September 14, 2021

How to Find Your Motivation

A woman walks down a country road, surrounded by trees. Her hands are on the top of her head.
(Credit: Emma Simpson via Unsplash)

I am not motivated to write this newsletter. It’s a Monday (as I write this) and already I feel in my bones the weariness of the week. It doesn’t matter that I’ve met my daily water intake goals for the last week, gotten 8 hours of FitBit-approved sleep, or awoken early to get in exercise and even had breakfast. (I’m not bragging, I’m just usually not this functional.)

Despite all of that, I am not motivated. I even have this new office chair. But I am still not motivated.

There is a whole cottage industry designed to motivate people to do anything from run to wash their floors to do their jobs. We treat motivation like it’s a magic bestowed upon us with the right mixture of inspirational quotes and mood boards. I once heard a writer describe how she motivates herself by taking a long leisurely walk each morning, before arranging a bouquet of flowers, and then sitting down to write at her desk facing a window.

I did not find this story helpful or inspiring. All I thought when I heard her say this was, “This woman doesn’t have to get two kids out to school in the morning and clean dog poop out of the yard.”

She didn’t. She probably still doesn’t. And she’s creating lovely books and work and flower bouquets. But I don’t think her secret is the daily bouquet or communing with nature. I think it’s just the habit of work. It’s the routine of it. Her motivation isn’t the lovely flower blossom or the grand outdoor vistas. (Although, I’m sure they don’t hurt.) It’s just the drudgery. The daily drudgery of sitting down and just getting her butt in the chair.

I don’t believe in motivation. Not truly. There are times when work seems easy. When words spill out and I feel like everything makes sense. But most often, work comes hard.

When it’s a habit. The work happens.

Writers like to talk a lot about the muse and motivation. But in the end, I think writing like all work, is just work. You just do it. There is no magic. No secret. You just sit down and work. And some days it’s bad. Some days it’s good. Most days a mixture of both.If you work enough, not everything you do is going to be good. But if you work enough at it, eventually something will be brilliant.

I often trick myself into working by saying: “If you do this for 10 minutes, you’ll be 10 minutes further along than you were before.” I’ve used this trick for every job I’ve ever had. Because on some level, work is mostly just showing up to it. It’s about the discipline. 

That’s it. That’s the secret. I remember once reading a blog post, one I can no longer find, it was about how to work as a parent and it told me to stop raking the leaves, stop doing the dishes, stop trying to make perfect meals, it’s okay to live out of a laundry basket, but just work. Just do the work.

I think about this often as I am now my own boss again after a life of intermittent and vastly sporadic employment. The work only gets done because I decide it will get done. Which is both inspiring and really scary. 

During this pandemic time of work and school and homes and everything else. It’s easy to lose motivation. And honestly, sometimes motivation is something to be lost and never to be found again. Story after story about burnt out women tell us that perhaps the expectations and workloads we pile on the backs of working women in America are too much. And staying motivated under those circumstances is often untenable. It’s okay to quit and let go if you can.

But I think it’s also important to remember that motivation isn’t magic.

I don’t have any flowers. Sometimes I have leisurely walks with my dogs, but most days, it’s just a frantic half-cup of coffee, my yoga pants and my computer. But I don’t think it matters how we get there, just that we get there.