#55 – How to stay motivated

By Scott Berkun, May 23, 2007

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All great tasks test our motivation. It’s easy to court ideas over beers and change the world with napkin sketches, but like most things taken home from bars, new challenges arise the next day. It’s in the morning light when work begins, and grand ideas (or barroom conquests) lose their luster. To do interesting things requires work and it’s no surprise we abandon demanding passions for simpler, easier, more predictable things.

Although we like to talk of talent, the callow, overrated, but useful bastard that it is, it can’t do anything for us if it’s locked in the basement by our ever-flighty motivations. To achieve demands discovering personal motivations and learning to use them. The masters in all fields are foremost great self-manipulators, orchestrating their will to achieve what the rest of us can not. However, since our minds are the only ones we see from the inside out, there can be no true handbook for motivation: only a treasure map of landmarks and a handful of bones to roll.

The big motivations

These are mine, but there are others. If these hit home, I hope you kick much ass. But if they fail you, ask what’s missing and you’ll be on you way to sorting out a motivation for yourself.

Anger

What pisses you off? What is wrong in the world, in the arts, in your workplace, in your family and what are you going to do about it? Or will you just sit there and pretend, for another week, another year, like those others do, that it’s ok? When are you going to use your feelings of frustration as fuel for doing something, anything, that brings the world a little closer to right? And don’t just vent: convert rage into wonder. Use exhaust from one system to drive another. Recycle negative energy, even if it comes from your own heart, and shape into something of unmistakable goodness.

Necessity / Suck it up

All great ideas have grunt work. Van Gogh mixed his own paints. Michelangelo cut his own stone. If you chicken out because you have to get your hands dirty, know that you are putting yourself in not very great company. Sometimes the only way to learn, to grow, to make something great is through learning the basic, the trivial, the mundane: sufficient repetition grants mastery of anything. Learning to draw, sing, or dance grows slowly from tiny, trivial, seeds of skill. Boring task X might be required to attempt cool challenge Y. Beethoven and Mozart practiced scales just like everyone else, so don’t cry when it comes time to do yours. Or get clever: find a partner willing to be paid for the grunt work you hate, or who desires to witness the wrangling of big ideas that you love.

Crazy necessity

Deliberately put yourself in situations where you have no way out but through. Sign a book deal, quit your job to make that film, buy a one way ticket to somewhere no one you know has ever gone. While it’s not advisable to gamble your life if you have dependents (families, children, or your loving cat Blinky), you’d be surprised how much support you can get for crazy necessity if you enlist support from loved ones, especially if you’ve been willing to do it for them. If you don’t ask, or never get crazy in any way, at any time, you’re the only one to blame: no one else can pull the pin out of the grenade in your soul.

Pride

55-2.jpgProve people wrong. They say it can’t be done? Do it. They tell you it’s a waste of time? Waste away. Never let anyone define for you how to be, how to use your time, or what you or anyone else is capable of. Turn that naysayer into a competitive guidepost, recasting every doubting Thomas into a secret twisted cheerleader. However, be careful not to copout into spite: don’t center on them, they’re just ammunition. Take their judgment, harness it next to your pride, and ride them past the fools, over the hills, and towards a dream. Have no critics? Set a goal for yourself you’re not sure you can meet. Write it down, sign it, post it on your bedroom wall, showing it to friends and family so there’s no way to sneak out the back door.

Death

If you want the most mileage out of this lifetime then behave as if one is all you get. Henry Rollins said we have infinite potential but finite time: you can’t do everything, but if you choose wisely, you can do any one thing you want. Perhaps that thing won’t be done as well as you’d like or earn you a living, but it can be yours in some form if you’re motivated to have it before you die. Trick: Imagine yourself on your deathbed once a week (It can be fun: think Mexican Day of the dead). Ask, what will I regret not having done if knew I was going to die today? Make a list and get to work. Otherwise you deserve all your dying regrets: you knew death was coming all along.

