Last week, community member Jocelyn sent me a New York Times article by Cameron Walker entitled, “How to Get Things Done When You Don’t Want to Do Anything.”
I clicked on the link and got a friendly notification that I had reached my limit of articles for the month and could continue reading by subscribing for $1 per week.
I didn’t expect that a general publication article with such a catchy algorithm approved title would introduce me to anything new about motivation. I found myself in a situation where I didn’t want to do anything, especially involving creating another username and password and getting out my credit card.
But I mustered the motivation to access the article through my library’s ProQuest account. Here’s why.
Excerpts from Cameron Walker’s article are in italics.
Two Categories of Motivation
Motivation falls into two categories, said Stefano Di Domenico, a motivation researcher who teaches at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
First, there’s controlled motivation, when you feel you’re being ruled by outside forces like end-of-year bonuses and deadlines — or inner carrots and sticks, like guilt or people-pleasing.
The second kind, autonomous motivation, is what we’re seeking. This is when you feel like you’re self-directed, whether you have a natural affinity for the task at hand, or you’re doing something because you understand why it’s worthwhile.
Gretchen Rubin’s fun book The Four Tendencies is a magic sorting hat that helped me understand whether controlled or autonomous motivation worked best for me.
Upholder: No trouble with controlled motivation or autonomous motivation. (Possible downside, can be rigid or perfectionist.)
Obliger: No trouble with controlled motivation, but poor at autonomous motivation. (Puts others needs ahead of their own and may be susceptible to burnout.)
Rebel: Excels at autonomous motivation. (They pursue what interests them with passion, but their interests can turn on a dime.)
Questioner (that’s me): No trouble with autonomous motivation, can respond to controlled motivation reframing it as autonomous. (Can drive others crazy by asking too many questions in the process of reframing a controlled motivation as autonomous.)
Tiny, Well-Timed Treats
Lora Park, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, pairs using a treadmill with watching Netflix.
My favorite quote by Nir Eyal, author of Indistractible is,”Time management is pain management. Everything we do is about a desire to escape discomfort.”
If Lora Park is an obliger, she might find the autonomous motivation to take good care of herself through exercise uncomfortable. Netflix serves as a discomfort reducer.
When writing these posts, I have a specific instrumental playlist that I listen to on shuffle. This keeps me just comfortable enough to keep from searching for more pleasant distractions.
A Friendly Game of Motivation
People also motivate each other through competition, said Damon Centola a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
People around us influence us more than we might like to believe — so harness that influence by seeking out a dose of competition when you need motivation to exercise.
This one might work best for rebels.
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month three times. It takes place every November. The objective is to write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in 30 days.
The website offers tools to track daily word count progress (1667 words a day is somewhat challenging but doable). It’s vital that the last two words are The End. Local NaNoWriMo chapters have celebrations during the first week of December.
I’ve successfully created first drafts of novels each time.
I will note here that I’m competing with myself in the company of others, not trying to write the most words or to write the fastest, so autonomous motivation is still in effect.
There is a potential downside to the controlled motivation of winning.
Have Some Self-Compassion
Treating ourselves with compassion works much more effectively than beating ourselves up, said Kristin Neff, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. “People think they’re going to shame themselves into action,” yet self-compassion helps people stay focused on their goals, reduces fear of failure and improves self-confidence, which can also improve motivation, she said.
A couple nights ago I turned on The Olympics and watched a few minutes of an interview with a swimmer who had just won a gold medal and set a world record for something or other. The athlete was both humbled and basking in his moment of glory when the interviewer said three words, “Thoughts about Paris.”
The light went out of his eyes.
I recognized in that moment one aspect of our common humanity.
If someone motivated enough to become the world record holder at anything can, at times, find the mere idea of three more years of training to defend the record to be daunting, the rest of us are in good company.
Find Your Why
Dr. Richard M. Ryan, a professor at Australian Catholic University in North Sydney, said that when you connect the things that are important to you to the things you need to do — even the drudgeries — you can feel more in control of your actions. What do you love about your work? What core value does it meet?
This is the motivator that got me past the paywall hurdle and over the ProQuest hurdle to read the motivation article. I practice well-being habits because it contributes to a better me and a better world to the extent that my actions impact the world.
Go Far, Together
Tanaya Winder, an Albuquerque-based motivational speaker and poet said she draws her sense of purpose from her community — she is Duckwater Shoshone, Pyramid Lake Paiute and Southern Ute — and suggested considering how your motivation is tied to the people around you, whether that’s your family or your basketball team.
This is a community to explore the habits of lasting well-being. Understanding what motivates us is key to working productively and beneficially. When a member of my community shares an exploration with me by texting me an article, we’re strengthening community.
As I’m writing these words, coming off a poor night’s sleep, 10 minutes before a Zoom call on delegating marketing tasks, I have attained the perfect state to complete my first draft on this post. I legitimately don’t want to do anything right now.
But, I know that contributing to my community is a way to contribute to my own well-being, and, that’s enough to keep me going…for now.