I’ve been thinking a lot lately about motivation. It seems all the personal development experts have their baseline “just do it” mindset with the apps and generalized strategies to back them up. I, too, have found myself defaulting to the simplest and most unhelpful piece of writing advice anyone has ever given: just write, no matter what.
Because even though I know it’s easier said than done, I forget how different we all are. I personally do not struggle with motivation, at least not in the same way many of you might. But it’s not helpful for me to tell you I don’t have a problem without trying to use my experiences to help you solve yours. After all, I’m not here to tell you about me. I’m here to motivate you to be better.
But in order to do that, I want to write to you about themes — mainly, the theme I’ve set for my life for the last half of this year.
My theme, for the last half of 2017, is Earn. Not just earn paychecks (though that’s important), but also credibility and respect, professional partnerships and Fitbit badges, Starbucks reward stars and Saturday nights spent watching Netflix. Earn strings together everything I want to do. I want to work hard, but I also want to play hard. I want to write more, read more, watch more, be more.
When I’m tired or frustrated or distracted, when I don’t want to work, when I just want to dive so deep into the BuzzFeed vortex that I forget my name and where I came from, I’ve started asking myself one question: “If you don’t do this now, what will you earn?”
The answer, of course, is nothing. Well, other than a lot of guilt and anxiety, which no one actually wants to earn, because that’s not fun. I would much rather kick and scream my way through an undesirable thing, document it in an invoice (for later earning), and reward myself with tea or a Marvel movie (earning the fun) for getting my work done.
Some days, that might be the only motivation I have. But it’s so much more than just knowing I’m going to get a paycheck at some point in the near future. It’s also knowing I can do something fun, and guilt-free; knowing that if I do this one thing, I’ll have earned continued respect from my client for delivering something on time like I always do.
Your theme for the week, the month, the rest of the year, could be anything. You could be really bad at remembering not to work 24/7, and establish a theme of Rest. You could have a long-term goal you’re struggling to break up into pieces. Your theme for this one project could be Progress.
I think words are powerful. I think if we assign them to specific areas of our lives, they can remind and motivate us to do more of what we want to do, and less of what we don’t. Because everyone is motivated by something different, a theme can signify a group of things you want to focus on in your life — and in a way link you to others who share similar ambitions.
Give this a try this week, or next month, or when you start your next project. Or assign different themes to different parts of your life. At work, your theme could be Level Up. At family dinner, your theme could be Conversation. In your relationship, your theme might be Listen, or Trust, or Compromise. Maybe it won’t change anything, or motivate you to work toward a common goal. But maybe it will.
Staying motivated to write is not easy for everyone. I’m trying to be more compassionate about this. And I hope this theme (ha!) can start a constructive conversation. What motivates you? What do you do when you don’t feel motivated to put your ideas into words? If you could assign a theme for your life for the rest of the year, what would it be — and what would you hope it could help you accomplish?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.