Posts Tagged ‘motivation’

To love what you do and feel that it matters—how could anything be more fun?
Katherine Graham

To honor 10/10/10, I created my five-year-plan i.e. the Time Capsule. I started writing my Time Capsule by writing my name and the date five years from now in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. I’m totally a mind map kind of person, so the format was a no-brainer. I didn’t really want to focus on practicalities at all, so I started with a basic question – what do I want to fill my days with in five years? The answer consisted of four key verbs that became the nodes of my mind map and a series of four posts.

The first three nodes were the red one and the green one, and the orange one. The fourth and final node became the pink one.

A bit more than a year ago, I first encountered Barbara Sher’s brilliant book, Wishcraft. Towards the beginning of the book, there’s a simple exercise: write down twenty things that you love doing. They don’t have to be grand or lofty – if you’re stuck at nineteen, make the last one be “eating ice cream”.

I completed that exercise right then and there, and among the things I loved were (as far as I remember) “improvising”, “singing”, “knitting”, “doing Shiva Nata”, “having coffee with friends” et cetera. As I read my list, I realized that there was a shortage of those things in my life during the time. However, the realization came and went as fall turned to winter and my todo-list filled up at and outside work.

I came across Wishcraft again a few months ago, after having forgotten the name of the book (I hadn’t downloaded the free copy but rather read it off my screen) and finally managing to find it again. (Note to self: if you do exercises that feel borderline life-changing, make sure you write the exercises in a notebook or a journal, not separate sheets of paper, and for heaven’s sake include the source! 🙂 ) As I read the book, a thought started to emerge within: could it indeed be possible to align my life in such a way that most of the things I love be included?

I’m a realist in the sense that I don’t imagine getting a fat paycheck every month for just sitting in a cafe and chatting with my friends. I also flinch at the mention of the word “monetize”. However, I also flinch at the thought of having a job where every day is a depressing swamp to push through before “real” life begins at the stroke of five. If I’m aware of the things I love spending time on, I can make conscious choices about jobs to apply for and channels through which to contact people for freelance gigs.

Doing what I love for a living is just one part of the equation, though. In five years, I want to have time to spend with people I love, too. If that means forgoing huge paychecks (since, you know, the Arts majors always get the highest salaries 😉 ) that would involve round-the-clock hours, then so be it. For instance, I’m planning to stay home and take care of our daughter for at least another six months as I finish my MA thesis, and possibly after that as well. We could find a day care for her if I really wanted to go and earn a second income, but so far I’m (quite selfishly, in fact) prioritizing the time with her over a few hundred euros extra per month. However, if an opportunity arises for me to take a few teaching gigs or translation jobs while mainly staying at home, all the better.

Spending time with the ones I love includes spending time with myself, too. My brain knows the whole deal about taking care of yourself so you can take care of others, putting on your own oxygen mask and so forth. Still, it’s ever so easy to forget that it’s actually really important. I’ve been journaling almost every night for months now, and I’ve also been trying to reincorporate Shiva Nata into my routines, as well as yoga. In five years, I hope, I will be able to say “I love myself” without the slightest bit of irony, sarcasm or doubt.

After creating the original Time Capsule mind map, I read a fabulous book by a former Special Needs Educator (in Finnish) recounting her experiences of children who were mistreated by the school system one way or another. The further I got in the book, the more I felt that this, too, is something where I want to contribute. There are children in every school who need love, appreciation and acceptance. I want to spend some part of my career providing those things to children, and helping them provide those things to each other. As a drama teacher, I will have an exceptional opportunity to strengthen the students’ skills in empathy, listening, positive feedback, acceptance and general communicative skills. That, to me, is a wonderful way of spreading love in this world.

Reflections on the whole Time Capsule process

Making the Time Capsule was a spur-of-the-moment thing, as was blogging about it. As it turns out, though, a lot of the thoughts required some percolating before they became blog posts. It was interesting how effortlessly the four nodes and their sub-nodes emerged on paper as I first started doodling the Time Capsule. And as I wrote each post, I was surprised how much sense it all made (at least in my head if not in writing), how many levels of connectedness there were between the nodes.

