Help me get off my ass and do these things that I love!
January 15, 2010 3:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm a mildly depressed and anxious person with a pretty cushy life at the moment (working just half-time, from home too!) in which I *should* be able to spend tons of time on my hobbies (yoga, art, photography, learning French, working on my website, freelance writing, etc.) and yet all I seem to do is poke around online or read books.

Cooking is the only hobby that I do daily, and that's cause we need to eat!

How do I motivate myself to get going on a project? It's that initial "starting the activity" phase that is most problematic. My hobbies are fun, but, quite simply, poking around online (or in books) is *easier*.

The more time I pass without doing these things the more I get down on myself for being "lazy", which I know is a path to depression. Any and all useful advice please!!
posted by mkuhnell to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 124 users marked this as a favorite
Find a friend that wants to the same thing, and motivate each other! Or try looking online for people who share your interests.
posted by Seboshin at 3:43 PM on January 15, 2010

i have this exact problem (except, i don't even work - i'm a homemaker)

2 things that have worked for me :
-making a schedule and setting it as your homepage. for books you can also print out a copy and make it your bookmark.
-unplugging the internet until XYZ gets accomplished.
posted by nadawi at 3:45 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let yourself off of the hook. Maybe right now, you want to poke around online and read books right now. Take it one thing at a time. When you start to feel like you're in a poke around online/reading rut, say "I just really want to be doing this right now." Your inner voice will eventually say "hey, wouldn't you rather sign up for a French class?"

Right now you're procrastinating because there's a lonnnnng list of things you think you SHOULD be doing, and some of them you might like, and others are just your inner nag saying you should want to do them but you don't because you are soooo lazy, and others still are your inner voice saying "If I try it I'll just fail because clearly I'm actually lazy and only good at reading the internet."

Turn it off by taking it one thing at a time. Allow yourself to do nothing. You'll get bored wicked fast.
posted by pazazygeek at 3:52 PM on January 15, 2010 [8 favorites]

You may find this thread helpful. It also contains links to other threads of the same nature.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:54 PM on January 15, 2010

Yeah, having some one else waiting for your output is a huge motivator. And you don't have to be doing the same thing as your partner/s, either; just find something collaborative. So, for example, you could start a blog with someone who will do the writing, and they're relying on you to provide illustrations or photographs on a deadline. Anything like that will really get you off your ass.
posted by eggplantplacebo at 4:02 PM on January 15, 2010

Personally I'm much more productive in my free time when I have a lot of other things going on. I'll waste a whole weekend on the internet if I have nothing but free time. If I only have a bit of free time crunched between work, class, whatever, I'll get a lot more done.

So scheduling your hobbies could work (and not just writing it in the calendar - being accountable. Needing to go to a class or meet a friend), or maybe just filling up your time a bit more in general. Putting in some volunteer time would be easy.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:19 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a similar problem a lot of times. For me, most of my work (I'm a grad student) is spent on the computer at home so that can kind of add to the pile -- if I'm at my computer geeking around on Metafilter, it's not too different from being at my computer working on my real work (I'm in the same physical location, I'm drinking the same cup of tea, I'm wearing the same clothes...). What helps me get into my hobbies are the following:

1) I try to work away from my apartment when I can. I go to the library, coffee shops, or my friend's house when I've been sitting in my chair in my 1-bedroom apartment for too long. It's hard to have fun in the same place that I work!

2) I let myself do whatever I want when I'm having "me-time". Feeling guilt about being online or reading isn't good for me; I should just let myself do those things. Don't cut them out of your life entirely. Reading is good for you.

3) Find a friend to do your hobbies with you. This is great for active hobbies like snowshoeing, running, shopping (semi-active, you're walking around), photography, yoga, or even things like going to the movies or watching your favorite TV show.

4) Set a block of time in your schedule to do your activities. Put it on your calendar: 1 hour for working on French on Saturday at 10 AM; Yoga for 90 minutes at 4 pm on Monday afternoons. Planning ahead makes me less likely to skip things because I essentially made a promise to myself.

5) LeechBlock worked really well for me when I was in crunch time and had to stop messing about on Metafilter and other random websites. It worked so well that it never actually kicked in (I gave myself 10 minutes on my "blocked site" list every 3 hours; the mere notion in my head of spending more than 10 minutes on those sites made me time myself carefully and I never once got blocked from them).
posted by k8lin at 4:20 PM on January 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yep, I have the same problem. Of course, IANApsychologist/psychiatrist/therapist, but have found the following incredibly beneficial when it was suggested to me.

