Musings: Motivation and Attitude
I didn’t actually have anything in mind for today’s post. Instead I’ll be writing about how I don’t have much to talk about.
So, why am I still writing this?
There’s something to be said, I think, for following through with your commitments. Basically, the more you do something, the more habitual it becomes. If I consistently do exercises everyday, for example, then I become the kind of person who does exercises everyday.
But what if I want to skip a day? Maybe I’m tired or cranky. “That’s okay,” I tell myself, “it’s fine to skip exercise for one day, if I can be certain that I’ll slack off just this once”. Of course, to do so, I have to be the type of person who does exercise everyday, which means that I’m probably better off not skipping a day.
In a sense it’s like a motivational technique; you’re putting off the act of procrastination, but I like to think of it as more of a thing in principle–to become the sort of person who works hard, you’re going to have to work hard.
It seems very unlikely that I’ll be fine working hard “when I really have to” if I can’t even work hard under normal conditions, so I’ve resolved to attempt to follow-through daily life with the qualities I “wished” I could display under more dire circumstances–thinking clearly, going all out, staying focused, and the like.
Per my own advice, taking the outside view of this entire MLU endeavor brings up some interesting points. It’s been 3 months since I last identified that my motivation was something I’d have to work on. Alas, judging by the nature of this post, little has changed:
My own motivation is still very cylic–I have crests of determination, followed by more hedonistic troughs. This is something I’ve noticed but haven’t charted. (Note to self: chart motivation, perhaps with self-rated numerical index?)
I don’t believe I’ve gotten a good system for Getting Things Done. I use both a schedule and a to-do list, which ensures a passable baseline of productivity, but this doesn’t factor in my attitude. There are times when I want to do work, and there are times where doing work doesn’t seem like a big priority.
This is where things begin to get messy.
I know that “wanting” to do work can lead to far better results. It’s probably also connected to productive states of flow. I also know that burnout is a very real thing, and that rest is important. Balancing them out, though, is proving to be tricky; this is especially so when I’m reading an engrossing novel, or video.
The feeling of “just one more page” feels highly like some part of my brain has been hijacked–it is painful to disengage from whatever story I’m reading to pursue other parts of life. Additionally, I don’t feel like I “want” to do work after such a reading session.
This feels scarily similar to the addiction model of procrastination talked about in A Mind for Numbers (I’d planned on writing a series of posts dealing with this, but I’ve been putting it off.) In short, actions that are mentally taxing can drive you to find some other pleasurable activity that doesn’t cause your brain to hurt. This repeat flight from pain to pleasure is addicting and can make procrastinating via distractions a habitual response.
Trying to understand what’s going on in my head seems very valuable. One issue is that I don’t have a good simplified model, nor am I entirely sure what I should be modeling.
Systematically breaking down my problem seems to be a good idea to pinpoint where the uncertainty lies and what the biggest barrier to productivity is. Perhaps the barrier doesn’t even exist at all, and I’ve just yet to accurately describe where I am trying to be.
Like asking someone how to get from London to a refrigerator, maybe I’ve yet to understand exactly what it is I’m seeking. If I don’t accurately define what I’m searching for, the question may be impossible to solve.
One level up, however, I have identified a personal distortion that may make it harder for me to target problems in general: I appear to prefer “recent” works over earlier ones. This applies to my own notes as well, alas.
Because of this, I have a tendency to immediately classify things I myself wrote down as “useless” if they are about a month or older. Saying this explicitly, I understand that this is foolish, but I’ve yet to convince my System 1 of this fact.
Finally, on a level fraught with insecurity, I’m wondering if I’m even trying hard enough:
Say a situation evolves where the stakes are higher–perhaps my entire livelihood depends on my solving this motivation question. In such a scenario, I can see myself doing a wide variety of “desperate” measures to figure this thing out, which begs the question “Why aren’t I doing them now?”
Though my life isn’t actually on the line, figuring out how to Do Things And Like It seems highly valuable, indeed more high-value than anything else I’ve been spending time on in recent memory.
I suppose I’ll summarize what sorts of action items I got out of this meandering musing. (I already note a “ugh” as I intend to do this. It seems that writing things down as a “to-do list” firmly cements this post in time, which ruins the timeless “always relevant” quality I’d hoped for in my writing. Oh well).
- I need to figure out exactly what I mean by “productivity” and “motivation”.
- Record my motivation level to see if trends actually occur. (self-reported google forms?).
- Write those series of posts on procrastination.
- Reduce my “present-self bias”.