The original, physical mind map is in an envelope in our bookshelf, addressed to me to be opened in five years. However, the process of mapping out my ideal future opened a lot of things in my present, too. For instance, after realizing how much I crave creativity in my life, we brought in my husband’s old keyboard that had been in storage. I don’t play the piano yet, but the simple fact that it’s in our living room reminds me to play every now and again. Realizing how much I want to teach has motivated me to speak up about my Shiva Nata in Finland project to friends who might be interested.

In general, framing my life in terms of these four verbs today will help motivate me to get more done – if I think of my MA thesis as being a creative work that’s aimed at teaching and helping people, not a necessary evil, I’ll be much more driven to put in the hours.

It seems that by looking into my ideal future for the qualities I want to experience right now, I’ve been able to inch my life towards that ideal future. Huh. Imagine that. 🙂

Thank you so much for stopping by again! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, so you’re more than welcome to leave one. Have an insightingful holiday season!



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It’s always further than it looks.
It’s always taller than it looks.
And it’s always harder than it looks.
The 3 rules of mountaineering.

As the final step of my MA degree, I’m finally working on my Master’s Thesis (or pro gradu thesis, as it is called in Finland). The thesis seminar started in January, and so far I’ve written a few pages on secondary material and my research plan. In the paper, I’ll investigate teacher discourse in a drama-influenced foreign language class. (I’ll most likely end up posting something or other about my thoughts on teacher discourse later on during the summer.)

The target length of the thesis is between 50 and 100 pages, so it’s the most extensive piece of academic writing I’ve ever attempted to conquer. Since most university students graduate with Master’s degrees in Finland, the gradu is a big deal and there’s a lot of hype about how working on your gradu is about as exhausting as climbing Mount Everest. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to be at this stage of my studies – working on my gradu literally means I’m pretty close to finishing my Master’s. On the other hand, I can’t help buying into the “oh, it’s just so grueling” frame of mind.

Ironically, the Mount Everest metaphor actually helps me with working on my gradu. It’s a big undertaking, sure. But there are similarities I can leverage to my advantage. Not that I’ve ever climbed a mountain in my life, either. 🙂

Practice, practice, practice

Quite like conquering Mount Everest, you wouldn’t start writing your gradu without some preparation or practice. I don’t think there are many people for whom Mount Everest is the first peak they’ve climbed.

My first shot at academic writing was my tutorial essay on my freshman year. It dealt with learning motivation. If I read it today, I’d probably cringe so much I’d dislocate my jaw, so I won’t. 🙂 After that, I’ve written several papers for different courses, not to mention exam answers and other smaller works. Each of them sucked just a little bit less than the previous ones.

When reading other seminar participants’ contributions, I’ve been able to spot points to improve on and questions to consider. That, if nothing else, has showed me that I have indeed developed an understanding of what a piece of academic text should be like. Even if I can’t write fabulous academic text the first time around, I’ll at least be able to see where the biggest gaping holes are.

Support network

Reinhold Messner climbed Mount Everest alone in 1980 – and without any extra oxygen. The thing is, though, that he’d climbed a fair number of mountains before that, and even conquered Mount Everest once before with a companion. In other words, he’d had enough practice to attempt going solo.

For the rest of us, attempting to conquer a huge goal without support from other people would spell disaster. That’s why pro gradu theses are most often written during seminar courses, where the teacher and other participants offer their feedback and suggestions. You have to be able to think of them as helping you instead of judging you, though, for the support to work.

I wrote my research plan on the day of the deadline. I knew the deadline and had most of the material long before that, but for some reason (i.e. pregnancy brain and then fatigue caused by taking care of a newborn) I didn’t get it done. Furthermore, I didn’t even get it started until the week of the Friday deadline.

The reason? My perfectionist mind insisted that I have to create a beautiful, finished piece of text for the group to admire. It took the looming deadline for me to realize that any piece of mediocre text commented by ten people is infinitely more valuable than a fine-tuned text handed in late so no-one has time to read or comment.

Showing up

Nine months pregnant, with hormones fogging up my brain, I gave myself permission to not fret about the thesis too much. After giving birth to a beautiful little girl, I gave myself permission to spend the rest of the spring taking care of me and her, and not fret about the thesis too much. “Come June, I’ll really get serious with the gradu,” I told everyone. And myself.

Two days ago, I noticed it’s June. I managed to stick to my decision and spent 15 minutes working on my thesis. Yesterday, I spent 15 minutes, and today I managed to squeeze in a whole 45 minutes in 15 minute increments. My husband has promised me he’ll take care of the baby during the times I’m working on my thesis, so I won’t have to interrupt the 15 minute focus.

