Apologies for my recent absence. I said I’d try and post three times this month, and yet we’ve reached now, and this is my first. I’ve got no real excuse, except that life just began to happen all at once, and very fast, and I found myself hardly able to write, both because I had no ideas, and no time. I’m sure if I’d had more time, I’d’ve found an idea, and if I’d had more ideas, I’d’ve found the time. But I didn’t. I lacked the two things that any every writer needs to write, and so I struggled to motivate myself.
Motivation is a weird thing. For me, my motivation to write is mainly just the sheer enjoyment of it. But for other things, there are definitely some distinct types of motivation. There’s long term, the kind that makes you believe you’re getting where you want to go, there’s short term, that lasts until you’ve finished doing whatever you were motivated to do, and then there’s that kind of external, medium motivation, that just sort of hangs out, and is there, just resting over your head and making you feel like you should be trying harder, and so you do, but just a bit.
That kind of motivation is exams, at least for me at the moment. Exams are never far enough away for them to considered long term, but most of the time, they aren’t quite imminent. They just kind of haunt, and scare, and – sort of – motivate.
But it’s not a ‘I’m going to do great and be successful’ motivation, it’s more a kind of, ‘I literally just want to come out the other side still breathing’ motivation. It’s like, we get motivation from the sheer feeling of not wanting to fail? To an extent, at least. I know it’s not the same for a lot of people, but personally, when I’m feeling insanely unmotivated to work, and thinking about university isn’t working, and nor is thinking about lunchtime, I just think about how sad I’m going to feel on results day if I find out I failed everything. To be honest, just avoiding that scenario, and the inevitable spiral into self-hatred it is likely to inspire, is enough to make me want to work harder.
There’s something about negative emotion – probably the very fact that it is negative emotion – that makes us want to avoid it at all costs. I find that the people who do badly in exams are often the ones who don’t care that they did badly. So clearly, there’s something about wanting to succeed, something about not wanting to fail, and wanting to avoid that sinking feeling, that motivates us to do the things.
There’s other middling motivation, though. It’s like, not wanting to deal with overdue homework in two weeks time, so you do it now, instead. Or, not wanting to be broke when summer rolls around, so you’re a bit more motivated to get a part-time job now.
Middling motivation is the kind that just wants to avoid inconvenience, for no reason other than it’s annoying and might be sad.
I recommend that when you’re struggling to be motivated, you consider what you’ll feel like if you fail to do the Thing, whatever it may be, now. Is it a project for school that’s due in a few weeks? If you have time now, you may as well, because just think about how tired you’re gonna be if you leave it till the night before! Future you doesn’t want to have to deal with that!
Use ‘not causing future-me stress’ as motivation. It’s an obvious one, but very few people tend to be aware that it works.
Rather more obviously, there’s that old, reliable friend, long term motivation. This is normally the one that your parents/teachers use on you when you’re not doing so well, so they just start yelling at you about the future and your options. Personally, my shortest, long term motivation is university. The idea of getting into a great uni of my choice, moving out of home, meeting new people, and learning new things, fills me with excitement. Just yesterday, on the long drive back from a family holiday, my parents decided to stop off at Exeter University campus, so I could look around, seeing as it’s a place I’m interested in studying. Walking through the library, drinking coffee at the on-campus Costa, strolling around the buildings, exploring the communal student space, made me so excited for finally being a student, finally not living with mum and dad and brothers, being independent, and alone, and studying something I love. Of course, university isn’t the aim for everyone, but for me, it is.
But I know I won’t get there unless I work. When I can’t be bothered to get up to revise, and am tempted to stay in bed until gone midday and just skip out all the work I should be doing on any given day, the thought of finding myself with no choice but to stay at home and mope around the house fills me with dread, because what if I don’t get into university because I spend all my time in bed?
It’s kind of an overreaction, because one morning sacrificed to sleep will not destroy my chances, but still. I got up at eight and wrote revision cards this morning!
And every time I’m bored, sat at my desk, looking at a display of 500 revision cards in fancy colours, with three empty mugs surrounding me, and about 5 text books open, wishing I was elsewhere, thinking why the hell am I doing this?, I think about university. About the fact that if I fail all my exams, then I won’t get to university, and I’ll still be living at home when I’m 22, instead of having the wildly fun student life that I dream of.
