How can one technique help different kinds of people get and stay motivated when we are all motivated by different things?
It may seem that motivation is entirely personal, and to a certain extent, it is. Some people are what we call “money motivated”, where others are motivated more by causes or ethics. Some people are goal-oriented while others prefer to fly by the seat of their pants and live adventurously (although that is highly inefficient and not recommended here).
However, no matter what it is that motivates you, how we are motivated is basically the same: we are motivated by movement or the potential for movement.
To sum up a WHOLE lot of scientific and empirical evidence and then boil it down to a slightly oversimplified bit of folk wisdom, achievement of a goal or even (perceived) movement toward the achievement of a goal triggers the release of reward chemicals in the brain, which makes us feel awesome. We instinctively pursue those things that make our brain soup pleasurable and exciting to us. So, in the absence of the actual rewarding achievement we can anticipate the rewards (think Pavlovian dog experiment) and get excited about the journey.
How can we come up with a universal recipe for THAT? By focusing on the one thing we all have to do no matter what motivates us – taking the next step.
Any guru worth their salt in the productivity/efficiency/motivation space has expressed this idea in some complex way (usually related to the tool or system they want to sell you). There are both primitive and fancy ways to focus on the next step; however, at the end of the day, the way you get things done and the way you create the momentum you need to continue is to hone in on that next step. You relieve the pressure of the total weight of responsibility by directing all energies to completing only the next step in the process of accomplishing the task or finishing the project.
As one who spent over 25 years being a chronic procrastinator I am quite familiar with the feelings of defeat and fatigue that can rise up in the psyche before any actual pressure is even applied. The dread of having to do something time consuming or complex AT ALL makes me not want to do ANYTHING AT ALL.
Shut down. Veg out. Wait until the last minute to get into crisis genius mode.
So, when something can work to motivate me, on demand, consistently, I take it as gospel. Why? My Achilles heels are low energy and motivation. But every time I put aside my fear of the whole and redirect all auxiliary power (I’m a sci-fi enthusiast) on simply taking the next step in the process, the reward system in my brain kicks in, and it makes me want to take another step. Then another. Then another. And if for some reason I stop somewhere along the way before I can complete the task or project, I at least don’t hate myself for not doing anything and I avoid the rut of accomplishing even less because I am depressed about not accomplishing anything at all and thus rendered completely immobile.
If you can relate, understand that this concept is your lifeline. Got a huge overwhelming project that is hanging over your head and crippling your confidence? Just take one step. ONE. Don’t worry about anything above and beyond the next step in the process. Create the cover page. Get the toolbox out of the basement and into your work area. Take the book off the shelf and put it on the table. Open the letter. Do that five minutes of initial research on Google. Make that return phone call. Write that grocery list of healthy foods you plan to buy ‘one day’. Just get that one thing done without worrying about what comes after that. Your brain will actually be stimulated to continue as you realize that you are in process toward achieving an important goal. Even if your progress is slow, it will build and eventually pick up speed and consistency.
That’s how this blog post got written. That’s how my productivity has improved on my job (to my manager’s delight). That’s how I’m increasing the amount of time I spend reading every day. That’s how I’m changing who I am as a person.
One step at a time.