How do I stay motivated?

(Part 64 of 64 in ~ My Journey in Parkour)

My level of motivation varies tremendously, and it took me far too long to learn that it was cyclical. I used to think I had these huge swaths of motivated productivity with an occasional, unexplained crash. I used to think I just needed to figure out how to avoid those anomalous crashes, and I spent too much precious time fighting with myself in the down-turns. I now see that I was wrong; My motivation is inherently cyclical.

When I am highly motivated, it’s alluring to believe that I should spend my time working only on focused and directed things. I used to fall into the trap of trying to focus all of my time and energy on moving forward. I felt that if I wasn’t on-task, then I was wasting time, and that feeling fed into my sense of guilt.

Because I now expect the inevitable down-turns, I feel justified spending time on things which support my motivation in the long run. I work intermittently in two directions: I spend some of my time working on-task towards achieving my goals, and some time goofing-off cultivating my motivation and inspiration. In effect, I’m prolonging the motivational peaks by spreading them out wider. At the highest points, I may not be as motivated as I once was, but I maintain a productive level of motivation for a much longer time.

(To be fair, I have a pretty organized way of goofing-off. I read from a wide range of online sources and books, from health, wellness and exercise blogs to physiology text books. I constantly fiddle with new exercises to try, places to go, health tweaks, and habits. I make plans to travel near and far, where I can meet new people, and visit old friends. I even have no-thinking-required things — music playlists, and monotonous chores — which I can draw on when I need to be off-task.)

But eventually, I head into a down-turn. They vary from mild bouts of, “meh,” where I simply feel unmotivated to do any of the things I’ve set out for myself, to dark moods of depression. Regardless of the depth, when I’m heading into a motivational down-turn, my best tactic is to stop doing — to stop trying — and to simply be. It’s as if I’m at the crest of the first hill on a roller-coaster; I see what’s coming, and prepare for the inevitable ride.

At the bottom of that huge, thrill-less, depressing hill it is agonizing to lay in a puddle of “meh” and believe that this is exactly what I need to be doing right now. But that is the truth. After countless cycles of ebb and flow, I’ve learned to think: “Right now, laying in this puddle is exactly what I need.”

…and that is the key to my success.

I remind myself to roll with this down-turn, guilt-free. I try to avoid “should’ing” on myself. (I should stop this. I should do that.) I remind myself this down-turn is only one phase of a healthy cycle.

I rest.

I mope.

Maybe I watch a movie and have some popcorn. Maybe I nap. Maybe I nap in the hammock if it’s warm outside. Maybe I bask before the fire, or lay in the sun. I do whatever it is I feel like doing, which may well be absolutely nothing at all. I throw down the reigns which my executive-level mind normally holds with an iron grip. I set my thoughts and body free. They weren’t listening anyway.

And then I could write a long diatribe where I try to explain how it feels as if there’s this big, gloomy, moping, dog that sits around keeping me stuck in the down-turn. And eventually that dog gets bored and I can convince it to go away. And, honestly, it’s a stupid metaphor. Except for the fact that here I am, stuck writing some lousy metaphor, making me hate writing this, which — it turns out — is exactly the sort of perfect metaphor for feeling lousy when I’m stuck in a down-turn…

I’m going for a walk.

Just the tiniest little stroll.

But…

Walking invariably loosens up my mind. Sometimes it takes days of doing nothing interspersed with some walking before I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soon, I find I have at least a few things on my mind that need to be unloaded. When I hear that quiet calling, I write whatever-it-is into my journal. Writing things down — moods, worries, plans, ideas — unjumbles my mind. So I record my thoughts as inspiration for future projects, and as reminders to expect future down-turns.

Eventually, I simply find the thought of working on something might actually be fun. At which point I realize I’m headed back towards the next up-turn.

When things go badly, relax; It will not last.
When things go well, relax; It will not last.