mo·ti·va·tion | \ mō-tə-ˈvā-shən \ 1a: the act or process of motivating – Some students need motivation to help them through school. 1b: the condition of being motivated – employees who lack motivation 2: a motivating force, stimulus, or influence : INCENTIVE, DRIVE – The fear of failure was the motivation for his achievements. Mirriam-Webster
I frequently get asked what I do to motivate myself. That’s a tough question because by and large we misunderstand what motivation is. Motivation, from the most basic definition, is an external force that inspires us, not a driving force that comes from within.
When hunger pains drive a mission into the kitchen to finally cook some food, that’s motivation. When a deadline looms on that really important paper and suddenly the writers block releases and a thousand words hit the page, that’s motivation. When the housekeeping has fallen to the wayside for months and suddenly guests are coming and crisis cleaning becomes the only option…that’s motivation.
On the day to day matters of making the bed, washing the dishes, writing the words, and on the really bad days, getting out of bed, it’s difficult to find exterior inspiration to do it.
That is not a moral failure. It’s a motivational failure.
Too many Instagram and Facebook memes like to make the act of motivation look easy – as if it’s some force that we muster from within and need only find and execute it. For people to whom basic tasks come easily the idea that an external force motivates them can seem foreign.
For people that struggle with the day to day tasks it can seem as foreign a concept because of being bombarded with so many “look inside yourself!” motivational messages.
So, how do I motivate myself?
Years upon years of practice at building habits, learning to create routines that support themselves and are easy to achieve, and knowing how to look for and find motivation.
These are skills that have to be learned and nurtured. No, I don’t ever want to do the dishes. Dishes suck. My shirt gets wet and I forget to put an apron on 50% of the time. I loathe dishes. (And folding laundry, let’s be honest here.) But dishes in particular is a task that must be done and should be done often because otherwise things begin to smell. On a good day I can moan and groan and haul myself out of my comfy chair and away from my book and go wash the damn things. Simply because it must be done in order for me to cook dinner later in the day. (That’s a motivating force, by the way.)
On a bad day I have to find the motivation to do it. Because I could just decide on take out, send my spouse out to get it and stay right here and keep staring at the wall pretending I’m trying to decide what to do next. (Bipolar disorder isn’t always Hollywood-glamorous manic episodes, often it is just sitting, lost and stuck and unable to do even the things we love.)
I have tons of practice at knowing where to look. It took effort and support from the professionals I hired to help me learn. When I need to accomplish a task I know – now – how to look around and find a reason to do it, but I can’t tell you how to do it here on this page.
What works for me may not work for you, and it’s not as simple as if A then B. There’s a process to uncovering your patterns and motivators. I'll write about it when I get the time, but before that you can always just schedule some time and we'll work it out for you.