But thoughts of university motivate me in other things to – grades alone are not enough to get me where I want to go, so I do other things, community work, and clubs, and extracurricular stuff, all to get me looking great to any university I might apply to. I mean, I also do them because I enjoy them, for example dance, and piano, but they certainly help! There are programs I can get involved in, competitions I can enter, that get me doing things with my time instead of just mindlessly watching Netflix in my room. Thoughts of uni motivate me in terms of my blog, and projects like The Restless Times, too (go check out this awesome newspaper, it’s great and it would mean the world to us all if you did!) – of course, I’m in no way doing them just because they’ll help me get into a good university, but all these extra-curricular things, ways that show my passion, and (hopefully) talent, definitely up my chances, and I’m fully aware that the more things I have that show me to be excellent, the more likely I am to have loads of options when it comes to choosing where I want to study!
Slightly longer term motivation is getting a job. It’s the same kind of thing, really. The more effort I put in now – the better my grades, the more stuff I’ve done, the higher quality all my writing is, the larger my online following – the better chance I have of people really wanting to hire me to write for them! Like I said, that isn’t why I have a blog, or why I’m involved in any of the projects I’m involved in, but people look at these things, and it’s yet another reason to want to make them great.
But also, and arguably the most important, as it’s the one goal I have that is least likely to change, I want to be able to look back on the things I’m doing now with pride. I want to look back on the things I’ve filled my teenage years with, and say ‘yeah. I’m really glad I did that, it was a good use of my time’. When I’m 40, I want to be able to say I was proud of who I am at 16. That, in itself motivates me. It’s similar to not wanting to cause the me of exam-results-day sadness. I don’t want to cause adult-me to feel regret, or shame, about not doing all the fun stuff I have the chance to do. Sure, it takes up more time now, and sure, I don’t always want to, but in a few years time, all the boring bits will have faded, and I’ll remember the great bits. And having memories of the great bits is going to be far better than having memories of lying in bed watching Netflix. (Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m going to have plenty of them too.)
But, there are always going to be times when it doesn’t work. Times when I’m thinking ‘to hell with my future, this stuff is going to make me die prematurely anyway.’ And when I try to remind myself of university, or getting a job, or of not making adult-me sad, I just think ‘that’s not my problem! That’s future me’s problem!’.
This is where short term motivation comes in handy. Short term motivation is the one that asks ‘what exactly do I gain in the next few hours or days from revising all afternoon?’ This is the type of motivation I struggle with the most, to be quite honest. I sometimes do that whole, ‘I’ll finish this chapter of notes/this past paper, and then I’ll go have some chocolate’ trick with myself, but before long, I just get bored of chocolate, or feel bloated, or realise how unhealthy I’m being and want to stop and be better to my body. Sometimes, I use having lunch as my motivation, like ‘I’ll go have lunch when I’ve finished this!’, and it kinda works, but since lunch is something I have anyway, regardless of whether I spent the morning working or in bed, it’s hardly like I’m treating myself, so it doesn’t really excite me, and make me super-productive. And of course, I’m not going to stop having lunch when I’m unproductive all morning. Don’t do that. Your health is more important than your grades.
So, weirdly, what works for me a lot of the time is using writing as my motivation, as my reward for doing some school work or revision. Sometimes, I have a really great post or article idea, and it sort of jumps around in my mind, making me desperately want to write it, but instead of allowing myself to do that, I store it up for later. Like, when I woke up this morning, I desperately wanted to finish writing this, cause I knew what I wanted to say and I was excited to sit down and write creatively for the first time in a while. But, as important as my blog is, my (actually, really, very) imminent exams are currently a higher priority, and I had to revise! So I sat down on the sofa, wrote a whole bunch (still not enough) of notes, and then, when I decided to have a break, I let myself do this! And I got through my chapter of psychology notes super fast, because all the time, I was thinking ‘as soon as I’m done, I can spend some time writing!’ When I have homework that really, really needs doing, that I just don’t really care about, and also a blog post to edit that I really do care about, I often make myself do the homework first. School is my number one priority at this point in my life, and everything else is enrichment. So, school first, and fun after, to motivate me to actually finish the work!
Also, I feel bad if I put off school for my blog. School should come first, because that has a much higher stake in how the rest of my life turns out than my blog does, as much as I wish that were not the case. It’s a bad idea to put so much of yourself into the extra parts of your life that you have nothing left to get you through school. I’ve watched what happens when people do that, and as hard as you might try to make a career as a fashion designer on the side, if you didn’t make it to the end of high-school, people probably just won’t be interested. (Although, sometimes it does work. I’ve watched that happen too, but not as often. It’s a personal thing. Make your own choice, don’t be put off by me! And if you’d like a little advice or to chat, don’t hesitate to contact me!)