Allotting a very short amount of time, say 5 minutes, to starting or continuing a new project really helps a lot. Once you've decided on an activity, just pick up whatever it is you want to do and work on it for just 5 minutes (or 10, or 15, whatever feels right to you. If it still feels daunting, shorten the initial amount of time devoted to doing just that one thing until it feels comfortable.)

So, there you are, working on your project for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, you can stop and feel like you've accomplished what you'd set out to do. Give yourself a pat on the back! You can now reward yourself with reading or Internet time. But, if you still feel like working on your hobby past that 5 minutes because you're enjoying yourself, then, great! Go ahead!

Try to regularly schedule that short amount of time to work on your project. That could be once a week, or every two days or every day. Whatever feels the most comfortable to you. Once it gets easy-peasy, lengthen that chunk of time slightly or schedule it more often, but only to what still feels comfortable. Before you know it, you'll feel able to devote longer and longer periods to your favourite activities because you'll have countered the anxiety in a positive way and might have found your hobbies to actually be a lot of fun!

A couple other things that you may or may not already know:

- Bannish the word "should" from your language, as in "I should be doing x." Or "I shouldn't be online so much." It only creates guilt. Do your best to replace "should" with "want", a more positive and proactive statement.

- Be patient with yourself. Some things, like changing behaviours, take time. You will get there in the end.

Best of luck!
posted by MelanieL at 4:20 PM on January 15, 2010 [8 favorites]

Here is a series of questions to ask yourself:

Are you joyful about the work you do?
Do you see the world as a friendly place?
Are you at peace with yourself?
Do you usually show kindness rather than being judgmental?
Are you confident without being a boor?
Do you tend to be cheerful?
Do you love to play?
Are you gregarious when you are with children or seniors?
Do you listen rather than lecture?
Do you love nature?
Are you in awe of your surroundings?
Do you express rational humility?
Are you approachable?
Do you take pleasure in helping others?
Do you accept others as equals?
Are you open to new ideas?
Have you tamed your ego?

For each one you can answer yes to, pat yourself on the back, or have a cookie. You've earned it. For each one you answer no, you have a to do list. Accomplishing these simple acts of humanity will make you an inspiration to others. That in itself usually becomes motivation enough to accomplish whatever you set your mind to. The motivation is within you. It doesn't require an external source. Just want to be better.
posted by netbros at 4:27 PM on January 15, 2010 [28 favorites]

You lack accountability to yourself.

Realize, simply, that you are worth an investment of your time and effort. Go you!
posted by carlh at 4:36 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just for grins, you might want to play around with your diet. My spouse was in a situation very similar to yours (plenty of free time, little stress but zero motivation for enjoyable hobbies plus anxiety) and became more energetic without gluten and casein. Later tests confirmed these food intolerances.
posted by egk at 4:47 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Make a long list of books to read and websites to check. Then, procrastinate doing that by getting up and doing something else for fun. Voila, your fooling around is now a task to be accomplished, so it doesn't feel like fooling around, so your mind doesn't perceive it as the easy way out, so it finds some other easy way out - which just might be one of your hobbies.

Oh, and also, surround yourself with books *about* your hobbies. French language, culture, etc., stories set in France that are *in* French. Don't put those on the list, though, just have them laying about as a nice escape from your stuff you "have to do" - i.e. an escape from the books on your "to read" list and websites on your "go make a funny joke here" list.

Also, dig around for community centers or urban development centers that offer cheap classes in this or that, and go to them.
posted by lorrer at 4:48 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

1) I try to work away from my apartment when I can. I go to the library, coffee shops, or my friend's house when I've been sitting in my chair in my 1-bedroom apartment for too long. It's hard to have fun in the same place that I work!

Seconding this general idea. Get out if possible.
posted by dogwalker at 4:50 PM on January 15, 2010

Heh, I was coming in to say "start a blog; it'll make your anxiety worse for three days, especially if you have Google Analytics running, and then you'll just be busy coming up with articles."

Not that that's my current problem or anything.

I also recommend fiber arts (lots of things to knit/ crochet, oooh shiny yarn that must be purchased by leaving the house, things to show off when you're done), owning a ukulele (omnipresent source of diverting noises; may lead to taking lessons), and being near a few places you can walk to for a cup of coffee (exercise, stimulating caffeine, new people to stare at rudely).
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:51 PM on January 15, 2010

Turn off your computer. I find that once I turn it on after work, nothing gets done. Without a computer to distract me, I do so much other stuff. Start with the yoga and photography, which is stuff you can do without your computer, and once you get into the habit of actually doing something, make a list (on paper!) of stuff you would like to do on the computer. Make the list really specific, so instead of "work on my website" make detailed lists such as "change layout, upload pictures from last weekend, change captions to old pictures" so as you're getting stuff done you feel accomplished, instead of not knowing where to start working on your website. This way when you do get on the computer, instead of poking around online you'll get a few things done right away.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 5:23 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Schedule schedule schedule.