You don’t climb a mountain by hanging out at base camp and talking about it. It takes muscle work. Sure, you need to plan what to do, but in the end, you have to put in the effort. On the other hand, there are days when you just have to rest so as to not injure yourself or burn out. And even then you’re showing up if you’re not packing your bags and heading on home. 🙂

As for the quote at the beginning of this post, I’m sure it applies to my Master’s Thesis as well. Every single time I open the file and spend 15 minutes working on it, my todo-list expands as well. For every paragraph I finish, I find a few points to elaborate on somewhere in the text. But the summit is there, somewhere in the distance.

And once I get to the summit and finish my Master’s Thesis, I’m done with my Master’s degree, and the next step is graduating and getting a Real Job. But I try not to think about that too much. I might get vertigo. 😉

Thank you so much for reading again, and keep catching your own insightings!



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You can learn many things from children.  How much patience you have, for instance.
Franklin P. Jones

Encouraged by a friend who said she likes to read my writing, I’m taking a shot at dusting off my blog. For the past few weeks, I’ve been on a huge learning rollercoaster with our daughter, born seven weeks ago. At the moment, she’s sleeping in her crib, so I have a few moments to reflect upon some things I’ve learned already.

“Sleeps like a baby” – right!

One of the first things we had to learn as parents is not to jump off our seats and run to the baby whenever she makes a sound. Especially when she’s sleeping. There’s grunting, whining, snorting, moaning, and a range of other graceful and not-so-graceful sounds that reflect the different stages of sleep but do not imply anything’s wrong.

This is adorable during the day, when she’s napping. At night, when I’m trying to sleep, it’s not so adorable. Call it a mother’s instinct or whatever, but I tend to wake up to even the smallest whines and grunts. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s very useful – if there’s a sudden change in the baby’s breathing pattern, I am alert enough to check if something’s wrong. However, when there’s nothing wrong, the baby is breathing and sound asleep (pun intended), it can get just a tad frustrating. A work in progress, this one.

Motivation and obligation

A friend and I talked about the way new parents often seem like they were ‘born to take care of a baby’, in the sense that they look so natural when handling their baby. I suggested that it’s not necessarily about natural aptitude but rather about very intense practice. From the day she was born, we’ve been the ones taking care of her whatever the situation. By the time we left the hospital, we’d both probably picked her up dozens of times and changed what seemed like a mountain of diapers. She was four days old. You get pretty fluent pretty fast.

Another reason most parents become the best parents for their baby pretty quick is the fact that babies cry. It’s one of the only things they actually have control over, so they signal any discomfort by crying. And for many parents (ourselves included) there are few things in this world that spur you into action faster than your own offspring screaming inconsolably. You kinda want to find out what’s wrong and fix it. When you manage to soothe the child, the rewarding sight of a calm baby strengthens the learning experience.

It kind of reminds me of what’s been called the best way to learn a new language: get yourself in a situation where everyone speaks the foreign language, and where you have to find some food and a safe place to spend the night. Even if you think you’re really bad at languages, chances are you’d pick up a handful of key expressions in a matter of days. Again, successes are likely to cause huge surges of positive feelings such as relief, gratitude, feeling safe and connected.

Maybe the rapid learning in these cases is caused by the combination of the two: a strong initiating force and the huge emotional payoff at the end. Plus, of course, repetition upon repetition. If you want to survive a week in a foreign country (or with a newborn, for that matter), one problem-solving situation is just the start.

The whole carpe diem thing

With a newborn, the concept of “I’ll just do this, and then…” flies pretty much out the window. When the baby is awake, it often requires your undivided attention by demanding food, a clean diaper, or other basic comforts. When the baby sleeps, you need to have a slice of your attention directed towards the crib in case the baby voices a demand.

Furthermore, there’s often no telling as to how long the baby will stay asleep. In other words, if there’s something you need to get done while the baby’s asleep, you’d be wise to jump to it as soon as the baby falls asleep. This group of activities includes things like eating, taking a shower, emptying the dishwasher, and going to the restroom. Things that, pre-baby, were blissfully easy to schedule: first, I’ll do X, then I’ll do Y, and then I’ll do Z… but first let me Facebook for a moment. 🙂

Now, there’s a clear hierarchy of priorities: as soon as the baby falls asleep/calms down, I’ll get a glass of water. If I get stuck Facebooking for too long, she might wake up and demand a clean diaper, then food, then burping, and two hours later I notice I didn’t get that glass of water. This whole Do-It-Now thing is no joke.

