Jan 5, 2016 · 4 minute read
Do you ever get that Groundhog Day feeling?
You know, the one where you feel like you’ve been doing the same thing over and over, and nothing is changing?
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character keeps reliving Groundhog Day until he learns to make the changes he needs to get out of his rut.
It takes him many, many tries.
Do you ever feel like that?
I do, especially at this time of year, when everything starts anew, and I decide to make changes that I am convinced will make my life better.
And every year around February (March if I’m lucky, mid-January if I’m not), I find those changes have gone out the window, and I’m back to my old ways of focusing on the things that don’t really matter and not having time for the things I love.
The reason isn’t because I lack discipline or motivation, though those can sometimes be in short supply. It’s not because I’m lazy or that deep down, I feel like my resolutions aren’t really valuable. Quite the contrary, in fact.
The problem is that when I make these resolutions, I don’t do it in a way that recognizes who I am. My resolutions aren’t authentic. They aren’t true to myself, and it’s in this past year that I’ve really learned what it is that will keep me focused and on a path.
The two things that motivate me?
Fear and deadlines.
Yeah, not so noble, are they?
Wanna know how I figured them out?
Nothing fancy. I just thought about the times that I had gotten important work done and tried to remember how I felt, what the circumstances were that got me started and what kept me going.
Getting started has never really been the hard part. I’ll go full bore when I find something that piques my interest or pisses me off. But like a sprinter in a half-mile race, I would burn out well before I got even close to finishing, even if the project was something I loved or was important to me.
When I got honest with myself, I figured out that fear was the common denominator. Waking up at 3 in the morning and unable to go back to sleep because I had a dream about not completing the work is a pretty good motivator to keep me going.
The fear can take many forms, but for me, it’s mostly being scared of not getting paid, of letting people down or of damaging my professional reputation. It’s important to me that people think I’m good at what I do and feel like they can rely on me to produce quality work quickly.
Tied to fear is deadlines. Without deadlines, I will let a task expand to fill infinite space and time. Without deadlines, tasks come to me to die.
I spent a number of years as a reporter, and when facing a deadline now, I still get the same knot in my stomach that I used to get each day thinking I had to produce one or two stories by the end of the day. (When you’re as bad a planner as I am, that knot grows exponentially.) I have a staggering fear of deadlines (also of cranky editors and the phrase “See me in my office,” but that’s another story).
Like I always say, you can take the girl out of the newsroom, but you can’t take the newsroom out of the girl. That also explains why I can swear most elegantly when the situation warrants it.
So how do I apply this newfound knowledge to my resolutions?
I think the trick is to apply the worst-case scenario to each resolution to elicit the type of fear that will keep you up at night. The key is you really gotta believe.
Resolution: Finish writing that book/blog post/letter to a friend
Fear: If I don’t write now, I could lose all my fingers in a freak guillotine accident, and I’ll never be able to write again. This is good for combating procrastination. Outside deadlines are also helpful, but I’ve never found that deadlines I set for myself did any good since there’s not enough fear involved. I don’t scare myself.
Resolution: exercise each day
Fear: If I don’t, I’ll significantly increase my risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, bed sores, etc.
Am I advocating for stress in a blog that urges people to slow down so they can pursue what they love? Maybe. It’s what works for me, but it might not be the thing that works for you. Maybe what works for you is a reward system. Maybe you can set your own deadlines and meet them.
The point is you’re going to have to find your own intrinsic motivators. You’ve made those resolutions for a reason. Honor yourself by finding a way to keep them.
And if you need me to come up with a worst-case scenario for you, I’m happy to oblige.
What keeps you motivated?