Motivation vs. Inspiration

Three things I (usually) don't do to myself

  1. Force myself to do things I don't want to do
  2. Talk myself into doing things I don't want to do
  3. Spend all day waiting on motivation for the things I don't want to do, and feeling miserable in the meantime because I can't stop thinking about them.

As discussed on the Ex-Gifted podcast this week: If I'm not motivated to do something, I just don't do it.

Motivation is literally just a reason why. It’s nothing more than that. If I don't have a reason to do something that I don't want to do, then why on earth would I waste my time and energy doing it or even thinking about it??

The other side of that is that if I have a reason for getting up and washing the dishes (usually it's the insight that looking at a counter covered in dishes is far more draining for me than actually washing those dishes), then I don’t need to sit around and wait for motivation to strike - I already have motivation!

But note: that doesn't make washing the dishes fun or exciting.

Sometimes I do push myself and do things I “should” do or that I “need to do but don’t want to.” But it’s so emotionally taxing that it’s all I can do for the day so it’s a really inefficient use of my time.

It’s a much better use of my time to figure out why I’m telling myself to do something I don’t want to do.

Here's what that can look like:

I need to fold that basket of laundry. It’s been sitting there for days.
Ugh….I don’t want to.
Okay let’s break this down. Why am I telling myself to fold the laundry?
Because the clothes need to get put away.
Clothes don’t need to be folded for that.
Yeah but I like folding the laundry.
Do I like it right now?
…No. Okay, I’ll just put them away.

I don’t want to put them away.
Why do I want to put them away?
I don’t.
Try again.
sigh Because the clean clothes will get mixed in with the dirty and I’ll have to wash the whole stack again.
And it takes 4 minutes, max, to put away one load of clothes if I don’t fold them first.
And I like doing nice things for future me - especially if it’s a smaller job now than it will be then.

photo of unfolded laundry in a blue laundry basket by @anniespratt on unsplash|300

And to be clear, this exercise isn’t theoretical. I just literally talked myself through the two loads of laundry upstairs in my bedroom.

It's important that I'm honestly asking myself questions instead of telling myself what to do. That's how it's different from talking myself into it - there's no pressuring or cajoling or negotiating. Because of this, not doing the task must be an option for this method to work (as with folding in the example.)
But at the same time, I can't allow default answers to stand without further examination (as with saying "I don't want to put away the clothes.") My default state has a lot of bullshit mixed in thanks to socialization so I can't take it for granted that it is always true to who I am.

This process usually takes around 15 minutes and I feel more energized after instead of less (as I would after 15 minutes of trying to “talk myself into” just doing the thing I don’t want to do.)

So generally if I don't want to do something, it's because I'm thinking about something other than my reason for doing it. Bringing my attention back to this reason reminds me that I AM motivated. And if I don't have a reason, then what's the point of doing it at all?

My brain is a liar

Like I said, my default self has all kinds of messed up thoughts in there.
Have you ever had a thought come up and immediately recognized "Whoa that's super misogynist - where did that come from??"
Our brains offer us all kinds of thoughts, which we can heartily reject when they don't align with our values. When you had a random misogynist thought, did you decide, "Well, I guess that's just who I am, nothing to be done?" or did you say, "No thanks, I can see that thought as bullshit even though it came up unprompted"?

You can do the exact same thing when it comes to your motivations - or literally anything else. If your brain suggests, "I don't want to do it," you can remind your brain, "Actually, I do want to do it because [your motivation]." That's the whole point of having this talk with yourself. You learn what it is that your brain is saying to you when you're not really paying attention so that you can correct (or direct) it intentionally.

And the more often you do direct your brain intentionally, the more often it'll go that direction on its own. (But be assured that it will still need regular redirection because brains are liars.)

Doing things I don’t want to do fosters resentment.
Wanting to do the things I do fosters gratitude.

This is why I take the time to find out where my brain and I have a disconnect instead of pressuring, pushing through, or sitting passively.

Midnight motivation

One final note here: this is also why it's common to get motivation to do all kinds of stuff right when it's time for bed. These lies come in two forms for me:

My brain tells me that it wants to deep clean the entire kitchen RIGHT THIS MINUTE when it's really just trying to avoid the silence where it might have to think about something hard which it's trying to avoid.

My brain tells me that STARTING TOMORROW we're going to get our whole lives together and everything will be different. But like... not now. Must be Responsible right now because that's what an adult with their life together does at night time. But tomorrow, totally, totally, really going to do everything Exactly Right.

The latter is more common for me and I think it's because my brain knows I'm not going to actually do anything right away, which means it's a really low-risk opportunity to commit to everything and feel really good about how much of a responsible grown up I'm going to be at some point in the future, without having to actually expend any effort doing those things because it knows I'm likely to forget, or else just not feel like doing any of it the next day.

Speaking of that...

“I’m just not feeling motivated.”

Good news! Motivation isn’t a feeling - it’s a thought. The reason this is good news is that it’s a lot easier to change what you’re thinking (as mentioned above) than it is to change how you’re feeling. But motivation isn't some mysterious force that compels you to do something. Even once you have the motivation, you still have to actually do the thing.

The feeling that often gets confused with motivation is usually inspiration. And although inspiration is amazing when it hits, it’s not necessary for mundane daily tasks like washing the dishes or putting away laundry.

And there's one thing that makes it even more important to not wait for inspiration: it comes more often when you're doing inspiring things. That's why I just get up and get started doing anything if I have creative work to do. Consuming content decimates my creative flow if I'm not really engaging with it (like taking literature notes), but even just getting up and washing the dishes makes writing look like a much more appealing alternative.

Another definition of motivation

I heard Dr K of HealthyGamerGG * say that motivation is “the ability to hold an idea in your mind.”

Many commenters were understandably “rekt” from this definition.

I love it, and it also explains so much. If your working memory is shit then of course your motivation is shit - you literally just don’t remember that you’re motivated. At first, that seems kind of fatalistic, like there’s nothing to be done if it’s just a matter about how your brain works.

More good news!

Forget your brain - you don’t need it!

My working memory is terrible.

I get stuff done anyway, not through willpower or some intricate system of rewards and punishments, but just by writing stuff down so that I remember both what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it.

I don't expect my brain to remember all those different things, because it won't (and as we've already established, my brain is likely to lie to me anyway.) My brain only has to remember ONE thing: my planner.

PS. It's okay if using a planner doesn't come naturally either. I had to learn to remember to write in mine, to check it, to bring it with me - it's a learned skill and doesn't come automatically any more than learning a new language or how to play an instrument, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. I'll cover more on this ASAP because I know it's something a lot of people need.

Pro-tip: Don't wait until you "need" to act

If you're using your journal to remember these motivations anyway, then there's no reason to wait until you've got a back log of laundry that needs put away. You can think through those regular annoyances and talk yourself through your motivation ahead of time. Or you can do it the next time it comes up, and keep it for every time you have to fold clothes from here out.

You can do it for each to-do item as you're making your to-do list (psst this is great for bullet journaling as you can add the bulleted tasks AND rapid log your motivations) so you remember your motivation even as you glance over your to-dos.

Once you have this kind of system in place for collecting motives for all the things you plan to do, it's much easier to implement something like the 5-second rule where you just count down from 5 and then get moving.

Your reasons will be uniquely yours. Your system should be too!

* I absolutely recommend the HealthyGamerGG channel with the caveat that his audience is a bunch of gamer bros - which means a whole lot of ableist language especially in the comments. I personally love him even more for this element of nuance and speaking to his people where they’re at instead of where I might prefer them to be.

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