My experience is that when you have what you perceive as "unlimited" time, you never get anything done- because hey, what's the rush?

So find natural time lots- if you get up around 8, and need to start your job at 11, work on projects from 9-11. The other key is, and this seems counterintuitive, DON'T work on your projects when it's not between 9 and 11 in the morning. It sounds weird, but if you're constantly in that state of "OMG why am I not working on stuff RIGHT NOW!!" even when it's 11pm and you're trying to chill, you will be a big ball of anxiety and just stop working altogether because it feels so bad.

I'm convinced all kinds of work need boundaries. It's hard, when you're at home and you're the only worker, but you still need to have that firewall between "now I'm working, so I better work" and "now I'm off, so I can do whatever and not feel guilty."
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:49 PM on January 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have a friend who is a creativity coach. Even one session can motivate you, as you just need to get over the inertia. Also, being a little bit accountable to someone can help you get out of the starting gate. Might be a fun thing to try.
posted by Vaike at 6:16 PM on January 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all SO much! There's a lot of great advice in this thread (too much for me to single any of you out). The biggest thing I've really taken away is that I should let up on myself--that's eye-opening to hear. Also, lorrer's "Make a long list of books to read and websites to check. Then, procrastinate doing that by getting up and doing something else for fun." made me laugh and might actually work too.

I do try to go out to work in coffeeshops, etc., but I'm finding it harder to want to go out in the cold winter (and everywhere seems much more packed with people lately). Still, it's important.

I'm definitely going to try turning off the computer, as well as various scheduling options you've suggested.
posted by mkuhnell at 7:12 PM on January 15, 2010

I have this problem, absolutely. For me, it feels like I have so many choices of hobbies to pursue that I'm overwhelmed, can't make a decision, and end up deciding to do none of them!

What is working for me is to make conscious choices about which hobbies to pursue, and really paring down the list of possibilities. For example, I'm a compulsive craft-supply collector - sewing machine, knitting needles, watercolors, fabric scraps, etc. - but when I moved recently, I chose ONE craft to pursue, and brought only the supplies necessary for that venture, leaving the rest of the supplies in storage. Now, when I get that nagging "I should do something crafty..." feeling, I don't get overwhelmed by the bajillion things I COULD be doing; I know that I can satisfy it by walking over to the shelf and picking up my cross-stitching set. It's literally my only choice, but it means that I can actually MAKE a choice, if that makes sense.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 7:59 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Make a short list of hobby activities that you think you would like to do. (as short as just one if you want)
For each one, figure out the very next step that needs to be done. Very specific and actionable (something you do, not just thinking about something) The book Getting Things Done is my inspiration here.
Divide even that one step into smaller steps. One way to make it small is to set a timer for a very short minimum time. For example, for art the first action item might be to pick a medium and set out the supplies on a table or tray that can be moved to your worktable when ready. That's it - done for the day. Next day, move supplies to the table, pick up sketching pencil and think about the project for 2 minutes. Next day either repeat or start sketching for a specific number of minutes. Set a timer. At end of these times you can either quit or keep going but you have met your goal for the day by doing this little tiny things. The test is to find an action so small that it doesn't trigger resistance, you would feel silly not doing it. Barbara Sher recommends this approach - in her example, the first step to practicing piano, is to go in the room and touch the piano then leave. Want to do more, sit down, play one scale and then leave.
posted by metahawk at 8:15 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Give yourself a long-term goal. Something it should take months to accomplish, that you can make steady progress on. Keep track of your progress using whatever tool makes sense. Tell your friends you're going to achieve this so that months down the road they'll start asking "hey, whatever happened with Project X?"
posted by adamrice at 8:22 PM on January 15, 2010

Not only turn off your computer, but do nothing. That's right, nothing. Get up, drink your coffee or whatever, then sit and do nothing as long as you can stand it. No reading, no list making, no TV, nothing. No sleeping either. Sit up straight and do nothing for at least 10 minutes.

Then do the first thing that comes to mind aside from surfing the 'net or reading. A yoga stretch, take a photo of something, etc. After that, you're allowed to surf the web or read a book. But usually if you start the day with doing something, you keep going. By forcing yourself to do nothing, the anxious part will take over and say, "hey, I need to DO something! Do something now!" And it will force you to get started.

