Taking care of motivation

November 22, 2020 • ☕️ 3 min read

Another lens from Tiago Forte’s BASB course that I’ve been enjoying contemplating is the idea that taking care of our motivation is one of the highest leverage activities that we can spend our energy on as knowledge workers. In more poetic terms, feeding our muse is vital to creating anything great.

It’s easy to discount inspiration and motivation as nice-to-haves. After all, what really matters is getting stuff done, right? This kind of thinking usually results in certain kinds of behaviours: working late, sacrificing sleep, not nurturing our work relationships.

On the other hand when we put motivation first, we choose to make other kinds of activities our top priorities:

  • Rest
  • Celebrating our’s and others’ wins
  • Rewarding ourselves for overcoming challenges
  • Slowing down to connect with those around us

All of these things make our work more enjoyable. In fact, looking after our motivation might amount to looking for ways to make work more enjoyable. Essentially what I’m saying is that if we want to do our best work we have to work on making our work more enjoyable. Yes I just said work a lot of times.

But that seems too good to be true. As far as I can remember the message that I’ve received is that to do really great work I have to push myself as hard as I can. I have to get up earlier, exercise harder, focus longer. Yet in my experience, trying to push this way can suck all the joy out of activities that I usually love doing just because, well, I love doing them.

A real-life example of this for me is running apps. I’m fully onboard with the quantified self movement, so tracking my runs came very naturally. And I can’t deny that it’s exciting looking at my progress, pushing myself that little bit harder to record a personal best. After a while though, I found that this focus on measurement distracted me from the moment to moment experience of my runs.

I love running for numerous reasons. Pushing myself and sending endorphins pumping around my system is one of them. But it’s not the only one. I love going outside and taking in the day. I love the way that my breath and stride settle into a steady rhythm so that I start to feel like I’m gliding along with the minimum effort, almost weightless.

When my focus is on going faster, on competing with myself, some of these intrinsic pleasures evaporate. I become fixated on attaining a goal and I forget that the real reason that I love running is that it connects me to myself and to my surroundings.

So slowing down is one way to make work more enjoyable. Are there others?

I mentioned a couple above. But the one that’s been working the best for me is encapsulated by this quote:

Slide from Tiago Forte’s BASB

This might need some unpacking. Of course we can’t always choose to spend our time on what excites us most. Even in our dream jobs, there will always be grunt work to do. But I believe that most of us could take better care and set stronger boundaries around the work that is meaningful to us.

Lately for me, I’ve been feeding my muse by levelling up my coding skills. I’m doing Kent C. Dodd’s Epic React, something which has been a large outlay of not only money but also time. Yet every time I do it I’m reminded why I fell in love with coding. I’m reminded that it is an infinite game that I will be playing for as long as I want.

Because it’s infinite there’s no destination. Just like those video games where there is no goal but to explore the game’s reality. Learning new mental models is literally upgrading the weapons which I get to play this game with. And there is nothing more fun than being able to level up the challenges that I’m able to take on because of my shiny new tools.

Ultimately looking after my motivation comes down to balance, mindfulness, play and human connection. When I remember that it’s about the journey and not the destination, then my sole focus becomes making the journey as enjoyable as possible. Then motivation (and even success) look after themselves.