Blog Short #29: How to Get Motivated

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

I was talking to a friend this week, and we got off on the subject of needing deadlines to get motivated to get something done.

My friend was saying that she puts things off until the deadline is so close that her adrenaline finally kicks in and she’s able to get moving enough to pull through it. She was complaining about how stressful this is and how she wishes she could get motivated earlier.

I agreed wholeheartedly as this was the way I wrote papers all through college.

Working by deadline is sometimes necessary, but in most cases it isn’t. We know that if we plan ahead and spread the work out over time, then it’s done well before the deadline. We also do a better job, and with much less stress. Yet, some of us still do it the other way.

Why?

I think it comes down to how and by what we’re motivated.

There are two types of motivation. They are:

  1. Extrinsic motivation
  2. Intrinsic motivation

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is the one we all know, and the one that’s used everywhere – at school, at work, as parents, and very often imposed on us by ourselves. The basic premise is :

To improve performance, increase productivity, or encourage good behavior, we are incentivized by the promise of rewards or the avoidance of punishment.

“If I study very hard, I’ll get an A in my class. If I neglect my studies, I could fail my class.”

“If I do well at my job, I’ll receive a raise in my next paycheck. If I do poorly, I could be placed on probation or fired.”

In each of these situations, we perform to get the reward or to avoid the negative consequence.

Most of the world works on this model.

Intrinsic Motivation

The premise underlying intrinsic motivation is:

The drive to engage in something comes from within rather than from an external source, and the reward is the personal satisfaction and enjoyment in doing it.

Daniel Pink, who is the author of a book called Drive, points to three factors that are involved in intrinsic motivation. These are:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

We work best when we feel in charge of the work, when we get better and better at it, and when we feel it has significance. It’s work that’s self-directed, and leaves us feeling that we’ve accomplished something that has meaning.

Intrinsic motivation is particularly useful and necessary when doing work that’s creative or requires a lot of brain power or physical prowess. It’s work that challenges us.

Conversely, extrinsic motivation does not work well for creative work. It can work well to an extent with things that are routine and repetitive, although I think you can apply some intrinsic motivation to these tasks too with a little imagination. We’ll get to that in a minute.

How does this apply to our deadline problem?

If we wanted to avoid the procrastination and resistance that seems to be dented only when there’s a strong deadline, how could we use the two models of motivation to help us?

The answer is to transform the task at hand to one that stimulates intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivation. As long as the deadline is the only thing that stands between performing or not, we’re in trouble.

Here’s my own example that might help illustrate this process.

I write this blog and deliver it every Monday, right? Monday at 6AM is my hard deadline.

If I used extrinsic motivation as my mode of completing this task, I likely wouldn’t start on it until Sunday. Maybe Saturday on a good week.

The purpose of writing it would be to:

  • Meet the deadline
  • Not disappoint my readers
  • And, get more subscribers

The first two are to avoid a negative consequence (not meet the deadline and have people upset with me), and the last one is to receive a reward (get more subscribers).

Fortunately I don’t use extrinsic motivation for this blog. I use an intrinsic approach. It’s based on:

  1. Wanting to help people by giving them information they can use to better their lives.
  2. Engage in writing, editing and research, all of which I love to do.
  3. Getting into a “flow” mindset when writing, and especially when editing.
  4. Getting better and better at writing as a craft.

All of these satisfy the needs for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The work has meaning because it helps others, it’s self-directed (I do it on my own time), and the more I do it, the more I improve my skills. It also satisfies my curiosity and love of learning.

Although I have the weekly external deadline, the impetus comes from within, not without.

How you can use this.

It’s easier to use an intrinsic approach when you’re doing something like writing, but you can actually apply it to more routine things you have to do. Even things you’re not necessarily fond of doing. To do that, try this:

  1. Identify the internal reward. Whatever the task, ask yourself what satisfaction you can derive from doing it. Even if there’s an obvious external reward, what internal reward can you take from it. It may take a little thinking, but it’s there. Focus on that reward.
  2. Try to be present while engaging in the task or work. Enjoy the process of doing it, not just finishing it. Often while you’re doing something, especially something easy that you’ve automated in your mind, you let your thoughts wonder ahead to the next thing that needs to be done instead of attending to what you’re doing right now. Be deliberate in attending to the present moment. Focus on the process of it, not the outcome. Emerge yourself in it.
  3. Do it better. If you’re folding clothes, do it better. Enjoy putting them away and seeing them organized in the drawer. When you’re motivated by making improvements on something, you engage with your whole self, and that helps remove resistance.
  4. Set your own schedule. Take charge of the process. Plan out every task that needs to be done, and then apply the three suggestions we just covered to doing each of them. You can do this with household projects, on-the-job projects, or individual projects like writing a blog, or engaging in a hobby, or planning a trip with the family.

If you have difficulty in getting things done and you like to have deadlines, that’s not a problem. Go ahead and use them. Sometimes outside structure is helpful. Just work at increasing your intrinsic motivation so that you fully engage in what you do. If you do that, you’ll find you meet your deadlines without the stress.

That’s all for this Monday.

See you next week,

All my best,

Barbara

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