I used to wonder why people who email me asking “How do you stay motivated?” don’t just google it instead. Until I googled it myself!
Here’s a small sampling of what turned up on the first page of search results:
- Eat spirulina (Hmmmmmm.)
- “Just get started” (Thanks, never thought of that)
- Make a big, public commitment (This is risky advice that often backfires)
That’s when I knew it was time for me to write a quick post to:
a) Apologize to everyone who’s asked me about motivation over the past few years
b) Make amends by opening up about my own habits for staying motivated and productive to kick ass and win every day (well maybe not every day, but you get the idea)
They work (at least for me), they’re fun, and best of all they can help you improve in multiple areas of your life simultaneously.
1. Watch movies
Yes, Netflix is a thrilling — and guilt-free — part of my motivation routine. I tend to look for movies about successful winners who show you how to think big and kick ass, like this, this, and this. (Whoever said TV rots your brains apparently never saw these.)
2. Choose your delusion
Most of what we experience is really just our interpretation of what’s going on. Since there are many ways to interpret any event, you get to choose between different interpretations.
Some are more motivating than others. For example, if someone has $40,000 in debt, one interpretation of that situation is “I’ll probably be in debt forever.”
Whether or not that’s true, it’s not a helpful narrative if their goal is to get out of debt. In that case, a more advantageous “delusion” might be, “I believe I can get out of this if I work hard.”
Mind you there’s no way to know which one of these stories is more accurate, but the latter is unquestionably more useful.
3. Learn about yourself
When you really dig into it, you might be surprised to find out how many things you don’t know about yourself. The better you get to know your own personality and tendencies, the easier it becomes to get motivated.
Even a simple test like this one can help you make huge strides.
It turns out that, as someone who is 53% introverted, I (unsurprisingly) like to spend a lot of time alone. But that still makes me 47% extrovert! So I still need to be around people a fair bit of the time.
Before realizing this I was basically in the dark about my own tendencies and I spent a lot of time alone and unmotivated, with no idea why.
4. “Medicinal” music
You know that feeling you sometimes get when you hear a song from your youth and feel like you’ve been transported back in time? There’s good reason to believe that’s more than just a feeling.
Listening to music from my teens and twenties keeps me younger, more energetic, and more motivated to kick ass every day.
5. Instead of “What do I want to do?” ask “Who do I want to be?”
Have you ever heard someone justify a decision by insisting, “It’s something I enjoy”?
Enjoyment can be a useful metric, but asking yourself who you want to be as a person can give you much more clarity and motivation.
Case in point, there are lots of things I want to do right now, but when I ask myself “Who do I want to be?” (answer: a leader in the freelancing community) sitting here and writing this post becomes the clear winner.
6. Focus on what you can give, not just what you want to get
I believe generosity is the most powerful tool for succeeding in life and business.
Sometimes I worry that a blog post or new piece of course material I’ve created isn’t quite ready to ship yet. But when I think about all of the people it can help it becomes easier to go ahead and put it out into the world without being overly perfectionistic.
7. Think stoically instead of optimistically
I used to be overly optimistic. I’d say, “This is going to be easy! I will crush it by next week.”
Over and over again I was proven wrong because things that are worthwhile are often harder than they first seem. As time went on I was convinced I was a failure because my predictions didn’t come true.
Now I try to be more stoic. I realize success at anything important isn’t going to be easy, and I’m prepared to face surprise challenges, setbacks, and unknowns along the way — all of which are normal.
8. Reframe challenges
I once talked with a FTW reader who told me he was afraid to start freelancing because he might fail at it. What he didn’t see was that, by not taking action, he was guaranteeing the exact failure he was trying to prevent in the first place!
The ability to reframe challenges in this way is one of the most powerful motivating forces I know of.
9. Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect
I first learned this principle from the classic The Magic of Thinking Big by Dr. David Schwartz.
The logic is simple, powerful, and undeniable: If you wait for things to be perfect before you leap, you will never get anything done.
10. Break patterns
Some patterns are good — for example it seems clear we’re designed to sleep at night and wake up in the morning.