Fun

Know what you like. Follow what makes you laugh so hard you have to hold your ribs to breathe. It can take a lifetime to sort this out because:

  1. It changes as we age.
  2. It’s hard to separate what we think we’re supposed to like from we actually enjoy (I like running naked through parks, and I’ll burn in hell I’m sure).
  3. Other people, especially adults, rarely approve of the good stuff.

Take time to listen to the little voice, the voice of your 8 year old self, the voice adults, including yourself, interrupt and speak over, and you’ll discover what you love. You might need long walks alone, or solo travel, long stretches of time where you make every single decision for 144 hours, before you’ll hear it, but it’s there. If you know how to have fun (by yourself if necessary) you’ll always be motivated to do something.

The crazy friend

Cultivate friends that say yes. Yes to midnight road-trips. Yes to co-writing bad screenplays. Yes to brainstorming world domination strategies over lunch. We’ve all known crazy friends but after college they fade when careers, families, and other mature pursuits, take center stage. Yet when motivation wanes, seek out your crazy friends. They’re the ones best likely to get what you’re talking about, why you care so much about something few others do, and will rally behind you, increasing the odds you’ll get it done. Use the buddy system: you be their crazy friend if they’ll be yours.

The discipline

Paul Simon said we always have something to say if we’re willing to work to find it. Motivations wait for us inside and we can uncover them if we’re willing to dig. Dig through fear, dig through sadness, dig through ambivalence. The discipline of motivation isn’t militarism: don’t play drill sergeant (although at times, that might work). Instead, whenever you find yourself unmotivated, run the list of feelings and questions of likely motivations and see which ones get your heart rate going. It takes discipline to seek motivation when feeling unmotivated, but that’s the difference between commitment to a craft, and beer fueled fantasies. And for that purpose I hope this essay leaves you on your way back to whatever great thing you need to do.

“Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.” – Stephen DeStaebler

29 Responses to “#55 – How to stay motivated”

  1. luke

    I think staying motivated is one of the biggest challenges in our lives. I’m a smart guy and have lots of ideas and read lots of books and spent lots of money on “how-to” business courses, but I can never seem to turn my ideas into action.

    One of my problems is that I get discouraged and feel overwhelmed with an idea’s workload when I start a project and don’t see any quick progress. I will be all fired-up and ready to go, but after spending one or two days actually doing what I have to do and when I see how much is left I feel like I will NEVER get to the end or see any payoff, no matter how big a pot of gold there is at the end of the rainbow.

    I like your “crazy friend” idea. I’ve heard of this before, but not necessarily needing a crazy person, but someone that you’re supposed to be accountable to and must show specific results to. I’ve never tried it exactly this way, but I know when people expect me to get something done I always try to do it, even when it’s something I don’t want to do.

    I also like the outsourcing the grunt work idea. That’s what CEO’s and company chairmen do. They do all the “big picture, big thinking” stuff and pay other people to actually do it. They’re not stiffled by the daily grind.

    Good article. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  2. HH

    This essay is a breath of fresh air. Thanks Scott!

    Reply
  3. Isis

    This was one of the best articles on motivation I have ever read. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Angel

    Thanks once again, Scott. Very insightful and…motivating. Looking forward to the event tomorrow.

    Reply
  5. JA

    Very good article!

    Thanks

    Reply
  6. David Barker

    Very good article, reminds me of a good qoute: Never ask for permission, just be prepared to apologise.

    Reply
  7. Corbin Harris

    This helped me with an idea I came up with to help better myself, many points you made in this Essay spoke to me on an aspect of my life I needed to fix. Your writing helps me understand a little more about what others in my life couldn’t put into words. Thank you again for another amazing Essay.

    Reply
  8. Naturegirl

    Loved the article.

    Reply
  9. Naturegirl

    Loved the essay, want to be my crazy person? I too love to run naked; anywhere. Tying to pursue a career where I can work naked too. Wish me luck!

    Reply
  10. Crazyguy

    I’m that crazy friend type of guy. But my “Friends” are normal boring people. They have no interesting or exciting things to do (Unless you consider “Work” interesting) and they say no to every crazy or mildly interesting proposal of mine.

