing your teeth regularly is to commit to flossing a single tooth. You make it so easy that you have to do it.
Once you floss a single tooth then it becomes amazingly easy to floss the rest of your teeth. Once you sit down and write the first word it’s easy to write the next thousand. Once you sit down and answer the first email it’s easy to answer the rest.
Trick yourself into beginning tasks by making the commitment so miniscule you HAVE to do it.
3. Appreciate the wisdom of action. Our best tool for procrastination is over-thinking and rationalization. Action is the only way anything gets done, but it also offers you a wisdom that’s not available through thought. When you practice something you get a true feel for it. When you do something new you learn things that you couldn’t have unless you tried the thing.
Before embarking on the journey of writing a book I researched quite a bit about the writing process but nothing could prepare me for actually doing the thing. You run into all the nuances of making a book when you actually have to make it. The same goes with everything else. Once you do the thing you will run into nuances and pre-thought knowledge that you can’t find in written text.
4. Don’t stop. For me it’s best to make progress every day. Even one day of inaction can create a resistance to acting. For exercise, do at least two minutes a day. For writing, do 50 words. You don’t need every day to be a big one but you do need to keep the motivation alive by keeping the chain intact.
Take action on your idea today. Even just a tiny one. You will begin to build momentum. That momentum will only grow and soon taking action will become a habit. You will no longer sit on good ideas and let them die, you will build them out and take them to fruition.
Begin now. What’s something you’ve been wanting to do forever? Get it shape? Do one tiny thing to be healthier today. Tomorrow do another. Soon you’ll be so far along you will have forgotten what that kind of inactive sloth is like.
Don’t let Inaction continue to rule your world. Don’t believe it when it tells you taking action is hard. Baby steps![Check out The Overthinker’s Guide to Taking Action for a deep-dive on action.]
Loss of Meaning
If you feel like what you’re doing has no purpose then you are guaranteed to have zero motivation to do it. Without meaning we feel lost. And as we search for meaning we realize it’s not really there. Without the motivation to do something we can fall into the stagnation of an existential crisis or worse.
This is a huge problem for my generation and the one before. Our grandparents were proud to do their work because they had lower expectations about what they should get out of work. We believe we need to have some overflowing passion for everything we do at all times and it’s causing a lot of people to fall into what’s being called the “Quarter Life Crisis” which is a lot like–you guessed it!–the famed middle life crisis. But we’re only a quarter way through our 100 year-or-so-probably-less lives.
People are getting depressed because they thought life was supposed to be something different. They thought they were going to go on adventures but instead they’re in a cubicle or selling knives–and those are the lucky ones.
I have existential crises at least once a week. If you could be an expert at existential crises I would be one. Unfortunately, the nature of the thing doesn’t allow for a lot of understanding. There are ways I’ve found to get out of my own however, I hope you find them useful.
1. Adopt the craftsman mindset. Focus on your work. When you are worried about being passionate about something or whether is “means” anything you end up asking questions like:
“Is this what I’m passionate about? Why am I not feeling passionate about it right now?”
“Shouldn’t I just switch crafts again?”
“Does this mean anything to the world?”
“If the world is going to end anyway why should I even bother?”
“Is this pleasing to me?”
Notice the obsession with yourself in that mindset. Instead, a craftsman focuses on the work he’s doing. When you adopt the craftsman mindset you end up asking questions like:
“How can I be better?”
“How can I provide more value for others?”
“Why did they respond that way to my work?”
These questions are centered around making better things for other people. For making other people’s lives better. The secret here is that you end up doing a lot more good for yourself by holding this focus.
This kind of thinking has deep roots in eastern philosophy. Consider the quote, “Zen is not to think about god while peeling potatoes, it is only to peel the potatoes.” (Paraphrasing.)
Try focusing on your work and getting better and notice how much better and more productive you become.
2. Meaning is created in work. If you find anyone with a deep feeling of mission and purpose in life you will find someone who loves their work. You don’t find meaning in a sentence or anything like that. You find it in the flow of work. After the initial stages of learning a skill you begin to be able to do it without thinking to hard about it. When you enter “the zone” you are in a flow state of mind. The people who feel most meaning in their lives are the ones who spend the most time in this kind of state.
3. Aim bigger. If you’re no longer excited about your work you may be playing too small. Somebody wrote a book called “The Magic of Thinking Big”, I’ve never read it but I imagine that one of the magical things about thinking big is how exciting is. It’s not exciting to say, “I’m going to write a blog post on motivation”. It’s much more exciting to think, “I’m going to write a blog post that covers every one of my major Motivation Murderers that I can go back and reference whenever I’m feeling unmotivated.” [EDIT: I have actually used this post a bunch of times to get out of motivation slumps.]
StartupBros wouldn’t be exciting if we only wanted to make money online. What makes StartupBros such an exciting thing for me is that we are aiming to disrupt the traditional course of education. I hate that so many of my friends think they must follow a prescribed path. I want to explore other options and show what’s possible. We’re entering a world where self-reliance is imperative and we need to face the scary ideas that presents.