Do it every day, or once a week, or only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

By the way, cooking is great for expressing creativity, don't knock yourself for doing that. Planning meals and bringing them to execution takes a lot of creative energy. On days that I make crafty things, I often get takeout or make very simple meals, because I don't feel like cooking.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:56 PM on January 15, 2010

The only really effective thing for me is having someone to do things with. Someone you go to yoga with, walk outside with, whatever. Then, have a schedule of when Thing happens. Maybe you do yoga every Saturday. Then you go with your friend to yoga. Now both of you are going because your friend is expecting you there!

Scheduling also requires a reasonable commitment. I always find that the longer I don't do something the harder is to start again. In that way, the "do it for at least 5 minutes every day" method may well be a good choice.
posted by that girl at 12:53 AM on January 16, 2010

I often seem to get motivation from other people. Just chatting with friends can give me new ideas and perspectives or renewed enthusiasm. Your life sounds like it could be a little isolating; if for whatever reason you're seeing less of your friends than you'd like to, maybe you could try reconnecting a little bit.

Also, I get more motivated when I have "thinking time". That is, time when I'm doing something fairly mindless, that occupies me physically but not mentally, so I start thinking about projects or goals or the meaning of life or something like that. Of course, sitting looking at web pages DOES occupy my brain. But things like walking, going to the gym, or doing some tedious housework are good for this.

Maybe if you decide to go out to a coffee shop, you could build a half-hour walk into the trip: walk to the coffee shop, or drive to somewhere half an hour from a coffee shop. (Oh and, if you don't like going out in the wintery weather, maybe you need some better clothes!)

Finally, another thing to try: Set the alarm reasonably early on a day when you don't have to work. Make a rule that you can't turn on the computer until 11am or midday or so. Then just see what happens!
posted by emilyw at 5:28 AM on January 16, 2010

Having worked all my adult life, I had the opportunity to have the summer off after we moved to a new house. Joy! Rapture! Free time! And what I ended up doing was what you and many others have done. Farted around all day. Accomplished nothing and went into a depression ditch. Job came along, schedule was back and all was fine. Was laid off after six months (YEY!) so back to farting around. But this time, I learned from the last time and set myself a schedule. I also got out of the house every day. And voila! No ditch.

A schedule seems to ground me. Perhaps it will help you also. This time around, if I had that time off, I would definitely go take a yoga class or some sort of daytime class - even an online class.

Lots of good suggestions. Thanks for starting the thread!
posted by Mysticalchick at 5:34 AM on January 16, 2010

I think you and I need to hang out! I'm very good at starting projects, I just never finish them. Maybe we could start a club so that the two types of people could connect!
posted by fairywench at 6:05 AM on January 16, 2010

One suggestion that I got from Ask Metafilter is chrismear's comment from back in 2005. He says:

I have a hat that I call the work hat, and when I'm procrastinating badly and pure willpower isn't helping, I bring out the work hat and put it on. When I'm wearing the work hat, I have to work.

It sounds stupid, but it really does help. For me, at least.

It does look dumb. I tried his advice (due to my hardcore procrastination on a grad school project) and picked the fuzziest snow hat I could find to make my 'work hat'. I set a timer for myself, around 45 minutes, and said "this is a special work hat that will make me get things done ten times faster, so I can't tarnish it by going to nonrelated webpages". Then I put the hat on and voila, stuff got done. The key for me was to not make it a million years, just under an hour or so. It worked!
posted by amicamentis at 7:39 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lately this has been helping me (I also work at home):
- going to a coffee shop once in a while
- when at home and working on my computer, I set a timer (I downloaded one so its on my computer, but of course, any timer will do). I work for one hour and then take a break from the computer (stretch, laundry, pet my dog, anything)...maybe 15 minutes. Something about the timer makes me feel a sense of urgency while at the same time the breaks avoid burnout.
- for projects I "should" be working on (outside my paying work), I keep a chart of how many hours (or minutes) a day I spend on that project. So, I can see how much I'm adding over time. This motivates me more than a schedule, where I would plan an hour of that project, but don't get it done, so throw out the whole idea of scheduling ("I'm not good at sticking to a schedule", or just into thinking how much time I missed instead of gained). This way, I shift my thinking from what's lacking to what has been accomplished.
posted by hazel at 10:48 AM on January 16, 2010

Why beat yourself up about what you're doing? Be in the moment and remember that you're doing what you like to do. Don't navelgaze so much and just be.
posted by anniecat at 11:06 AM on January 16, 2010

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