If it looks interesting, doable and enjoyable, why isn't it?
December 10, 2010 6:14 AM   Subscribe

Help me find the motivation to do creative and interesting things with my free time!

I'm a 25 year old woman, currently working full-time (40 hours per week) at a job I mostly enjoy, living with my long-term boyfriend.

My problem is that I find it really difficult to be motivated to do things in my free time. When I get home from work in the evenings, I always feel tired, and all I want to do is cook, eat, chat for a while, watch some TV, maybe read a book, and sleep. At weekends, it's similar - I feel the need for 'downtime' and 'quiet time' by myself quite often.

It's not like I don't do anything, though. The bf and I usually meet up with friends once or twice a week. He's involved in the art scene in our city, so there's often an opening or some kind of event to go to. At weekends we go shopping, to the library or to a museum occasionally, or just out for a walk. We like sitting in bars and cafes, and going out dancing sometimes.

My problem is that I would like to develop and spend more time on my own creative interests, but when an opportunity presents itself to do something creative, I just don't feel like it. My boyfriend is an artist, and he spends a lot of time when not at his day job working on his various art projects. That's great for him, and I'm totally happy for him to do that. While he's doing these things, I think to myself, "well, perhaps this is a good time to work on those felt brooches I wanted to try making", or "maybe I could write in my journal right now"... but then I usually decide, "nah, I'm too tired, maybe I'll just watch Gossip Girl instead." But I feel guilty about what seems like wasted time, and I'm confused as to why I no longer feel enthusiastic about things which, a few days ago, seemed super exciting.

Always when I'm looking into the future the thought of spending time on craft projects or writing or baking or swimming or cycling or taking photos sounds fun and exciting. But when the time to do it comes around, I'm just not motivated. Maybe I'm just plain lazy. Whenever I do get around to doing these things, I always enjoy it. Actually, now that I come to think of it, my attitude towards socialising is similar - I often kinda dread it or see it as a necessary evil, but then I enjoy it when I'm out. When I have time off work and my schedule is wide open, I often do find time to do these things, and enjoy it immensely - but having time off work just to hang out at home doesn't happen very often.

I feel like if I'm not pursuing these creative interests, then I'm not as interesting a person as I could be. My friends are all artists of one kind or another - I'm the rare bird with a full-time job in our circle, they're usually working here and there to fund their art. Not one of them ever says or does anything to make me feel inferior, but I guess I have a little complex about it.

Anyone have any thoughts or insights, ideas, tips or angry yelling which you think might help me figure out why I'm like this and what I can do about it? Your input would be much appreciated. I've browsed other threads on the subject, but, you know, I can't help feeling like a special snowflake even if I'm merely an ordinary snowflake.

Oh, I should add that I am already in therapy, and this is something I will also broach with my therapist, so if you were going to suggest that, thanks, I'm on it ;).
posted by greenfelttip to Human Relations (23 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
You're suffering from inertia. I get it--I've gone through it too. I call myself a writer, I majored in English, but I hadn't written in over three years--not until last month, when I did NaNoWriMo. Like you, I couldn't count on just saying "okay, I need to write something today" to myself and actually do it. I'd find an episode of Gossip Girl to watch instead, or YouTube videos, or something else. The challenge--the fact that I told everyone I knew that I was going to write 50,000 words in thirty days--that's what finally got my fingers moving.

You need to challenge yourself. Make January "Felt Brooch Making Month"--and challenge yourself to make a brooch every day. It doesn't have to be great, it doesn't have to be perfect, but you have to make one every single day. At the end of the month, reward yourself for your success with a fancy night out with your boyfriend or something else. Rinse & repeat.
posted by litnerd at 6:26 AM on December 10, 2010

Maybe you feel inferior to your artist friends and you are afraid that if you actually start working on your crafts, they will not be any good compared to their work.

I have similar feelings to you about being really psyched before doing something, but being unmotivated when the time comes.