    Reply
  11. Cindy

    I am 54 years old and I am writing a book for the first time. I came accross your information on google I typed in “How to write a book for the first time” and I thank you for the inspiration you give and thank you for telling me to just do it!!

    Reply
    1. Kathleen

      Hi Cindy, it’s now 3/10/13 and I’m curious if you wrote your first book. I came across this site the same way you did that’s what brought me to reply. I’ve been writing my story about 2 years now, just looking for information on how to apply it! Hope to hear from you, hopefully I’ll be buying a copy of your book then!!

      Reply
      1. ShiraDestinie

        Hi Kathleen,
        I love your reply to Cindy. I have finally, after 2 years, finished my first practice novel -I wish I had planned it first! -and am working up the motivation to choose one of my ideas for the next book.
        Be well
        ShiraDest.
        Today’s U.N./ Universal Date is: Wednesday, December 20. 12014 H.E. (Holocene Era)

        Reply
  12. Jeni

    Thank you for doing this.
    I have read several of your essays and blogs.
    I’ve been writing since i was young, and i have always loved it. I have more passion for reading and writing a good story than anything else in the world.

    Everything I’ve read on here, makes perfect sense. Other websites were long, and drawn out. Their points not exactly clear. You get straight to the point, and you don’t seem to care much about stepping on anyones toes.
    So again, thank you.
    With a lot of hard work, and some luck. You will see my name on books one day :)

    Reply
  13. Don

    I thank you and I would like to receive things from time to time. I do 75% of what you say, but it has taken me many years to get to this point. I was not raised with the voice I have in my mind today. Life is grand. Wish you a save forever, DON

    Reply
  14. Chris Diamond

    This is crazy, most people do not think anger actually motivates.

    In fact, anger can serve a dual purpose! It can destroy relationships, but it can also keeps you motivated to get out of misery and setbacks. So it is about in what CONTEXT the anger is used to serve the purpose of a motivator!

    Good points Scott, I like your style! :-)

    Should I contribute to this discussion?

    I wrote an article about motivation that relates to what you are saying: http://doubletimetoday.com/motivation/24-ways-to-stay-motivated/

    Reply
  15. Sheryl Vaughn

    Excellent insights some of which I am guilty of. however I found information inspiring encouraging.

    Reply
  16. Grace

    Thank you so much for that great post you just shared! I like those great tips and they are all very doable. I also came across a video that talks about how to stay motivated when you are stuck in a rut and it’s a video from Marie Forleo. It’s very relative to what you wrote. http://marieforleo.com/2012/02/how-to-get-motivated/

    Reply
  17. Astrid

    I love the part about crazy friends! They inspire me in many ways, even though I sometimes feel their endeavours are crazy. They show me that anything can be done and that it’s important to break loose from what others expect at times. Thanks for your posts, they are very clearly written.

    Reply
  18. Kelentaria

    I found all of your materials very insightful. I have a multitude of ideas some even written out to a presentable form, but I have fears of being taken advantage of by publishers. I have others that I started writing 8 (yes 8) years ago and have been written on a little, but have began collecting a rather large amount of dust. I have been putting it off for awhile because my life has been spiraling out of my control. I know now that there really isn’t much I can do about it, but wait out the storm. This article has given me enough motivation to at least debate whether or not I should continue some or toss others (as there is probably a reason why I haven’t written more on them.) It has also given me the courage to either seek a publisher or do it myself. (even though I grasp the fact that it will be a daunting task, but if I want it badly enough I can make it happen or at least try my ass off.

    Thank for curing my writer block!!!!
    Kelentaria

    Reply
  19. Mickie

    Just read this, it’s absolutely amazing, and then you just totally top yourself by quoting Henry Rollins, my favourite person in the world! You, sir, are a legend!

    Reply
  20. motivation essay

    A great Article. Another process to get stay motivated is to you can write motivational stories on your eBook or blogs on your leisure time. that will inspire you a lot in your daily routine and you will feel good and energetic. Great Stuff

    Reply

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