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How to Stay Motivated When No One is Watching

A while back I came across this fascinating video essay entitled “Painting in the Dark: The Struggle for Art in A World Obsessed with Popularity.” In it, Adam Westbrook of Delve focuses on the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. For me the video was intriguing not just because of the art (which is obviously incredible), but because […]

A while back I came across this fascinating video essay entitled “Painting in the Dark: The Struggle for Art in A World Obsessed with Popularity.” In it, Adam Westbrook of Delve focuses on the life and work of Vincent van Gogh.

For me the video was intriguing not just because of the art (which is obviously incredible), but because of the journey van Gogh went though.

He didn’t complete his first painting until he was 27. And, it took over a decade before he sold his first painting. During this time van Gogh struggled financially so badly that he was on the brink of starvation, while battling mental demons.

Despite all of this, van Gogh persevered and kept painting. The reason? It has something to do with the word autotelic.

Autotelic means “having a purpose in and not apart from itself.” In van Gogh’s case, this meant that his artwork was the reward. Not fame or wealth. Just the 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches he created within in a decade.

“You can’t control the external outcomes of what you do, so why even think about them? Except of course that we’ve created a world where those external outcomes are valued more than anything else,” says Westbrook. “And that’s our challenge today. In a world obsessed with popularity, will we do our work regardless of the consequences? Will we still make our art even if nobody is watching?”

That question that Westbrook asked really stuck with me. As a freelancer, I must churn work, even when there isn’t anyone there to advise, guide, or motivate me. It’s something that I must do on a daily basis. I have to motivate myself.

On some days, that can be an uphill battle. But, I’ve been able to remain motivated, even when nobody’s watching, by doing the following.

Stay Motivated by finding your life’s purpose.

Best-selling Shannon Kaiser says this best, “If you don’t know what your purpose is then you don’t know why you are here, and it can be hard to keep going.”

This is key when it comes to self-motivation. After all, when you’re not passionate or excited about whatever you’re doing, then why bother at all? Even worse, you don’t have anyone else to lift your spirits.

However, once you’re found your purpose, you’d be surprised at how much more motivated you become.

This involves a couple of steps, such as:

  • Just do it. For example, if you want to paint then just pick-up a brush and start painting. As Kaiser adds, “The experience is the reward; clarity comes through the process of exploring. Action is where you get results.”
  • What do you love? When you do what you love, you’ll become inspired and will gain new insights.
  • Don’t limit yourself. Who says you’re only meant to only have one purpose in life? To combat that, embrace everything that you’re passionate about. Once you do, you’ll lead a life of purpose.

As an added perk, you’ll also start replacing negativity with positivity. Let’s say you quit that job you dread and start your own business. Your days, even though stressful, will end-up being full of optimism and fun.

This thought process and notion may sound hokey, but some people believe that this is the secret to self-motivation.

Make a schedule, and stick to it.

Years ago I went to the gym with one of my best friends. It was in our schedules and we motivated each to make sure we went daily. Then his work schedule changed.

Since our schedules no longer clicked, I no longer had my workout buddy. As a result, I stopped going myself. Eventually, however, I changed my schedule too and made exercise a part of my morning routine.

But, it’s just not exercise. I’ve created a schedule for everything. I wake-up early so that I can workout, check my emails, plan my day, and eat breakfast. I also block specific times for certain tasks throughout the day as well.

Of course, I sometimes fall off the schedule-wagon. It takes work and preparation to stay motivated. Generally, motivation doesn’t happen on its own.

By having a schedule, my workdays are essentially on auto-pilot so that I’m not wandering around aimless. Even when I don’t feel like doing something, having that schedule motivates me to get it done.

Create three to four action steps.

Every night I jot down three to four tasks for the following day. These aren’t just my most important tasks, they’re also doable. This way I can cross them off first thing in the morning and move on to whatever else I have to do.

If these tasks aren’t able to be achieved in the time I’ve allotted for them, I break them down into smaller parts. This way I’m not devoting too much time to one specific task. More importantly, it provides some much-needed light at the end of the tunnel.

Reward yourself.

According to the “The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People“:

Researchers find that perceived self-interest, the rewards one believes are at stake, is the most significant factor in predicting dedication and satisfaction toward work. It accounts for about 75 percent of personal motivation toward accomplishment.

– Dickinson 1999

So whenever you cross off an item from your to-do-list, go ahead and give yourself a little reward. For example, if I complete all of my work by Thursday, then I’ll take off on Friday to do something I really enjoy.

But, rewards can also be small. When I complete a task, I might go out for lunch, plan a vacation, or purchase a new book. It’s these little things that keep me going on a daily basis.

Write it down.

Despite the misconception, journaling isn’t just solely for angsty teenagers or wanna-be writers. It’s also an effective way to keep yourself motivated.

This could be keeping track of progress, writing what you’re grateful for, or just jotting down your goals. Writing in your journal clears your head, keeps you focused, and gets you excited.

For example, if you started to workout then you can see that you’ve gone from ten pushups a day to twenty. Sounds, simple, but since you’re seeing the progress you’ve made, you’re going to keep doing those pushups.

Mix things up.

Even though I have a strict routine, you sometimes need to shake things up. After all, doing the same thing every day can get redundant. So if you work from home, then maybe work one of two days at a local coffee shop or co-working space.

Having that change of scenery breaks-up the monotony. But, it can also open-up new channels of inspiration. For instance, being in a co-working space surrounded by like-minded individuals pushes me to crush that day.

Even though the other people working aren’t exactly watching me, I don’t want to be the person watching videos or checking my social media accounts whenever everyone else is hustling.

Don’t go it alone.

Research shows that peer pressure is a good thing. As I just mentioned, working in an environment like a co-working space pushes me to crush it. Even though I’m working alone, being surrounded by motivated people inspires me to hit that home-run. All of the people and ideas help me stay excited and stay on course.

The good news is that you don’t have to just limit yourself to co-working spaces. Take a class to learn something new or enhance your skills. Attend a conference. Or, give your mentor a quick call.

The point is, don’t go it alone. Sometimes you need some outside influence.

Give yourself a break.

No matter how hard you try, there will be days when you’re completely unmotivated. Instead of fighting it, give yourself a break. Stepping away from a task gives you a chance to recharge your batteries and refocus.


Originally published here, by John Rampton.


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