THE STICK & THE CARROT (OR: How to motivate yourself to get things done)

I’m good at getting things done: my friends tell me this I true.

But I have a dirty secret:

…It’s only because I beat myself up.

Yes, I’m good at meeting deadlines, scheduling time to write and doing it, and doing a 5 year plan. But it’s only because if I set up that expectation, I feel like a piece of crap if I don’t do it. I feel worthless. I often don’t enjoy the process.

I use the stick to get myself to write and perform. Good for work ethic, bad for the person.

So I’ve got a goal for 2012: follow what excites me. Time to try a carrot, some positive motivtion.

So far it’s been a roller coaster ride: I haven’t been this connected to my passion and sense of fun since I was a kid. I’m also not getting work done that’s necessary to tour my show — and that’s making me anxious.

But even if I was getting stuff done, I’d be anxious, because that’s how the stick works.
Here are a few things I do to follow my excitement

  • JOURNAL: Pose yourself the question “What excites me right now?” and write for 5m, non-stop. This is a great way of connecting at work, on the bus, or when you’re feeling out of it.
  • FUTURE WRITE: Write a journal entry from the future. Talk about your project as if you’ve already met your goal and got the best possible response.
  • PRIORITIZE: Make a short list of your top 3-5 activities. I’ve got mine here. If your feeling stuck or find yourself doing a lot of stuff you don’t like to do, check your list. What can you do, write know, from your list of most important things.
  • TRY SOMETHING QUICK AND FUN FIRST: Warm-up. Do something fun and easy. Especially, if you’ve got part of a project you don’t want to do, try something you love to do first for 10-20  minutes. The other day, I had no interest in organizing a tour of my show. I chose to work on rewriting the scrip instead: that took off and a little while later I was so excited about the project again, I couldn’t wait to contact those people so I could share this new material.
  • FILL THE WELL: If you’re mired in the dreck and not feeling motivated, set aside an hour to just do something fun that has no (apparent) relation to your work. My top choices would be to go on a hike, read a book, or free write — just write for the pleasure of it. I find these things often give me a new perspective on my work, even if I’m not thinking about them. And if nothing else, I’ve had some fun so I don’t feel deprived.
  • SLOW DOWN: If you’re a typical creative, you may get excited and inspired easily. This can burn you out and lead you on — it can also make you think that, if you’re not inspired, that your doing something wrong. Or give up on your main project because you’ve had an exciting idea and your craving that creative rush. One solution to this is to slow down: breathe for 10m, make a sandwich, meditate, go on a walk. Actively focus on that activity and feel yourself calm down. Make space for the inspiration to come back into the work.

***

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

How do you motivate yourself — carrot or stick? What are the pros and cons of both?

Especially interested in how you positive motivators get done the things you don’t want to do.

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