How do I transform my short term spurts of motivation/adrenaline into constant motivation?
August 26, 2008 1:41 PM   Subscribe

How do I transform my short term spurts of motivation/adrenaline into constant motivation?

I have some sort of motivation issue and I'd really appreciate it if some of you could give me some advice.

Maybe it's not really an issue, because I don't consider myself to be a horribly lazy person, but I'd rather be way more productive. I'd rather make noticeable leaps and bounds in my life on a daily basis but I can't seem to get the fire to do so. I love being productive and being able to say my life has improved since the previous day. I don't like napping because I feel like I'm wasting time where I could be getting something done.

Every now and again, I see a movie or experience something that really lights a fire under my ass. I walk out of the theatre and go "man I really need to do something more with my life, I need to be more well-rounded than anyone else out there". I realize that's probably not totally attainable, but I want to be shooting for that.

For a short time after this enlightening experience, I have a massive urge to work out like I'm in boot camp, suck up knowledge like I'm still in college, and just in general, be a better person and improve my life by a great deal every day.

However, this massive adrenaline rush to be something more only lasts for a short time. I wish I could somehow wake up the following day in the same mindset. That doesn't happen. I wake up the next day and am too lazy to workout. I come home after work and sit on the couch and watch TV. I feel too tired to do anything after work even though I constantly tell myself I should be working out.

I always seem to have an hour of wanting to bust my ass to improve myself but it never sticks. Do any of you have any advice on how I can keep this motivation fire burning? I want that improve-myself adrenaline that I feel from time to time ALL the time, not just for the rest of the night until I go to bed.
posted by decrescendo to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And when I finally do start working out, I do it every other day for about a week and a half. Then, I miss one day of working out and somehow it snowballs into never doing it again. I wish I wasn't so fickle. I'm all in for a short time and I just somehow can't keep the ball rolling.
posted by decrescendo at 1:45 PM on August 26, 2008

Is it an energy thing? Try saying, "I don't have the energy to do ___, but I have the energy to do this very small part which is the first step in a massive project, and I might as well do that instead of watching TV." Eventually those will add up. But people usually underestimate large projects, when in fact they really are massive sloughs. Also, frequent exercise will give you more energy throughout the day, and (even though I hate to recommend it to someone) caffeine can give you that feeling too.
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:09 PM on August 26, 2008

Response by poster: Part of it is energy. I feel too damn tired too often and I think I use that to justify not working out. I sleep from 11pm to 7am but somehow I'm still almost needing a nap when I come home. I hate feeling like that. I do suppose that that week and a half I was working out gave me some extra energy in the afternoons, and this caused me to work out even more.
posted by decrescendo at 2:24 PM on August 26, 2008

I had this problem and started getting up early in order to accomplish things. I work from 10a to 8p and by the time i eat dinner and settle in to do other stuff i am just too f'ing tired to get much done.

So, i started getting up very early. The first few mornings were very rough but after a while i got used to getting up at 5:30am. My workouts are much more effective in the morning and i find it easier to focus and get. stuff. DONE. I do personal projects, artwork, freelance work or just hit the gym in this time period.

You might also be sleeping TOO much. Try cutting back and see if that helps. Also look at your diet, you might be eating things that make you crave that nap in the evening. Are you having sugary snacks or drinks in the afternoon that might be leading to a crash later in the evening?
posted by modernsquid at 2:38 PM on August 26, 2008

Gosh I hope you get some great answers - I have the same problem.

A couple little things that help me:
-- Don't Break the Chain.
-- Tiny, daily rewards, ie "If I exercise today, then I'll have enough calorie deficit for that ice cream!"
-- Fear. Having a real, external deadline, for something you can't cram for. That's by far my best motivator. But this is hard to manufacture, cause any arbitrary rules I set for myself only have consequences IF I impose them. But I'm a pushover with me!
-- Ultimately, remembering that enthusiasm fades, and adults have to do LOTS of things they're not particularly motivated to do. If a goal is worthy you work towards it regardless of how you feel that day. I mean, I don't expect to feel enthusiastic when I go brush my teeth.
posted by for_serious at 3:01 PM on August 26, 2008

I would suggest getting a work out buddy for increased motivations. (You can have a buddy who will do anything with you, not just working out).
posted by davidstandaford at 3:12 PM on August 26, 2008

Response by poster: All are good answers. Thank you.

I should try the getting up earlier thing. I get up at 7am for work. I'm usually home around 4pm for the moment. I'm moving to DC and getting a new job so we'll see how that affects my schedule.

I think not eating breakfast doesn't help me with the energy thing. I hear that's the most important meal of the day and I'm missing it. I just solved that by buying a ton of stuff at the grocery store right now for breakfast, now I just have to get up early enough to eat it. That has been my problem so far.
posted by decrescendo at 3:40 PM on August 26, 2008

Me, I started by turning the TV off for good, so It wouldn't be a temptation. then I just spent my time in the ways that accomplished what I wanted and even when It finally felt late enough to turn it on, I still did not. more so I avoid mindless time hogs throughout my life and by a process of exhaustion I am left with only the things I want to do. really try it it works: get rid of the attention hogs. In the beginning you may find yourself staring at walls not doing anything, but trust me that does not last long
posted by phllip.phillip at 9:05 PM on August 26, 2008

I swear we've had this question before...a few things that work for me:

--DON'T SIT DOWN ON THE COUCH when you get home from work. Better yet, don't go home, go straight to the gym.