Something that helped me was signing up for a weekly pottery class. Could you arrange a time with a quiet artsy friend where the two of you could shop for the supplies? Or sign up for a meet-up or class?
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:31 AM on December 10, 2010

Motivation never strikes anyone, ever. You must do. You must power through the "naaah" and just do it. Do not wait to "feel" like doing something before doing it.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:33 AM on December 10, 2010 [20 favorites]

I like working on crafty things while doing something that allows my brain to feel like it's relaxing. Can you work on those felt brooches WHILE watching Gossip Girl? I do hand-stitching while watching TV -- I could settle in for a movie while crocheting without feeling like I'm wasting any time at all.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:49 AM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

I was in a similar situation for a few years. Moved in with partner. found myself watchign a lot more TV than I used to. The one major thing that got me back into writing music (after 2 year absence) was trying to do the RPM - "write an album in a month - February" Challenge.

But I still get that couch inertia a lot. and just have to force myself to tune that guitar and start recording something anything. - once I get started its fun.
posted by mary8nne at 6:52 AM on December 10, 2010

I have the same sort of problem. Occasionally I have had success with "just doing it" as Ironmouth suggests... I have to make myself get out the supplies and get started, but once I get going I get engrossed and wind up having a good time. I don't do this very often, though, because "powering through" that initial feeling of not being in the mood is really not fun.

I have had better success in getting myself to do things by signing up for a class. I made a lot of headway with my drawing by signing up for a series of classes at community college.

Online classes are great for this too. I took a fiber arts class through Joggles a couple of years ago and had a great time working on my projects. Just that little bit of structure and support did the trick to get me in gear. The classes in the link are already in progress but there will probably be a spring session starting in January.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:14 AM on December 10, 2010

You're feeling like you should do these things instead of just wanting to do them. It's easy to want to do all sorts of creative things when you're at work or in the car, because you don't need to do them right now and they're a pleasant distraction. However, once you have the free time, you have a backlog of mental things to do, and that oh-boy impulse that put all those ideas in your head has passed. So they're not exciting, and start feeling like obligations, and your brain rebels and thinks "noooo, this is my free time and I'll do what I want with it" and plops itself in front of the TV. And the bigger the creative queue gets, and the more your brain decides to ignore or resist it, the more those things feel like obligations, and the harder it gets to get excited about them.

(Can you tell I get this too?)

What helps is mentally cutting off that "I should do X but I don't want to" cycle of thought and just plopping yourself into something for ten minutes. Anything low-pressure but still mentally engaging will work. Even something really easy, like freeform doodling, or uncreative, like folding laundry. If the word "should" enters your head at all, recognize you're putting pressure on yourself, and change it to "okay, here I go to do a thing, no obligation, no pressure." You've broken the inertia and are thinking "hey, I'm doing a thing! I like doing things! Now I'm going to do another thing!" And even if you don't, it's only ten minutes, and you tried.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:20 AM on December 10, 2010 [8 favorites]

Doing something because you think you're supposed to, rather than because you have a great idea and you can't wait to get going is usually a sign that you're really not that keen on it. Personally, I think most crafting is a big waste of time. I've had some real burning enthusiasms ( antique roses, California pottery, felting), but I sort of stumbled upon them, got sparked up, and turned my passion/curiosity into a real pursuit/ hobby.
Maybe you just haven't been all that intrigued or excited about anything yet-- expanding your world of interests beyond the art stuff everyone else does might lead you to an activity or interest you haven't considered. Maybe you'd like martial arts, gardening, making your own beer, refinishing furniture, etc.
Also, work, at least for me, is incredibly fulfilling. I love what I do, and don't always need stimulation elsewhere. Reading is often the only extra I have time for.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:27 AM on December 10, 2010

The next time you have some free time, make yourself some kits.

Get some small baskets or bags and put the supplies you need in them. If you're making felt brooches then put the felt, the scissors, threat, beads, clasps, whatever you need in the bag. Use snack size Ziplock bags to keep the little things in.

This could even be a small steps kind of thing. Next time you're at the store pick up the supplies you need and some extra scissors. Then forget about things for a few days. When you have another minute drop a few things in a bag until it's ready.

When you have the bags ready you can leave them around the house for yourself: by the TV, next to your bed, maybe even a small one in your purse. If you have everything all ready and waiting for you, then maybe you won't feel like it's such a chore to get started. If you're sitting down by the TV to watch your show and the bag is sitting right there, it's a lot easier to just reach over and grab it then it is to have to get up and gather supplies. If all you have to do is sit there and watch your show, then you aren't expending much extra energy to do a little project.