For my short-term motivation in terms of writing, things are very different. While school stuff is undeniably a chore, writing clearly is not, seeing as I use it to reward myself. Therefore, it follows that I don’t need to motivate myself to write. Often, this is the case. I get an idea, and I want to write it down! Or I have some time, and I enjoy writing, so I open up a blank document, write a few random words, and an idea begins to form. That’s how I use writing as a reward for school work. It’s fun, it’s an enjoyable task, and that’s just what it’s like for me. The motivation is that I enjoy it, just like my motivation for binging Netflix is that I enjoy it. And, even better, once I’m done writing, I feel productive and fulfilled, which is something Netflix can never give me.
That is the case with non-fiction, at least – with blog posts and articles, and often poetry. Fiction, however, is a little different. I enjoy it, massively, don’t get me wrong, but it’s rather more draining, on a literal level – it takes more energy and creativity to write fiction, and it leaves me more tired and in need of a chance to completely turn-off and slack off than school work does. My novel, for example, is not something I can use as motivation for school work. If I tried, I would find myself thinking, ‘hey, as soon as I’ve done more mind-numbing notes, I can do something that leaves me emotionally and creatively drained, as well as ‘ bored!’ It really isn’t that I don’t enjoy it, but it is tiring, and not what I need to relax and reward myself.
But, much as I do love it, I do struggle to motivate myself to work on my novel school-work or no. If I have a free afternoon ahead of me, I’m much more likely to use it to write a blog post or two than to work on my novel. It’s not that I don’t enjoy both equally, different as they are, but there are other pluses to writing for my blog, as well as the enjoyment. Because when I write a blog post, I get immediate rewards. I get to see my number of views inflate, I get the notifications that someone liked my post, that I have new followers. As soon as I’ve finished writing, and hit ‘publish’, I get to see things happen, and that, in itself is motivating. Less so, is spending hours writing, and then just hitting save, and getting on with my day as if it never happened.
Of course, gaining views and likes and followers is not my only motivation for writing for this blog. I enjoy it, which really is the main thing. But it’s what gives it that little advantage over working on my novel, most of the time.
I actually wrote a long paragraph to go here, more stuff about working on fiction stuff, versus writing a blog post. But then, I realised that it’s more about finding ideas, and what I do with them, than motivation. If a post about finding ideas is something you’d be interested in, let me know in the comments!
There are other things I need to find motivation for. Practising piano, is one. My motivation for that is how stupid I feel when my lesson comes around and I haven’t improved at all in a week, but also, how at peace I feel when I’m finally playing a piece well, and it’s just second nature, and I don’t think about anything except the music. And also, it means my dad stops nagging me to practise the piano. Here, we have wonderful examples of middling, long, and short term motivations. When I think about only one, the urge is not strong enough, but the three combined? I’m sitting on the piano stool as fast as I can get there.
There’s tidying my room, which, as petty as it sounds, is actually quite a big thing. My bedroom is like my studio, my sanctuary, with all my favourite things, surrounded by books, and normally a cat. And when I let it get messy, I don’t like to be in there, because it doesn’t feel like my room anymore. I don’t sleep as well, I don’t feel as creative in there, and I often turn to working elsewhere in the house to avoid how weird it feels, and then I don’t feel comfortable writing or working when my mum could walk in and start talking to me about something completely irrelevant at any second. This, in itself, ought to be motivation enough, really. Sometimes it is. But sometimes I need to remember I have a friend coming round soon and there is literally no where we can sit because there are clothes and bits of paper everywhere. Long term, short term. One is probably not enough.
Motivation is a weird thing, and it is vastly different for everybody. Sure, a lot of people have the same long term motivation – university, getting a good job, being able to actually survive in the future. And a lot of us have similar short term motivation too. Food is a big one. Playing a game. Going out with friends.
These are the two big ones – long term, and short term. But for when that just isn’t enough, there’s medium term, too. My personal secret to not doing awfully at most stuff. Doesn’t mean I’m great, but I certainly don’t suck either.
It’s good to think about motivation. Identify your short and long term, and be aware of your medium term, too. Of the not-wanting-to-make-yourself-sad. It’s a small thing, but being conscious of why you’re motivated often helps a lot. I hope it helps you.
Have a lovely week, and don’t die before you come back.
Lots of motivated love,
P.S. don’t forget to let me know if you want a post on ideas, where to get them, and what to do with them! Or, if you have anything else you want to see, let me know! x