Try bulking up your mission. It may help infuse every little task with a little more meaning.
4. Express yourself. It may be difficult to express yourself through your work–so find another outlet. Go paint or draw a picture or write a poem. Express yourself in some raw way that gives meaning to your life. It’s easy to forget about art when we’re focused on profits–and it could take a while for you to feel like your craft is actually an art–so sometimes you need to go to art directly.
5. Realize that your life already has meaning. Your life, right now, is already meaningful. You’re a part of this universe. You interact with people every day in one way or another and so you create relationships with them. Just by the way you carry yourself through the world your meaning is understood by the people around you. You are made of the same stuff as stars. You probably share molecules with a star that exploded millions of years ago. Your human body is a miracle in all that it can do. Your life is already amazing, sometimes you just need to take a moment and see it.
Notice that the answer is almost never to “find a meaning”. That’s not how it works. You need to focus on the things that create meaning. Creating meaning in your life doesn’t mean giving yourself a story that infuses your life with some purpose. Instead, it means that your actions create the meaning of your life.
Maybe one day later you will find your “aha!” moment of finally understanding your definite mission in life and maybe you won’t. The good part is that you don’t need to have a one-sentence mission to lead a meaningful life
No Skin in the Game
Do you know why poker games without money in the pot suck? There are no stakes! You can bet like a jackass if you don’t have anything to lose–and you should! It’s the same thing with motivation. The less you need to succeed the less motivated you become to do so.
I’m not talking about mortgaging your house and putting your family in danger. You can get to pain long before that.
Earlier I talked about how Quentin Tarantino had to go through eight years of nothing working out for him before he made Reservoir Dogs. He attributes his ability to do this to the fact that he didn’t set up a plan B. Plan A was going to work or he would continue working in movie stores. It had to happen.
Some ideas to force your skin in the game:
1. Be responsible to someone. It’s easier to stay motivated when someone else is there to push you along. We all need support every once in a while. So share your deadlines with somebody who will slap you hard if you don’t meet them.
2. Set yourself up for pain. You need to set yourself up so it will hurt to not finish what you said you would. The website StickK (http://www.stickk.com/) can help you do this by using anti-charities. You set yourself up to donate to a charity that you hate. Would you rather not complete your goal or donate money to a charity for Nazis (or something slightly less terrible)?
You need to create an environment that supports action in the direction you want to go. One way to do this is to use the above tools to make it painful to not follow through.
If you are a physical wreck it’s nearly impossible to stay motivated. Greasy fast-food will not provide you with any kind of inspiring energy. Every time I go a week or more without working out my motivation plummets because I have no energy. The same happens when I eat terribly. Our brains need good food to work like we want them to. Our bodies need to be used in order to hold themselves in an energetic manner.
1. Sleep. If you’re not sleeping well then you’re not functioning well.
2. Exercise! Even if it’s only five minutes, do something.
3. Stop eating shitty.
4. Caffeinate. This one actually isn’t healthy at all. However, some days a cup of coffee is pure liquid motivation.
There’s nothing I can tell you about nutrition and health that you don’t know. You know your brain works better when it’s well fed, when you work out, and when you sleep well. You know what’s good for you. Respect yourself.
Epilogue: When Motivation Speaks
There are an infinite amount of things that are waiting to grab on and suck your motivation straight out of you. You need to kill them at every turn. Sometimes they come in the form of shitty people, sometimes they come as failures, sometimes they are something as sneaky as the absence of action.
Motivation feels great but sometimes being unmotivated is a tool.
I just wrote 7000+ words about how to stay motivated and now I’m telling you that it can be good to be unmotivated.
If you try to get motivated to really get into your job but you can’t. If you go through and try all these strategies I’ve offered up and still aren’t motivated then it’s probably time to switch things up. Your inability to get motivated about a certain project could mean that that’s not the project you should be working on.
The most important thing you can learn to do is trust yourself. Our body gives us all sorts of signals that aren’t as clear as, “Quit this job with that jackass boss ya dummy!” but can be just as loud.
There have been points in my life where motivation dried up completely. I couldn’t muster any excitement for my job or the project that I was working on. After trying all possible routes of getting excited and still feeling numb about the work I was doing it became obvious: it was time to leave.
It’s the scariest thing in the world to change your life in a dramatic way for no real “reason” other than you’re not “feeling” it. People may judge you harshly. You may judge you harshly. But if you learn to trust in it, that voice will take you to the places in life that matter more than any of the others.
That’s the voice that told me to start writing. It’s the one that energized me to begin working on StartupBros. Every time I’ve listened and jumped into the darkness I’ve been rewarded handsomely with awesome experiences and an infusion of energy that doesn’t come by following what others think you should be doing.
Listen to yourself. Observe your motivation. When are you most motivated? What activities are most motivating to you? What people around you motivate you the most?
Watch intently and support your motivation in any way you can.
Kill the Motivation Murderers and realize that the only person who could ever rob you of your motivation is you.
This isn’t nearly complete! Comment below and tell us about your favorite ways to stay motivated.