There’s another side to the carpe diem approach, too. The moments when the baby is awake and alert are a precious few during one day. They are the moments to connect with the baby, sing, read, cuddle, find eye contact and encourage interaction. It feels like such a waste to ignore the baby when she most yearns for connection. And if I try to “get this one thing finished and then” connect with the baby, she might already be too tired or hungry, and the moment is gone.

Of course you can’t catch all of these moments. But you can try.

And you can try to catch those kinds of moments with grow-ups as well. If you feel like saying something beautiful to a friend, say it. Don’t hold back just because “she knows how I feel about her” or “I can’t just say it out loud”.

Thank you so much for reading, once again! *Blowing a sprinkling of insightings your way*



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This is a series of posts about motivation, based on Richard Ryan and Edward Deci’s Self Determination Theory. In each post, I will talk about one of the three key needs that are linked with intrinsic motivation: Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Situation: I’m in the middle of battling a severe case of demotivation, and I’ve summoned the Three Motivation Musketeers – Competence, Autonomy, Relatedness – to my rescue. In the previous posts, Competence and Autonomy have been doing a good job with battling the Monstrous Demotivation Monster, and Relatedness is about to step in to finish the task once and for all.

For some reason I get a real kick out of reading people’s Twitter updates and Facebook status reports. Especially if I’m surfing Twitter and Facebook to avoid doing that-thing-I-should-really-be-working-on. Or in the procrastination vocabulary, if I’m “just about to get started” on that. It’s a lot easier to take on my own demotivating task if I know there’s someone else out there battling theirs at the same time.

And oh, the joy of being able to update or report an achievement! Even if no-one actually comments, I know someone somewhere knows what I’ve accomplished! Yay me!

To me, the power of Relatedness is three-fold. First, there’s the support and acknowledgement that comes from belonging to a like-minded group. Second, there’s the all-important accountability. And third, there’s the more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts idea of pooling your brain power.

1. Belonging

Everyone has an experience of a class, a course or a study group that just clicked. The atmosphere was positive and supportive, and everyone seemed eager to pitch in and do their part. The teacher knew the topic, and was approachable and fair.

Did you feel motivated about the topic of the course or class? Well, duh.

A supportive, trusting environment enhances motivation, because it decreases the amount of energy we spend on being afraid. Whenever I enter a new group of people, be it for school, work or some extracurricular activity, I spend the first few sessions being afraid of making a complete fool of myself.

That eats up a whole bunch of energy I could be spending on other mental processes, like, say, learning.

The teacher (or group leader) plays an important part in this equation, since it’s their responsibility to create a supportive atmosphere in the group. Noticing each student, receiving their remarks with respect, and encouraging positive communication are strategies a teacher can use to create that atmosphere.

Participants are responsible for the group dynamics as well – depending on their age, of course. If a sandbox fight breaks out between five-year-olds, I’d look to the caregivers watching over the situation.

Poor workplace dynamics, though, can’t be blamed solely on the boss, although management does have a big role in creating the group culture of the company. If ten adults notice a problem and none of them does anything about it, there are ten people responsible for letting the problem exist.

So how does all this translate to my battle with the Magnificent Demotivation Monster?

Relatedness is already going through my list of friends, trying to figure out who to call. No matter what the task, I’ve already got a context-independent circle of friends who might well take the time to listen to me rant. If one of them can actually help me out with the task, all the better.

What I mostly need from Relatedness now, though, is the knowledge that I’m not alone. There is someone out there who knows what I’m battling with and cares.

2. Accountability

This is a biggie for anyone who has ever tried to change a habit. Tell one person, or no-one, about your attempt to quit smoking, and you might or might not succeed. Tell fifty people that you’re going to quit smoking, and it’ll be a lot harder for you not to make it.

This, again, boils down to the “not wanting to make a fool of myself” emotion. I don’t want to seem like a person who doesn’t live up to her promises. If I’ve told ten people I’m quitting, I’ll rather shudder through a meeting with them than sneak out for a cigarette. The more people I tell, the less people there are that don’t know, and the more I have to keep to my word, if only to protect my reputation.