Having a little bag also makes it easy to just shove the project back in to work on another time.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:43 AM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you feel obligated to do something then it isn't really an enjoyable hobby, it's a chore. Nobody likes chores. Gardening starts as a hobby and then often becomes a chore because there are things that HAVE to be done. If I don't do the weeding early then it just gets worse and worse and that chore becomes so much harder.

TooFewShoes has a good idea about making kits. I almost always have some sort of knitting or naalbinding project on me. If I have downtime it's ready to go. At home I keep my spinning stuff in the living room so it's easily accessible when I want to watch TV. They're in decorative boxes I got at IKEA, each of them separated in kit fashion. If everything is available it's almost automatic to grab something and work on it while I watch.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:19 AM on December 10, 2010

Yep, me too. Turn off the internet, the TV, the smartphone. You're allowed to do anything you want this Saturday, so long as it doesn't involve one of those three. Even if all I do is read and sleep, that's still way better than a day of mindless surfing.
posted by heatherann at 8:46 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider making a commitment to do something small every day. For my comics friends, it's usually drawing for ten minutes / drawing one object. If you don't want to do any more after your required making, go watch Gossip Girl with a clear conscience. However, you'll often get hooked and not want to stop.

You could also try "artist dates", where you take yourself out once a week to do something creative or inspiring. If you google "artist dates" or "The Artist's Way", you'll find lots of ideas. Again, if it's not scheduled art time, you can surf YouTube and not feel guilty, because you know you're working on your art on a regular basis.
posted by momus_window at 8:58 AM on December 10, 2010

I read some of the comments above and thought of this girl's project: http://creativeeveryday.com/creative-every-day-challenge
posted by MsKim at 9:34 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask somebody else to get involved in this manner...
"Greenfelttip, it's Joe Blow's birthday this weekend, could you make a doodad for him, please?
It's also our nephew's pre-school's fundraiser, could you make a doodad for them to sell?"

I have talent, and I totally just sit on it until outside influence suggests that I use it. It's very helpful to me for Mr.s Smoobles to suggest I draw a greeting card or something like that.

Maybe get out your calendar and make doodads for upcoming events? Those doodads don't even have to be holiday or event themed, just simply created for the occasion. Once you've embraced that, start making two of every doodad for every occasion. Etc.
posted by No Shmoobles at 9:35 AM on December 10, 2010

I think there are two different ways to look at this, both valid and not mutually exclusive.

First, you can approach this from a health-like perspective, with the goal being activity in general rather than anything about the hobby itself: it's good for you to be involved in hobbies, get exercise, etc., so just like you force yourself to eat spinach, you force yourself to be active, whatever it be. Power through the "blah," and set up your physical environment (eg get all your craft stuff together in a box) so you'll be cued to do the activities rather than watch TV. You don't go for any kind of expertise here; you're just doing it, and it doesn't even really matter what you're doing as long as you do it.

Second, you can approach this like an avocation -- like finding the one or two things you really love to do that add to your life, and get really into them, for their own intrinsic sake. For me, the two things like this (yoga and gardening) came really naturally once I started to do them. There was no blah-inertia to overcome once I started. But the key here is that I had spent years thinking "I think I would really love to garden" and had a good idea that it would be something I would love. That kind of persistant thought ("I think would really love to x") has never been wrong for me.
posted by yarly at 9:57 AM on December 10, 2010

Another suggestion to turn off the TV, or better yet, get rid of it entirely. I don't get the sense that the OP thinks that creative projects are an obligation, something she *should* do; I get the sense that there's a path of no resistance and it's way too easy to veg in front of the tube instead of doing anything else.

I will venture a guess that you will get a lot more satisfaction out of following through on your creative projects, even with the little bit of activation energy hurdle, than you will watching another movie.

Make yourself a space where you can work, get your crafty stuff out in such a way that it's accessible but not in the way, and with that little bit of staging/preparation it'll be just as easy for you to sit down with your gear (and leave a project in midstream, ready to be picked up again) as it is for you to sit down and watch a show.
posted by Sublimity at 10:35 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Personally I find goal setting + consequences to be the. most. useful. way to motivate myself to do things. There's three steps to this:

1. Write down specifically what you want to do: write for 30 minutes, brooch for 1 hour, go for a walk three days a week, etc.

