Oh, we are all so good at procrastination. In the culture with constant messages that tell us to follow our dreams and quit boring 9-to-5 jobs to travel the world with a backpack and $25,000 in mortgage debt, doing what we want instead of what we need has become a luring trap. We don’t want to be like our parents – stuck in a tedious job with no means of escaping and fulfilling our dreams, because we have to feed kids and help our parents. But the truth is this enormous world of possibilities, which from one side, puts us at ease, with recent movements striking down gender stereotypes, which have been around for decades, makes us confused.
I have been struggling with motivation since I entered university. When I was at school, everything was settled and clear – I just needed to be the top of the class, and that was it, which wasn’t that hard for a lyceum in a tiny quiet town. But when I was flung into the vast outside, I tried to keep living by the old pattern and realized it wasn’t working. And why would I continue to torture myself and go against my will, if everyone else seems to be doing what they want and becoming successful?
That’s when I started my journey to find motivation. Here are some findings I discovered and tested along my way.
1) If you aren’t doing it, you don’t want it enough.
It’s hard to come to terms with this one, and I am still in the process, but mostly it is true. Many of our desires, however trivial it may sound, are fueled by social comparisons and anxiety the pretty pictures of our peers on social media give us. You don’t need a guru of motivation when you’ve hit your true desire – you will smash walls to get there (e.g. like moving all your plans to meet your significant other).
How can you distinguish a deep desire from a superficial one? Check the timing. For example, I want to travel, but ONLY when I see the pictures of my acquaintances traveling and having a great time. If someone gave me money and asked me to do whatever I wanted with it, my first urge would be my most sincere desire – and it wouldn’t be traveling.
(Yay! I admitted it in a world crazed by an “abandon-it-all-for-traveling” mentality.)
2) You want the result, not the process – switch the focus.
When I first read this quote somewhere among the piles of the motivational blogs I go though everyday, my initial reaction was, “wait, what?” As the new knowledge started to slowly sink in, I felt like I had unraveled the biggest mystery of life, universe, space and time, and motivation. But then it quickly passed, because I’m still as much of a procrastinator as I was seconds before, but still.
The point is, if you aim for the result, you don’t actually enjoy the process itself, and this makes it harder to start doing it. Let’s take the first example with traveling (as you can see, I have kind of an issue with it). If I truly wanted to explore new things, I would just pack my belongings and start with small trips around my home country, because they are also trips indeed. But I aim for the big – for the overseas flights, beautiful scenery with inspiring captions and photos perfect for Instagram.
3) Forget about visualizing.
Oh, if there were an Oscar for the best visualization of your dreams, I’d already have one. I daydream any time my mind starts oozing from the current task – when I cook, eat, travel to and from work, or wait for the WiFi to reconnect. It’s like my brain has an endless storage of luxurious looking dreams that pop up in my head like screensaver pictures.
And guess what? Visualization has never helped me to succeed. On the contrary, it brought frustration when I realized the difference between the reality and my dreams. The trap visualization creates for us is the trap of both magical thinking (“if I believe X will happen, it will definitely happen”) and the conviction that achieving success is easy. This leads to major frustration, when a person realizes that, surprisingly, big success requires big effort investment.
So What Should We All Do?
Well, the perspective now seems a little bit gloomy, doesn’t it? Here are a couple of techniques that have been the most effective for me so far:
- Don’t overuse your willpower
- Change your environment
- Observe your emotions
As you have probably already noticed, I’m not a huge fan of the “smash-it-in-your-face” approach, perpetuated by slogans like “just do it.” The reason is that willpower is actually a limited resource. It can be restocked, but not many motivational gurus focus on it. We are told to constantly push through, without being warned that the pushing through force will soon end. More than that, the more we push and control, the higher is the risk to go on a binge – eat everything in the fridge, spend the whole day in your pajamas lying in bed or quit going to the gym altogether.
To prevent this, don’t push through – change your environment. To make smart decisions, create smart opportunities for your brain. For example, buying healthy food when you are not hungry and having a list is much easier than when you are starving. The same is true for eating healthy – it’s easy to have a healthy snack if the only snacks you have are healthy.
And finally, get in touch with your inner self. Find out what you want – achieving this will become easier, because you will do the process you ultimately enjoy. You will reach the Zen of motivation – you will be able to work on something regardless of the goal, just because you like working. This will also help you to prevent willpower burnout and help you to make smarter decisions, such as buying bananas instead of chocolate chip cookies. And remember that no one has it easy, and those who say they do are probably sugaring the truth.
Hannah Sharkstone enjoys discovering new ways of achieving mindfulness and work life balance. This journey of self-development motivates her to share the experience and create a positive life-changing impact. She is also a freelance writer and contributor at Essayshark.com.