It’s also about not wanting to let people down.

Did you ever have a teacher whose lesson you never wanted to miss and whose exams you always wanted to ace, so as to not disappoint the teacher?

In truth, the teacher’s emotions probably didn’t revolve around your success in that particular subject. Sorry to burst the bubble. The main thing is, though, that you thought they did. And that thought kept you working on the project more than on any of the other projects combined.

And by you, again, I mean me. In high school, I did extended physics mostly for this reason. Which is awesome, since I would otherwise never have taken physics seriously. 🙂

So to get Relatedness in your corner on this one, can you come up with someone you really love and respect, and then tell them you’ll be finishing this project by such and such date? Maybe promising them a weekly update on how you’re doing and what kinds of problems are coming up? And then buying them a cup of coffee and lending your ear to whatever it is they want to talk about?

3. Brain power

Sometimes I’m struggling with a task, a translation text, an essay or a project and can’t seem to make a dent in it. The whole thing is full of knots that are tied up into other knots and the whole thing is icky and nasty. I then complain about it to someone, who asks me two questions and points out a loophole I’d missed or a fact I’d forgotten. *ding!* I’m back on track in no time at all.

You can only do so much on your own. When you’re working with someone else, there’s a lot more brain capacity available and more pairs of eyes to pay attention to detail.

You know how you sometimes watch a game show where the contestants have already made it to the second or third stage of the competition, and then start making stupid mistakes? And you’re sitting on the couch going “I can’t believe that idiot is about to lose zillions of dollars by not knowing that stuff!!“? And nearly dialing the “sign up for our game show here” number because you’d certainly win the zillion dollars?

Chances are they know that stuff. It’s in there somewhere, and when they’re watching the show later they know they knew it. At the time, they were just using a lot of their brain power on thoughts like “I hope I don’t screw up” and “I wonder if Mom is watching” and “Oh man, did I just swear on TV?” and “Geesh, that game show host looks like a leprechaun“.

The same phenomenon happens in improvisation games all the time. The person whose turn it is blanks out completely, while the others have a thousand ideas for that particular association. When everyone gets to chip in and blurt out an idea, the story starts to evolve fast and no-one has sole responsibility for the result.

When a group of people pool their brain power on a task, it’s likely that they’ll not only get it done faster, it’ll be better than any of them would have managed on their own. Embracing the collective responsibility for a task will also increase the chances of better group cohesion and mutual accountability. Relatedness has just scored a hat trick on this one and is taking his bows as we speak.

One for all and all for one

Like the original Three Musketeers (or my favorite spin-off, Musket Hounds), these three Motivation Musketeers are awesome on their own. They totally rock at what they’re good at, but they do have some weaknesses. Their best performance, then, comes when you get all three together in your corner.

It would be arrogant to say this is all you’ll ever need to know about motivation. This goes a long way, though, and especially if you have a basic inventory of actions from each of the three Musketeers, you can really develop your self-motivation skills.

Again, if there’s anything that popped up for you while reading this series, I’d love to hear your comments. Until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!



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This is a series of posts about motivation, based on Richard Ryan and Edward Deci’s Self Determination Theory. In each post, I will talk about one of the three key needs that are linked with intrinsic motivation: Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.
Zig Ziglar

Situation: I’m in the middle of battling a severe case of demotivation, and I’ve summoned the Three Motivation Musketeers – Competence, Autonomy, Relatedness – to my rescue. In the previous post, Competence proved himself valuable, but was faced with obstacles he could not overcome. It was time for his accomplices to step up and prove themselves worthy.

In strolls Autonomy with all the confidence he can muster. Together with Competence, they assume their battling stance.

Want to know one of my fastest demotivators? The words “you must” and their inflections. It doesn’t matter who says it – a teacher, my mother, my fiancé, or me. As soon as the word hits my consciousness, any motivation I had deflates like a cheap balloon. Fast.

On the other hand, getting to pick and choose between a nasty job and another nasty job makes doing the one you choose feel slightly less, well, nasty. It’s like the classic example of asking children whether they want to wear their blue dungarees or their green dungarees. Whichever they choose, they’re now wearing dungarees when they sit in the puddle outside. Mission accomplished.

