I don’t like motivational speakers. I’m not sure why – I just don’t. They’re too preachy, they tell me what to do, they oversell it, they repackage common sense stuff that I know deep-down anyway, and five minutes later I can’t even remember what they were trying to get everybody all jazzed about. It often has the distinctive smack of being formulaic: cue the exciting music, get everybody on their feet and clapping, hand out flashy brochures, begin over-rehearsed speech. They get so enthusiastic about their generalizations and mass abstractions, I find myself dry-heaving exclamation points over the next few days. That being said, I do have an affinity for motivation itself – using creative tools and life hacks to get myself past… myself. Part of the reason I’m writing this post is to exorcise my own comfy demons, so this one’s for me too.
All right, folks… LET’S.... GET... MOTIVATED!! (cue music)
We all have a lot going on: work, home, finances, education, nutrition, exercise, significant other, friends, family, spirituality, entertainment, happiness...I get it. And working in the technical support field adds a whole unique layer of stress – a never ending stream of requests, everyone wanting you to fix their problems instantly, always being the go-to person when things go wrong. It’s beyond a lot of spinning plates to maintain. You’re going to have to pick your priorities, and if you’re spread too thin and not able to give 100% to the things most important to you, then you have two choices: add more butter (resources) or lose some of the bread (activities). And on top of all these activities, we’re expected to be successful in each of them. Just showing up isn’t enough anymore. We have to contribute. We have to be creative, enthusiastic, and inspiring. We have to be productive.
So how do you avoid burnout? I’m guessing it’s not just one area that leaves you exhausted. It perhaps started with one and then slowly started to infect a couple more. One bad attitude carbon copied itself, creeping into the fabric of your daily routine. And that attitude started to breed bad habits that slowly put the uber dragon death hold on your excitement, motivation, and, ultimately, productivity.
Let’s break this down real quick: one of the biggest issues with motivation is the way we define it. It’s sort of an abstract term that we feel we need to strive toward, which usually we translate into pushing ourselves harder. The problem is, if you’re already detecting a little weariness in the periphery of your grind, then you need to realize that working harder just accelerates the lemmings on their cataclysmic journey. Nope, motivation is definitely not a matter of simply working harder. Although that’s a factor, motivation itself has a more complex formula: Motivation = (Joy + Self-Discipline) x Incremental Achievements
1. Joy. I mention this first, because I think it’s an oft-neglected piece of the puzzle. This is not a naïve, ephemeral, Candyland feeling. It encapsulates the positive thinking, self-development, excitement, and enrichment that recharge you attitude batteries. As an example of a source of this joy, I’ll let you in on a little secret: the ever-elusive trait of multi-tasking can be learned. The first time I went running with an audiobook on my iPod was probably the wonkiest thing the old man with the walker who passed me had ever seen in his life: awkward pigeon-footing, face askew while trying to retain any shred of information delivered somehow over my monster breathing and Cartoon-Network-paced attention span. Granted, we all know multi-tasking means you’re not putting 100% focus on any one of your endeavors. But I’ve been able to achieve some form of enlightenment while listening to an audiobook, even when loading the dishwasher or catching vague glimpses of what people were up to on Facebook.
If you can’t get to the enjoyable parts of your day, find a way to squeeze some personal time or self-improvement into the tedious portions. Listen to an interesting podcast during your commute, tune Pandora to jazz or classical music while you read, stretch or do pushups or yoga poses while you’re watching the latest episode of Community. Learn Russian while you’re running virus scans on your customers with Bomgar. I feel my brain start to atrophy at the inanity of 2/3 of the shows my kids watch, but I can still be present and active in their lives if I drown out Yo Gabba Gabba with a Game of Thrones audiobook. There are endless varieties of multi-tasking and self-development, and I encourage you to try a few on for size.
2. Self-Discipline. Sure, hard work plays a part with motivation, but it’s not the fastest or even best way to increase your inner drive. If you measure the smaller accomplishments that make up your ultimate goal, you can multiply your efforts, instead of smothering a diminishing fire with bulky lumber. In contrast to the downtime and enjoyment you need to inject into your routine, sometimes you need to zero in on the task at hand and put distractions aside. Turn off Outlook, close your internet browser, and shut your eyes for 60 seconds. Don’t take a nap – just refocus on your important projects. Procrastinators, I need to have a brief word with you, but I’ll probably get around to that on my next post. Wait! Changed my mind – we should probably tackle this right now. (See? It&rsrsquo;s that easy.) If you find yourself habitually putting things off, commit to changing that. Give yourself a false deadline. If something is due in a month, finish a week ahead of time. Even if you can get something done in the nick of time, was it your best work? Did you have time to reevaluate, bring new elements to the table, edit your sorry grammar, or find an adorable photo-shopped kitten dressed like David Bowie?
Well, maybe you should have. And don’t forget to reward yourself when you meet that fake deadline. Remember all that partying you were doing when you were trying your darnedest not to feel guilty about that project you needed to work on? Yeah, well that party can also happen in the best mindset ever when you’ve actually earned it.
3. Incremental Achievements. Don’t set a goal that’s too far beyond reach and have to start all over at the bottom of the mountain. I’ve known people who wanted to get back in shape after a long hiatus, and went straight into P90X or one of the other athlete-geared workouts. Could they get results with that? Sure. Are they more likely to give up hope or get injured in the first week or two? Perhaps.
A good rule of thumb is to not let the activity/technology/equipment escalate beyond your skill level. Start small and work your way up, and only move up to the next level once you are comfortable with it. Achievable steps that can be ratcheted up to create larger goals are the way to go. My wife and I keep a few progress bars around the house with goals and rewards that get colored in when they are achieved. I can’t stress these rewards enough, which can be anything from a nice dinner out to a travel destination.
That being said, I’d advise you not to broadcast these goals to your every acquaintance. In a recent TED Talk, Derek Sivers stressed the importance of keeping goals to yourself or your close inner circle. The reason is that there’s a psychological reward when someone praises you for an announced goal. Your mind checks a box that substitutes the action itself with the gratification of having accomplished it, even if you haven’t even started. This could be why New Year’s Resolutions fall by the wayside and why you should keep your birthday wishes to yourself. Regardless, write down steps to achieve goals, mark each one, and reward yourself along the way.
I want to leave you with this thought: just like bad habits can quickly sneak up and multiply themselves across several areas of your life, let the good habits creep up on you. It’s strange how good habits beget others and can lead to intentionally successful routines and cycles in your life.
Thanks for taking the time out of your crazy day to read this.
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