Motivation is this strange mix of the desire to accomplish something, having a deadline, and having a plan. I’ve lacked all of this for too long – or at least lacked the understanding of all of these elements and how they work together. I’ve been of the mindset that motivation is something that exists outside of planning and dreaming. I have been wrong all this time. Motivation is not magic. It is not something that one person has more of than another. It is not something that is required every moment of every day. Motivation is more about having a plan that you can actually stick to, and goals that are not too far out of reach. If you make your goals too hard to accomplish, you’ll get discouraged and probably give up on it all, but if you have a plan with progressive goals and you work to meet them, you’ll find your way.
Everyone should have a few different sets of goals – the obtainable ones that could happen at any current moment – and the dreamy ones that reside in the future. Remember, there are two kinds of future – the near kind, and the distant kind – the kind that is so far away it may never happen. The near future planning is where your realistic (and obtainable) dreams get to live. The distant future is what allows you to daydream, speculate, and get creative with what you really want to accomplish – the deepest-truest desires of the youthful fool that lives somewhere in the depths of your persona. These most real desires are the ones that you need to sprinkle into every other action you make… or else these things will never be realized. By making these things covertly a part of all of your other plans – you’ll be able to surprise the distant-future-you with having accomplished your true desires.
I am a lover of lists. Grab two (or three) pieces of paper – and list the goals you want to accomplish now, (the goals you want to accomplish in a year or two), and the goals you have for your general distant future – these may feel more like dreams or fantasies right now – but write them all down. Don’t worry about the order in which they pour out of you. They can be personal or professional – they’re all yours. You may be surprised how accomplishing personal goals makes it easier to accomplish professional goals and vice versa. You may need to just think generally of all of the things you want to do – and then figure out which list they belong on – OR – you might want to think of goals specifically by timeframe.
Now, look at the dreamy list. There might only be a few things there – pick out the top one or two things that will be your main far-away goal. This is what we will be moving toward in the grand scheme of things. That is your ultimate destination on this trip. Next, look at your current goals – the short term ones – and if you had that third list, look at which of those semi-near goals connect to the immediate ones. Everything is connected here… or at least you should see a general theme here. If you don’t you might need to narrow the stream – find the things that are most important to you. It took me a decade to get back to having photography as a priority, before then my goals were scattered and disconnected.
Grab a few things from your short term goals list (like running a half marathon) and start planning. The plan consists of a deadline – like the date of the race, intermediate goals – like weekly long run distances every week between now and the race, and all of the smaller but significant duties or requirements – those get filled in around all of the intermediate goals and are sometimes required before moving on to the next level – like strength-training or speedwork. Be realistic with your timeline, be reasonable about what you need to learn/improve/change in order to meet your goal. Now, learn to discipline yourself. If your intermediate goals are too extreme – like trying to run 5-mile-long runs when you haven’t even been able to run 100 yards – you’re going to feel defeated and like you’ll never be able to do it. If you set your deadline for too soon, you’ll burn out trying to do everything all at once – you can’t go from never running to running 13 miles in two weeks, it doesn’t work that way. There is a really delicate balance that you need to maintain here, especially if you’re already working 40 hours a week, running a household, and trying to exercise and eat healthy. Forgive yourself if you mess up and miss deadlines (especially personal ones – the ones that don’t affect anyone else). If you’re utilizing all of your time and you just can’t get it all done – you might have to redesign your plan and your timeline – sometimes things just can’t happen as quickly as we’d hope. If you can’t meet the intermediate goals, or have time to do the smaller duties – you may need to reorganize your priorities. Since Netflix in the evening is a priority in my life, I find that if I can make myself get up early – make some coffee – have something really yummy (and nutritious) for breakfast – I can get a few hours of work in on my goals before I have to be at my ‘real’ job.
Getting up early had recently become ‘too difficult’ for me to overcome. I felt like I was just toiling away without direction, wasting my efforts because I didn’t have any one specific goal in mind. It felt almost meaningless, and in a way, stagnant – even though I was doing something, it wasn’t advancing anything. Staying in bed and not working on any of it was a great way for me to avoid being worried about failure. I had to manifest my thoughts and pipedreams into physical lists in order to make them feel real. Without writing them down, they only truly existed in my mind, and without them being tangible – they were not easy to visualize. Now, that I have my list – and most importantly, my one ultimate destination – I can move forward toward my goals and celebrate the daily victories that will help me in realizing my dreams. Good luck with yours!