In the same vein – my fiancé often speaks of “embracing the suck” – and no, you potty-brain, that’s not what it refers to. Ever since Dave Navarro originally posted about this, I’ve been going back to the mindset of “I don’t want to do it – I’m allowed to hate doing it” and then hating something and doing it. I know Havi is all about this kind of not-being-impressed-about-things approach, although with less hating and pushing through involved.

Here comes the Musketeer! [insert jingle]

In terms of Autonomy, you could rephrase this approach as consciously choosing to

a) admit it’s not something you’d otherwise do,

b) remind yourself of why it is that you’re doing this.

I need to write that essay because I want to reflect on the things I’ve learned and make sure I’ve actually understood something. Not to mention the fact that I need study credits to graduate and be able to work as the super-motivational teacher who sparks the flame of creativity in everyone she meets and/or teaches. And I need to do the dishes because it gets really funky really fast in the kitchen if I don’t.

I could choose…

…not doing the essay and getting my credits from somewhere else.

…not graduating as a teacher, going back to selling cigarettes and lottery tickets to drunks at the newsstand, or starting another study program on something completely different.

…cooking in a funky kitchen until I’ve used up all my clean kitchenware.

Bleurgh. Looking at it through the lense of “what choice do I have in this matter?” usually helps me out.

Motive and Motivation

When it comes to learning something, it’s even more important to find the reason (or motive, or motivation) behind it all. If it’s just to pass the exam or get the credit, you can bet your dungarees, blue or green, that I won’t remember much of it six months on.

Figuring out why I am choosing to spend my time on learning French vocabulary or Level 2 hand movements in Shiva Nata gives the whole thing a context, which then helps me link whatever I learn with my pre-existing knowledge. That, in turn, helps me dig it out and use it the next time someone asks me the way to the harbor in French.

It’s also about responsibility. If I have a choice about something, I’m also responsible for that thing to eventually happen. And with responsibility comes the pleasure of a job well done.

No matter how much I hate doing the dishes (and believe me, I do), the sight of a shiny kitchen fires off endorphins from a very primitive nesting area of the brain. If I choose to do something that I would’ve “had to” do anyway, I can be proud of it in a way that’s completely different from the “There. Done.” -approach.

Combining Forces

It’s also important to remember that no matter how good i.e. competent you are at something, the less choice you have the matter, the more your motivation will fizzle. It’s much less appealing to write a compulsory essay on one assigned topic than choose from three topics – even if you know you write kickass essays on whichever topic.

So when Competence and Autonomy combine forces, they form quite a team. The next post will introduce the third Musketeer – Relatedness, a big softie with the amazing Demotivation-busting ninja skills.

Until then, keep catching your own insightings!



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This is a series of posts about motivation, based on Richard Ryan and Edward Deci’s Self Determination Theory. In each post, I will talk about one of the three key needs that are linked with intrinsic motivation: Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.

1. a feeling of enthusiasm or interest that makes you determined to do something.
2. a reason for doing something.
(Macmillan English Dictionary)

“I just can’t do it, Captain. I don’t have the power!”
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

It’s no shocker that getting yourself motivated isn’t always a piece of cake. One of the big elements of studying to be a teacher is figuring out the things that will, or will not, keep students motivated. The plus side is that in the process, you (i.e. me) might find something to apply on your (my) own studies as well.

One such thing is the concept of basic needs that, when met, contribute to motivation. Say I’m feeling like there’s absolutely nothing that could ever compel me to do this thing I really have to do.

Hypothetically speaking.

Like the hypothetical mountain of dishes fermenting in the kitchen, or the essay I have to write, or that e-mail I was supposed to work on two nights ago. Or any item on my Todoodlist, for that matter. Man, there’s a bunch of stuff on there.

This is when I summon the Three Motivation Musketeers to the rescue! [insert appropriate jingle] Here they come, eager and intent to save me from the horrors of demotivation. The first Musketeer to draw his imaginary sword *zzing* is Competence.

If the problem is skill, there’s mostly one of two things going on. Either the task is so horribly and overwhelmingly difficult that I lose hope just thinking of doing it. Master’s Thesis, anyone? It could also be so ridiculously easy that I just can’t come up with the necessary energy to do it, choosing to spend my time doing something more inspiring.