But too much habit can make things dull. Small shocks to the system can shake things up in a good way. (Examples: Listening to a new type of music, going out to a new restaurant, working in a different location.)
11. Measure one (and only 1) thing
When I was trying to eat less I allowed myself to eat anything I wanted, as long as I didn’t go over a certain number of calories for the day.
Later, I started playing around with healthier food combinations — but only after getting good at eating the right amount.
I see other people design the “perfect” diet and crash later because it’s too hard. (Please don’t take this as health advice, it’s not…I’m just trying to illustrate the principle for you.)
12. Abandon something
Having too many things on your plate at once is a motivation killer. It’s OK, good even to sometimes “give up” on a book after 20 (or 200) pages, unsubscribe from someone’s email list, or call it quits on a side project.
I just unsubscribed from 5 email lists a minute ago and I already feel more pumped up.
Shit, if you unsubscribe from MY email list and it makes your life better I’ll consider this post a success.
13. Ask, “What if I don’t deserve this?”
I used to sit around and wonder why I didn’t have good things in life. I thought, “I deserve good things!” Maybe I did.
But even if I did, that thought process didn’t motivate me to do anything but sulk and complain.
Now when I fail to achieve something I want, I think, “Okay, maybe I haven’t done enough to deserve this yet. What else can I do in order to be someone who deserves this?” More often than not this leads to a plan to get what I want.
14. Do nothing
Have you ever wondered why the best ideas come when you’re in the shower?
Your brain is like your muscles, for best performance you need to give it a break from time to time. Things I do: Take a walk without listening to anything, sit and breathe, etc.
15. Realize that the people who are winning and kicking ass right now are no smarter than you
Don’t take my word for it, I took this advice from Steve Jobs. Here’s the quote:
“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it…That’s maybe the most important thing…once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
16. Take your work seriously (even if it seems lame)
I learned this from James Patterson, the #1 selling novelist on earth.
Before he was famous he worked in advertising — here’s what he says about those days: “Look, you’re writing a Ford or Burger King commercial, it’s ridiculous let’s face it. But if you give it your all you’re going to feel pretty good! Take it seriously.”
17. Listen to Audible
18. Understand that thinking is highly overrated
One of my favorite stories is about a general who made a difficult and important decision in 30 seconds, even though he didn’t have all the facts. His reasoning was that he’d never arrive at the right conclusion by thinking, whereas he’d figure out the right answer for sure by just choosing a path and going forward.
19. Focus on what you can control
When I was busy earning $10,000+ per month in my second year freelancing, many of my peers were complaining about the economy, their cheaper competitors, clients who didn’t understand they deserved to be paid more (see #13), and even gas prices.
The strange thing is that even if I could change those things, the things that would make me successful — working hard and doing the things I’m talking about here — would stay exactly the same.
Winners focus exclusively on things they can control and ruthlessly tune out everything else.
20. “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”
I heard this line in the movie The Edge (see #1) 15+ years ago. It stuck with me because it’s one of the truest lines ever to come out of a piece of fiction — and I live it. Case in point: The best day to publish a post like this is on a Monday, but I’m doing it on Friday because I’d rather act than wait.
21. Be respectful to yourself
You are your own boss and your own employee (even if you’re an employee at a company, you’re your own boss — and employee — in your life). Treat yourself accordingly.
If you screw up, talk to yourself the way you would want your boss to talk to you. You’ll be happier and more motivated to perform better next time. We all screw up… I probably make a dozen or more mistakes every week.
That’s what winning is — remember Babe Ruth hit the most home runs, but he also had the most strikeouts.
I hope you’ll try one or more of these if you find them helpful.
I’d also love to hear about your experience with motivation… Have you tried anything that’s worked? Been frustrated by “scientific” motivational tips that have failed you?
It’d be great if you could share in the comments.
Feel free to also let me know which of my ideas you found most intriguing, surprising, or helpful.
Are you thinking about trying any? Have any questions? Let’s talk about it in the comments — I’ll make sure to drop by and respond.