Motivation without misery?
December 4, 2017 10:54 AM   Subscribe

When I'm content or generally happy with my life, I do very little to improve it. When I want something, however, I become obsessed and miserable but throw myself into the effort to "fix it".

I recently posted a question about maintaining the motivation to keep dating. Upon thinking about it, I realized I also have a deeper problem that extends into other areas of my life.

How can I remain content with my life as it is, but still maintain the motivation to do hard, unrewarding work towards an optional goal? The answer would seem to be to find some way to invest myself in the process, rather than the goal, but what if the process truly is something I don't enjoy? How can I find something other than being miserable to keep myself motivated? Right now it feels as if I have to choose between goals and happiness.
posted by seraph9 to Human Relations (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Small goals along the way?
posted by kidbritish at 10:59 AM on December 4, 2017

Make sure your goals are achievable and broken into small chunks. Also make sure you are not choosing goals that are totally outside of your control.
posted by beyond_pink at 11:00 AM on December 4, 2017

American Zen teacher Cheri Huber has a book called Making a Change for Good: A Guide to Compassionate Self-Discipline that might be helpful.
posted by Lexica at 11:08 AM on December 4, 2017

Might it help if you reframe how you think of yourself? I am somewhat discontent with my mediocre level of physical fitness, but being on an exercise regime with the express purpose of losing weight is very difficult for me to motivate, in part because I'm not really on board with "weighing less" or "looking better" as a goal. Times I have been healthiest have been times when I have thought of myself as the kind of person who walks instead of driving, the kind of person who prioritizes getting to yoga class over staying late at work, the kind of person who is a regular attendee at my social dance group, etc. Not prioritizing the goal (let's get healthy!) or the process (gold star if I go to yoga class!) but the state of being (I've heard that people who go to 4 or more classes a week feel a real difference, let's see what it would be like to be that person)
posted by aimedwander at 11:19 AM on December 4, 2017 [10 favorites]

For me, I tend to take better care of my future when I think of happiness like something I build a home for or attract. It's unproductive to force myself to feel happy, as that only works for so long. Same thing with distractions from bad feelings, or to try to rationalize them away (although those can be great at the right time). I guess a hokey metaphor for this could be that planning for the future is like planting a wildflower garden to woo butterflies, rather than sprinting after every random butterfly with a net and scaring the poor things away.

So, getting organized or doing things ahead of time aren't about some abstract or materialist concept of success, but more about "will this make things easier and more pleasant for future me, while I'm comfortable doing it now?"

I find that some of my happiest moments happen when I just happen to have a moment where I've managed to keep my stressors under control, and am not really directly chasing or doing anything that "should" feel joyful. Stuff like walking to an appointment on-time on a nice day, and just appreciating the weather and fresh air without needing to worry I'm late or have to worry about last minute preparations for the thing.

Beyond that framing, the other big thing is to avoid distractions. Turn off the phone, log out of Facebook, and set up a pomodoro timer to give yourself a little structure.
posted by ikea_femme at 12:36 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I really like creating vision boards for this. I haven't done one in a long time, but I've found it to be a helpful exercise in motivating myself to get through the rote stuff. I like doing them because they help you see the entire goal, not just what's in the present moment which can be, you know... boring, unrewarding and dull.

You can make a tiny one, like a 4x6 and put it where you see it often.
posted by onecircleaday at 1:10 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

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