When you’re happily in between those two extremes, you’re likely to achieve the elusive flow Csikszentmihalyi was all about. (For the record: I did have to check and double-check the spelling.) When your skills more or less match the challenge you’re facing, you’re home free.

The thing is, increasing my skill level is not really a viable solution for an acute problem (with the exception of using Shiva Nata to totally activate my brain, of course). So whenever Competence steps up to fight my battle (gently and nonviolently, of course), he’s not really increasing my skill levels as he is tweaking the challenge I’m facing.

Just Too Darn Hard

Daunting task ahead? No way you could ever ever do it? Pick one thing and work on it for fifteen minutes. This is what FlyLady is all about, and her half a million fans can’t all be desperately wrong. Is it the Master’s Thesis? Spend fifteen minutes writing everything and anything that comes to mind about the topic. No topic? Fifteen minutes on brainstorming what it is that you’d like to research.

My Mom and Dad are considering moving house after living in their apartment for twenty years. Imagine the amount of stuff they have, then multiply it by two. That’s how much there is. Whenever I have an afternoon off, I’ll go over, we’ll have some coffee, after which I’ll set the timer for fifteen minutes and we’ll attack (again, gently and nonviolently) a dresser drawer, a bookshelf, the linen closet, the sauna… (Yes, they have a sauna they’ve been using as storage space. That much stuff.)

We’ve sent a lot of stuff to the local equivalent of Goodwill. Although there’s still a lot to do, the biggest change has been my Mom’s attitude. Before, she’d spend her energy fretting about how she never gets around to decluttering and woe is me, for the house looks horrible. Now, she’s actually getting something done. Just yesterday she called, said she was decluttering a bit, and that she’d found a piece of retro clothing – did I want it for my drama prop collection or should she just toss it? I’d call that motivation right there.

Just Can’t Be Bothered

The other extreme is the task that you just can’t be bothered to even start, because… Blah. Boring. Would much rather be doing something else. Enter the pile of dishes fermenting in the kitchen. Not exactly rocket science there, quite the contrary.

My two best self-delusion i.e. motivation-increasing tips for getting around to the apathy-inducing tasks:
1) Multi-tasking and
2) Racing the clock.

They both work because they increase the challenge I’m facing, although in a different way.

1) Multi-tasking

This is really the only reason I’d purposefully multi-task. In everything else, the end result is more or less slipshod and half-assed. On the other hand, if doing the dishes (hypothetically, again) won’t give me any mental challenge whatsoever, then it won’t affect my ability to e.g. listen to an educational podcast, like French for beginners, either.

In fact, it’s giving me the perfect excuse to just spend ten minutes listening to the podcast and actually repeating the model phrases (something I avoid doing when listening to the podcast on the metro, for obvious reasons).

This also applies the other way around. If you’re sitting in front of the TV for your favorite show anyway, why not fold clothes, stretch, or do some other boring and mechanical task. Too much effort during the show? There’s always the commercial break.

2) Racing the clock

This is another FlyLady tip. Say the living room looks like a frat house on a Sunday morning, minus the passed-out people lying on the floor. If I set my timer for five minutes and start clearing the coffee table, the “competition” will spark me up up to get it done in that time. Without the positive time stress, I’d just be sitting on the couch, looking at the mess and poking at the nearest thing out of place. (Again, this is purely hypothetical. Our living room hasn’t looked like that in days.)

For some people, this is the reason they leave everything to the last minute. “I work better under stress.” “I thrive three hours before a deadline.” If you recognise yourself, and it totally works for you, no problem. If you don’t actually enjoy starting every single task at three a.m. on the night before the hand-in date, try creating a “fake” deadline by using a timer.

What if tweaking the challenge doesn’t help?

Some tasks are right up your alley in terms of challenge. Any more difficult, and it’s overwhelming. Any easier, and you’re yawning. And yet you’re not in the throes of the flow, creating a masterpiece or making someone’s life better. In fact, you’re this close to calling it a day and finding out if anyone has anything interesting to say on Twitter. Competence has fought a brave battle, but the Daunting Task and the Horrible Demotivation are putting up a fair amount of resistance.

It’s time to bring in the second Motivation Musketeer – Autonomy. Tune in tomorrow to find out what happens next – Will I Ever Manage To Get Anything Done? [insert dramatic jingle]

And until we meet again, keep catching your own insights!



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