A couple of months back I encountered this idea about how motivation is a fickle mistress and discipline is a way better approach, and it thoroughly resonated with me.
See, I’ve never been great at motivation, but I used to have a lot of energy and a lot of “I want X; I’ll go get x” drive. So my lack of motivation was less of a problem, because when my back was against the wall I had the go all night, get up at 4am energy to make up for it.
And then I got old and had a kid, and here’s the big one, started suffering from pretty severe depression. And I discovered a terrible thing. That often, quite a lot actually, when you screw up or miss deadlines, nothing really terrible happens. You don’t die. No one dies. You maybe get a bit of a reputation for being a flake, but when you’re so depressed you can barely shower, that doesn’t seem like much of a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
I clawed my way out of that hole, and it was not easy. It may be one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I did it. I went and got meds, I rebuilt a support structure, I developed tools for dealing with the shit my brainmonkeys throw at me, I found ways of handling the things that trigger the overwhelming urge to run away from everything. I got better.
But I came out of the other side of that battle scarred and changed. I’m not the person I was at 22, who could stay up till 3am working any more. I don’t have the boundless energy I had back then. I can’t binge and purge on getting things done any more. I needed a better solution.
And that’s when I ran right into this motivation problem. Because there’s this dangerous tendency when you’ve been severely depressed. When you’re so depressed showering is an achievement, it’s very easy to lower that bar forever. To start saying, man but there was a time I couldn’t get dressed, surely it’s not that bad if I just take today off and hide in my bed because my head’s a bit fucked and I’m not motivated? The difference between “just not feeling up to it” and “self-care” becomes insanely difficult to judge, especially from the inside.
This is what I was battling with when I read that article about motivation. Screw motivation, it said. You need discipline. Now, I’m a very artistically inclined human. Discipline to me is about military school and rules, right? I mean, art is different, right? You have to be inspired, yeah?
No. Dead wrong in fact. You know that old adage about inspiration/perspiration? That had never really sunk in. You know all that stuff that pretty much every writer in the world says about how most of the battle is just showing up? I’d never quite grasped that either. Show up. Do the work. And the art happens.
So I changed the way I did it. I said, fuck motivation. It’s never fucking there for me when I need it. So I’ll learn to not need it.
I made a list. A dynamic list, one that I update and re-prioritise every single day. And then I dealt with the top thing on the list.
I get up in the morning, and I do the first thing in front of me. No matter what the day. No matter if it is a brain monkey day. No matter if everything in me wants to go back to bed and stay there. I get up. I drink a cup of coffee. I take my child to school. I come home. I eat breakfast. And then I tackle the top thing on the list.
Some days I don’t get further than the top thing. Some days the top thing is very time consuming. Some days I get through the whole list.
But every day – EVERY SINGLE DAY – I make progress.
And here’s the magical thing. It got easier. Once I stopped caring about whether I felt like it or not, and just started doing it regardless, whether I felt like it or not became irrelevant. So I just did it. Whatever it was. It just got done. And at the end of the day, I looked at it and went, hey. Look what I did.
And the next day it was a little bit easier.
So I’m working again, in a reliable way. I can take on work, because I don’t have that fear in my head, “But what if I can’t get it done?” Can’t is gone. I just do it.
I’m making progress on projects. Because I don’t look at the whole impossible process, I just look at the next step, and do it. And somehow the things happen.
Motivation man. It was my worst enemy all this time.
This shit changed my life. Like, literally CHANGED MY LIFE. It changed the whole way I get stuff done. And now it GETS DONE.
I have a long way to go. The system is good, but it could be better. I still always have too much on my plate. My prioritising needs tweaking so I don’t ignore the things that fall too low (poor Bookish Jelly Bean). I’m still working on the balance. And honestly, I still procrastinate more than I should.
But changing my head about this, not needing to wait until “I feel like it” to do the thing? That has been life-changing.
DISCLAIMER: As always, this is what has worked for me. I hope it helps someone, but I certainly am not trying to suggest everyone in the whole world should do things my way. Just to be clear.