Just do it- The difference between motivation and building good habits.

I run into the same question in many areas of my life. How can I get motivated to ______. Fill in the blank. It could be eating healthy, or exercising, or it could be writing.

My answer to that question, no matter what subject it is referring to, is that you don’t. Motivation is a fickle mistress at best, and the truth is that she simply isn’t going to show up with any regularity.

Take exercise, for example. I wake up one morning and have to rush to work because I have a three-hour staff meeting before my 8 hour shift. I work with at-risk kids, and I end up doing a two-hour management where I have to help people hold a screaming teenager on the floor because he’s trying to kill himself and/or staff. In the end, he’s sent off to the psych hospital because he needs more help than we can give him to keep him safe. I don’t get a lunch break, because I usually don’t in this job, and I end up staying late to write reports on everything that happened with the client. I get home, late, hungry, depressed, and exhausted. Is the Motivation Fairy going to magically appear on such a day and get me to do 30 minutes of exercise? Hell no.

Certainly positive thinking is a great tool to have. Focusing on goals and enjoying the journey to get there is both a motivation and a gift. However, it isn’t going to work every day. If I am, for example, trying to write while working a full-time stressful job, as well as juggling things like household, shopping, pets, and spending time with my wonderful fiancé, then motivation isn’t going to work most days.

So, having decided that motivation is an untrustworthy biotch, what does work? Nothing works all the time. You will find that you have to change your plan of attack from day to day, depending on what’s going on in your life. Some days, that positive thinking and focus on goal are going to be just what you need. For the hard days, the busy days, the days when you just want to throw in the towel and say forget it, you need something stronger.

What I leaned when I was trying to get healthy, and what I now find myself adapting to my writing goals, is that habit works better than motivation pretty much every time. If one develops the habit of taking a walk every day, then even on the busiest of days, you are going to find yourself wanting to take that walk. I used to use a simple trick for days when I really didn’t want to do that exercise. I’d say to myself, “I’ll just do it for 10 minutes.” Once I got started with that 10 minutes, I don’t think I ever failed to make it to 20, and most times got my whole 30 in. It’s the getting started that can get you into trouble. Now, I am adapting that lesson to writing. It’s easy to say, “I’ll just sit down to the laptop for 10 minutes.” If the words aren’t coming, I might spend the first five minutes staring at the screen, and the next five clicking out words painfully slowly as I find my stride. Then I get going, and that ten minute session will turn into an hour or two of good writing time.

Your body and brain also get used to habits. I grew up on 2% milk, switched to skim, and now 2% tastes thick to me. Whole milk tastes like a milkshake. The body adjusts. Same thing with reading. I read a lot. When my life gets hectic, I find myself annoyed, even angry that I don’t have enough time to read. The brain gets used to it’s habits, and urges you to continue them.

So, no matter what reason you find yourself reaching for that motivation, I’m telling you to try building a habit instead. Set aside ten minutes of your day and just do it. You might just find it easier than you think.

Off Cigar Island, Packwash Lake, Ontario.  I'm dreaming of summertime and fishing today.

Off Cigar Island, Packwash Lake, Ontario. I’m dreaming of summertime and fishing today.

About JulianneQJohnson

I am a writer in Indiana who lives with two cats, two ferrets, and one fiance. I enjoy cheap coffee and expensive chocolate.
This entry was posted in writing, Writing Advice and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Just do it- The difference between motivation and building good habits.

  1. JennArch says:

    It’s a shame it’s 10:00 at night here, because I would love to go force myself to work out right now! This was a beautiful piece, however, and kudos for having the guts to do what you do!

  2. Tina Cones says:

    Thank you! As I sit here, trying to motivate myself to go to the gym, this helps me to say, “well, go do 15 minutes. Then you can go.” I’ll probably do more but that 15 minutes is better than a big fat 0.

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