Understanding and unpacking your motivation – how to inspire yourself to get things done [PART 2]

Published by nedmortimer on

So, in Part 1 I talked through my own case study about my fluctuating motivation to write and release songs.

I’ve now turned this into a practical step-by-step exercise you can try to unpack and increase your own motivation.

Step 1 – Identify the general task you want to focus on 

For these steps to work, it’s important you don’t try to tackle the question of motivation too generally.

Rather than thinking “why am I not motivated?” or “how can I get more motivated?”, you should be thinking something like this:

“How can I be more motivated to do X?”

X should be something specific – e.g. writing your novel, or organising your events, or painting, or going to networking events, etc.

What is the thing you have NEVER struggled to do in the past but now find yourself struggling with?

What is the thing that used to “get you out of bed in the morning” but no longer does?

It’s not wrong per se to explore motivation in broad terms, but the steps I’m going through next won’t really work if you know specifically what you want to motivate yourself to do.

Step 2 – Get your thoughts flowing with these INTRO QUESTIONS

Now that you know what you’re exploring, ask yourself the following questions to get a flavour for where your motivation came from in the past.

Question 1: What triggers in the past have made you excited to do [your task]?    

Write out a few notes on specific things that you’ve done or that have happened that have got you excited about doing your task.

If you’re a writer, it could be reading an amazing novel, or going to a book launch and listening to an author talk about their creative process. 

If you’re a musician, it could be going to a concert or listening to an incredible album, or thinking about an incredible album and how much you would love to produce your own amazing album.

It could be art exhibitions, creative workshops, good things that have happened as a result of your work (a sale, a radio play, a publishing in a journal, a pay rise, etc).

Make sure you write these ideas down, even if it’s just a few bullet points. 

Question 2: What specific achievements would give you a big sense of fulfillment? 

This is where you can dream – create a scenario in your head in which you would feel really pleased with yourself.

Every craft or task or industry has its markers for success – and these give you something to aim towards whilst also giving you ammunition for the next bit.

These will quite possibly overlap with your answer to Question 1.

Question 3: what specific behaviour on your part made these things happen?

Now, add a few lines detailing what mini-tasks you did that led to those things happening. Was it writing to certain people, signing up to a workshop, buying tickets, sitting somewhere beautiful in nature with a pen and paper, or other things?

These are useful for when you need small triggers to get yourself back up and running again.

Question 4: what is missing NOW that wasn’t missing before?

Sometimes you aren’t even aware of changes in your circumstances or environment that have a big impact on your motivation.

Try to play “spot the difference” with your life and identify these changes.

It might be the absence of a particular inspiring person – a role model perhaps. Or it could be that you’re going out less, exploring fewer events and generally spending less time with other professionals in your field. Or a change of living location or lifestyle or diet etc. 

STEP 3 – Is your motivation internal or external?

Next, use your answers above to work out whether your motivation comes purely from within or is driven by accountability towards others.

Do you care about doing [your task] because of how other people will view and judge you? 

Do you work harder when you are accountable to someone else – financially or otherwise?

E.g. if you know that you work generally better to a deadline imposed by someone else, you can explore why this is – it might be because you feed off that person’s opinion and want them not to judge you for missing that deadline.

If, however, you look at the various triggers and behaviours that have made you work better in the past and they have nothing to do with external accountability, this means your motivation is more internally driven.

(Incidentally, neither is the correct answer – it’s just a matter of your personality!) 

STEP 4 – Work out your relevant NEEDS that drive this task and give it purpose

By now, you should have a good framework for working out the specific source of your motivation.

You’ll know what behaviours and achievements inspire you to work on [your task]. You’ll know whether this inspiration comes purely from within or feeds off others.

Next, go through this list of universal needs and work out which ones are driving you to want to do [your task].

  • A need for relevance: to impact other people’s lives in the present (and/or future)
  • A need for order/control: to have clear, manageable and predictable surroundings
  • A need for human connection: to have regular, frequent deep interactions with people (and be loved)
  • A need for progress: to feel like you are constantly improving as a person
  • A need for adventure: to frequently encounter new and exciting situations
  • A need for space: to create an environment where you can exist on your own

Understanding which of these fundamental human needs is driving you in your particular task is SO VALUABLE in working out what practical changes you need to make to increase your motivation.

This table lays out each need and its consequent requirement:

RelevanceCreate a framework whereby you are regularly sharing the output of [your task] with other peopleRegularly put content online and ask people to comment 
Order/ControlMake sure you have a tidy and organised environment so that your output can also be tidy and organised and fit inKeep your content filed in a organised / systematic way on your laptop
Human ConnectionPlan plenty of face-to-face time with other people in your industryPlan regular meetings and networking events
ProgressFind ways to regularly measure your workHave an external person (a mentor) to regularly review your work

Have access to good data about your output (plays, reads, sales, etc) 
AdventurePut yourself in new situations / set yourself new challenges in your workPlan a monthly challenge where someone else tells you what to create and you just have to run with it 
SpaceSufficient time on your own to think clearly about your workSet yourself a time period where you have to work on your task without interacting with others

These are just examples – but now, you should have a clearer idea of:

a) What drives you to do [your task]

b) How you can create a better environment for doing [your task]

STEP 5 – analyse your process and make the necessary changes

Walk through your creative process step-by-step and identify things that are pulling against your needs.

If you have a need for human connection that is fulfilled by your work, the fact that you are currently trying to work in isolation is probably affecting your motivation, so make sure you plan regular catch ups with other friends/creatives in your field.

If, on the other hand, you have a need for space and you are using your creative work as a way of creating this space, make sure you’re not letting other things come in and clutter your process – book time away from everyone, make sure you have a physical space that isn’t shared with another person.

Hopefully these exercises will get some ideas flowing and force you to examine your process in more detail and better understand WHY you do what you do.

Please leave a comment below with any thoughts, especially any questions you have or things you want me to explore in more detail!

1 Comment

Understanding and unpacking your motivation – how to inspire yourself to get things done [Part 1] – The Emerging Artist · August 29, 2019 at 4:24 pm

[…] Since my early teenage years I have never struggled for a lack of motivation to write and release music. All through school, law degrees and assorted jobs, I could always rely on the side of my identity that yearned to write better songs and share them with a much wider audience to keep me instilled with that sense of purpose. E.g. if I had moments in my job where I felt uninspired, I would remind myself what purpose it served – creating money and a space to write/record/perform music and ultimately pursue that dream.It’s been very alarming to discover that this deep motivation to write music is no longer impregnable. The part of me that could always find time to sit and noodle on the guitar or write lyrics has taken a knock. What used to be effortless now takes energy – sometimes a lot of energy, sometimes insurmountable amounts.This realisation has driven me to explore more deeply why this motivation is lacking and how, in practical terms, I can find it again. In this Part 1, I will first outline my own experience, before converting these findings into practical exercises you can try (Part 2). […]

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