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See How Easily You Can Motivate Yourself

by Jennifer on December 8, 2009

By Jennifer Blanchard

Yesterday on Zen Habits, Leo Babauta answered 20 key questions on motivation and habits.

And one of the questions asked by a reader was: How do you motivate yourself to get work done after trying many things and failing over and over again?

I loved Leo’s response. And it applies to overcoming procrastination, as well. He said:

“Motivation is just about taking that first step—just getting excited about something enough to get started. Then it’s about focusing on enjoying what you’re doing, right now, instead of worrying about how you’re going to get to a destination.

You also need to forget about failures, or at least the part of them that gets you discouraged. Take away from your failures a lesson about what obstacles stand in your way, and leave behind any bad feelings. Those are in the past. Focus on right now, and how fun the activity is, right now.”

In order to get yourself motivated, as Leo said, you need to just find something to get excited about. Whatever that may be.

Maybe it’s a novel you’re working on. Maybe it’s a short story. Or maybe it’s just the idea of writing every day.

Whatever it is that gets you excited—whatever it is that you’re passionate about—use it! Hold tight to it and use it to motivate yourself.

When you’re working on a project that excites you and that you’re super passionate about, procrastination will be the furthest thing from your thoughts. Because all you’ll be thinking about is trying to squeeze in time to work on your exciting project.

Now you may be thinking—“Well that doesn’t keep me from procrastinating.” To that I have to say, if you think you’re excited about a project, but then you procrastinate on it, my guess is you’re not as excited or passionate about it like you think you are.

Or maybe you are excited and passionate about the project, but you’re the thing that’s standing in your way.

The reason for this could be as follows:

  • Should Vs. Want—Without even realizing it, you may be telling yourself that you SHOULD be working on that project. But as I mention all the time, “should” is a killer of motivation. Should makes you feel trapped and like you have no options, which then causes you to procrastinate. In order to get back to the place where you’re excited and motivated, tell yourself you WANT to be working on the project. Tell yourself you can’t wait to get home so you can write that chapter or work on your first draft. When you want to do something, you do it. When you tell yourself you should be doing something, you kill it.
  • Self-Set Limitations—You want to be working on that writing project you’ve been putting off. It excites you, it gets you jazzed, it motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. But those limitations you’ve placed on yourself are holding you back. You want to know the best part about that, thou? Since you set the limitations, you can remove them!  It’s all up to you. You hold the keys to your success.
  • Fear—Yes, fear is a big one. And one that I talk about frequently. Fear is what holds most writers back from achieving the kind of success they dream of. But fear, just like self-set limitations, can be overcome. All you need to do is accept that you’re afraid (regardless of what it is you’re afraid of) and take the first step anyhow. As they say at the nutrition school I’m currently attending, “feel the fear and do it anyways.” That’s the only way you’ll ever be truly successful.

So what can you do about the motivation problem you’re having? Well… there are several things you can do, such as:

  • Make a list of all the things you love or that excite you about your writing project. Maybe it’s the fact that you get to lose yourself in someone else’s world for a few hours. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re developing your writing skills. Maybe you’re excited about a new plot twist you created. Whatever it is about your project that excites you, write it down. Then, next time your motivation is waning or you feel your self-set limitations or fears popping up, read through the list. It will help reenergize you and make you see why you want to dedicate your time to the project to begin with.
  • Spend 10 to 15 minutes every night making notes about your project. This can be anything from coming up with a to-do list for the next time you work on the project to a list of plot ideas. Just spend some time each day making notes for the project. The more you think about the project (and the more you work on it), the more ideas you’ll have and the more likely you’ll be to sit down and write. By making notes daily, you’re keeping the project fresh in your mind, which makes it front-and-center when you are ready to dedicate time to it.
  • Focus on the good things. Sure, you’ve made mistakes with your project. You’ve failed a couple times. But SO WHAT? All that means is you learned how not to do it next time. Instead of worrying about or thinking about your failures and mistakes, focus on what’s good about your project. Write down (or at least think about) all the things that you’ve done right and all the good things that have happened with your project. When you have a positive attitude about your project, fueled by all the good things, you’ll be a lot more likely to work on it than you will if you view the project as a failure or a mistake.

What do you do to stay motivated on your writing projects, even after a failure?

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is founder of Procrastinating Writers. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paulo Campos December 8, 2009 at 12:45 pm

One thing that often manages to renew my interest in a writing project is to break down its components and start trimming them down.

For example, I’m revising a story that I wrote nearly a year ago and didn’t particularly like. My feeling was that the first draft dragged in places and when I reread it I decided to see what might happen if I cut some of the eight characters out. Only two are left.

This has really motivated me to revise the rest of the story, because its new sparseness raised questions I’m compelled to answer.
-What might these characters say to one another that they hadn’t before?
-Considering that the creepy character is holding a hammer, how will the suspense change now that no one else is present?
-Does it still matter that a country club is nearby?

Thanks for a thought-provoking post! I really enjoyed it, because actually writing out a list of these questions somehow hadn’t occurred to me until now.

2 jblan December 8, 2009 at 2:37 pm

@Paulo Campos I’m glad that this post caused you to take action and make a list of questions to answer in your novel. Every little step you take will get you to that novel-writing finish line.

3 lara December 10, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Another great post, Jen. I’m a master list-maker and I know that’s the only way I get through any project. Of course writing a novel seems like an insurmountable challenge some days, but writing a character sketch is pretty do-able. You have to start with something and all those ‘somethings’ eventually will turn into something big if you take it one step at a time. We all lead busy lives and trying to find an hour to write (much less an entire day) is hard, but what if you can write just 4 times a day for 15 minutes each? There’s an hour. And making consistent progress will make you all the more excited to get back to it again as soon as you can.

4 Marla Beck, The Relaxed Writer December 16, 2009 at 2:04 pm

This is a fantastic post, Jen – great suggestions, here.

Whenever one of my life-coaching client report that they’ve “lost steam” or have been avoiding their writing project, we get back to basics. And reconnecting with “what’s fun?” is the very first place we start. I think you’ve picked a perfect tip to top your list.

@lara, your comment reminds me of my knitting project. My 2-year-old keeps me very busy, but in small moments I knit a row or two on the scarf I’m making for my husband. It’s gratifying to see my efforts accumulating into something – inch by inch. 🙂

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