--Make a list of 3 things to do before you sit down on the couch or have a nap--make the list the night before, or in the morning, or at work--but have it ready to go the minute you walk in the door. Start small--3 ten minute items. Sometimes you find that doing something small will give you the motivation to move on to something bigger.

--Make a list of 20 things you love to do. When was the last time you did any of them?

--Turn off the TV for a night or 5 every week. No napping! Save naps for the weekend. Have a list of things to do instead of TV.

--Become a member of a group, official or unofficial, that does the thing you're interested in. Volleyball? Take a class or join a league. Knitting? Attend a knitting group meeting. Running or biking? Join a training team.

--If you can afford it: get a trainer at the gym. That will get your butt in there for your training sessions or lose the money!

Another question addressing this...
posted by lemonade at 9:21 PM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I answered a similar question to this a couple of days ago. I'll expand a bit on that answer as it's pretty relevant to what you've asked.

In my previous answer, I went on (at some length) about the essential thing you need to sustain motivation - an ultimate aim.

At the moment, these bursts of inspiration and motivation you're having are linked to a general sense of dissatisfaction with your life (I don't read enough, I'm not fit enough, I'm not cultured enough, whatever). The problem with using the 'I'm not X enough' as an aim is that it is a moving and cycling target.

In the Western world, we have more leisure time than at any point in history. A large number of us also work at sedentary jobs, and don't get exercise (or indeed a great deal of stimulation) from our work. This leads to the hampster wheel of personal fitness, and the nagging, constant feeling that we should be doing something constructive with our off time.

The problem is, a lot of people aren't wired to respond to a personal improvement aim simply for its own sake.

I present to you - the Self Improvement Internal Dialogue:
I really need to get fit
Running around a park to keep fit? Ugh. Unless you've actually been fit before in your life, this is a horrible thing to contemplate. Why can't I skip to the part where I wake up energised and full of life every day because of my hard, shiny abs?

Wouldn't it be great to speak another language?
Learning a language? Ugh. That's really hard and complicated and I was never good at languages in school. Why can't I just skip to the part where I navigate through an exotic city using only wordplay and charm?

I'd love to be able to play guitar like that guy
Learning to play an instrument? Ugh. Equally hard, why can't I just skip to the part where I strum my guitar by a fire on a beach somewhere with lots of admirers around me?

I need to read War and Peace
Reading the classics? Ugh. The plots are complex and the language arcane, and I'm knackered from work and anyway I don't know anyone who has the knowledge or inclination to discuss them with me, so what's the point? Why can't I just skip to the part where I discuss philosophy in a Left Bank philocafe before drinking red wine and waving a Gauloise in the air?

Maybe I should write that novel
A novel - fuck off - that's 2 or 3 hours a night for the next six months. My hands hurt from typing all day at work and you want me to type more? Plus, what the hell am I going to write about? Working in advertising? Suburban ennui? Why can't I just skip to the part where I graciously accept my Man Booker and quaff wine with the literati while explaining how my work isn't at all autobiographical.
All of this flows from one thing - a vague feeling that you should be doing better with your life. The various 'things' you choose to consider are often informed by your perceptions of skills, jobs, lifestyles and places, rather than the reality of them. And frankly, its easier to refresh Lifehacker once a day looking for that sure-fire motivational habit than it is to honestly assess and change your direction in life.

As I said in the other thread, the way to overcome this dialogue is not to improve yourself for the sake of acquiring skill A, experience B or body state C. You need a reason to go about these things. Check my other answer for the detail, but it boils down to figuring out what you really, really want to do, and where you want to be, in a few years time, then using that as the basis for acquiring skills, getting fit and otherwise improving yourself.

In a nutshell: You can fart around for the rest of your life with the dilletante route and your bursts of motivations. Or, you could decide to become a mountain guide in Norway, and use that to:
  • Get fit - through regular hillwalks, expeditions and the fitness you need to do to do this kind of work safely
  • Learn a language - duh, you're going to Norway - better snakker Norsk before you do!
  • Play guitar - if you're actually on the route to becoming a mountain guide, you're going to need some way to entertain a camp full of clients on a rainy evening, and you can only play so many games of gin rummy.
  • Read War and Peace - funny how many great books you'll read in a tent on the side of a fjord when your attention span has re-constituted itself from the thousands of tiny pieces TV and the web has smashed it into, and the only sound is herring gulls in the cold water below.
  • Write that novel - funny how it'll be easier to come up with ideas when you're doing something unbelievable and meeting people from all over the world every day.

An intentionally extreme (and specific) example, but you get the point - get a purpose, the rest will follow.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:13 AM on August 27, 2008 [10 favorites]

Wow, that ended up longer than I intended.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:17 AM on August 27, 2008

Two things you can do:

1. During your fits of motivation, set up your environment so that it's easier to succeed with less motivation. For example: throw away the junk food while you're fired up about weight loss so you can't eat junk when you're not. Enroll in that expensive foreign language course so that you're committed to going even after the initial fervor.

2. Similar to what Happy Dave is saying, realize that if you want to do X, the only path there is the ongoing work. I can't stress this enough. If you really want to be fit, realize that it Will. Not. Happen. while you're sitting on your butt. Kiss that dream goodbye, buddy, unless you get up and do something about it and persist.

The path from "where you are" to "where you want to be" goes through hard work, and if you want to get there you'd better get started and keep moving.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:27 PM on August 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

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