2. Identify what you do instead of those things, that you don't want to do: vegging out, eating dinner, relaxing, etc. Write that down, too.

3. Create a way for you to not be able to do those unwanted things until you've done those wanted things: give your husband the remote and he can't give it back until you've written for 30 minutes, you can't start cooking dinner until you've gone for a walk, etc. Write it down so there's no confusion, no weaseling your way out of it (except for on Wednesdays)

Doing a low-frequency activity before you do a high-frequency activity is known as the Premack Principle
posted by rebent at 10:58 AM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Move your television into the closet, or into an un-used and somewhat uncomfortable room. Make it so that you CAN watch it if you want to, but only with a significant amount of effort.

Do it for just a week, and you'll be shocked at the result, I promise you.
posted by ErikaB at 11:17 AM on December 10, 2010

I am in a similar situation. Pretty much all my friends are involved in some sort of artistic endeavor in a professional/full time way and for me it's something I have to fit into my free time when my corporate job is done for the day.

One thing I have done is to tell someone that I'm going to work on over the weekend. Or I will schedule it into my day planner. That alone will usually prod (guilt?) me into working on something for an hour or two.

I have also hooked up with different craft/art nights around town so I can work on projects with other people around. That is way more fun, and I can get feedback for something I'm working on, if I want it.

Taking a class almost always gives me motivation to work on stuff. It doesn't have to even be a multi-week class, just an afternoon workshop on the weekend. I sometimes volunteer at a community art studio that has classes for kids and adults. Being around kids making art is a sure fire way for me to get excited to work on my own stuff.

I also take projects to a coffeeshop or bar sometimes. Switching up the scenery is often a great motivator for me.

Still, I have plenty of times when I can't be bothered. :)

posted by medeine at 12:02 PM on December 10, 2010

I don't have any suggestions other than to say that many of the previous posters' ideas sound pretty good. May even try a few myself. However, I would like to strongly encourage you not to beat yourself up over this. 40 hours of work a week (probably more like 50 with the commute and stuff worked in, right?) is a lot of time and wanting to relax with the few waking hours you have left should not be thought of as a sign weakness or lack of character. More like straight up normal.
posted by fartknocker at 7:30 PM on December 10, 2010

I'm the exact same way! It's not that I don't WANT to [learn the piano, write a letter, organize the bookshelves]. It's that my couch has magnetic powers and I'm so busy all the time that mindlessly watching TV or surfing the Internet sometimes seems like all I can handle.

I second everyone's advice to turn off all the electronics. But even that takes more motivation that I can muster.

What works for me (sometimes) is to keep a list of all the things I'd like to do. I keep it on paper because otherwise I get sucked into checking email and stuff. When I'm busy and I find myself thinking, "If only I had some free time right now, I could do X!" I write it down. Then when I find myself heading for the couch, I check the list and think, "Hey, actually, maybe I'll try doing X for a while instead of watching TV."

Other times, I just accept that I need mindless lazy time.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:04 PM on December 10, 2010

I just wanted to second Metroid Baby's suggestion to tell yourself you're going to do something for 10 minutes. Or even 5.

This is a suggestion I've seen several times here on AskMeFi, and I think it can be really effective.

There's something about telling yourself it's only going to be a few minutes that makes it seem a lot less daunting, and reassures you that if you really are too tired for a creative endeavor, you can still veg out. But the act of sitting down and starting can get you into the creative flow, and there's an invisible shift from "too tired to do that" to "wow, this is fun and I'm so absorbed in this that I'm not even aware of how energized I've become just doing this."
posted by kristi at 11:16 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Popping back a little late (oh the joys of endless Christmas shopping) to say a big thank you to all for your comments and suggestions. It makes a lot of sense to:

- work on projects for brief but regular periods
- prepare my projects ahead of time so I can pick them up easily
- sign up for classes to commit myself
- put away the electronics
- just get on with it already

I will leave the thread unresolved as if anyone else has anything else to add, I would love to hear it. Not picking a 'best answer' because there are simply too many of them - thanks again :)
posted by greenfelttip at 5:14 AM on December 13, 2010

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