Three Things You Need to Stay Motivated to Do Anything

According to recent research, there are three key factors to achieving success in nearly anything we do: autonomy, value, and competence.  In an article written by Daisy Yuhas of the magazine Scientific American Mind (“So You Want To Be A Genius”), research has determined that these factors improve a person’s determination to succeed.  They essentially breakdown in this way:

Autonomy – this is the sense we have of control of, and the decision to engage in, an activity in the first place.  By willingly investing effort into the activity we are much more likely to complete it because it is something we want to do rather than something we have to do.  When we want to do something we tend to have much more energy and devotion to doing it, and thus are more likely to complete it.

Value – this is a factor we assign to things that we find important and/or meaningful.  In the creative life, we want to believe in the value of our creation, and in maintaining this value we naturally want to complete the work and share it with others.  Without a sense of value in doing something there is no reason to do it, and thus the work becomes tedious by virtue of it’s pointlessness, and lacking a motivating factor, including the faith that we will find meaning in the end, the project is most likely to fail.

Competence – this is the sense that we, the individual artist, have the skills and ability to do the thing at hand.  Without this sense of competence there is an eventual frustration when we are faced with difficult hurdles in the process.  The adage “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right” fits here.  If the creative mind does not believe in, or at least have a sense of, its own competence, then the project is likely to fail for a lack of confidence regardless of the potential of the idea, the artist, or both.

For the beginner the challenge of competence is perhaps the most acute.  Competence feeds both autonomy and value because without a sense of competence there can be no faith in the value of the work, and without a sense of value there is little to no sense of autonomy.  We humans cannot control and manage the things we are incompetent in, and because of that we must focus first of all on building our competence, and our confidence, before we can hope to infuse meaning (value) and authority (autonomy) into our work.

And how does one gain competence in a skill?  For the writer there are only two avenues: reading and writing.  When I began composing my current novel I had to return to the old books I knew, the old motivators that led to the creation of the ideas that were in my head. But my current work is science fiction while my genre background was previously fantasy and horror. Even more distant, I have spent the last decade-and-a-half engaged in literary ventures. I had to turn to science fiction as a newbie just to begin to get an idea of what I was trying to write, and how it should be written. My sense of competence was low. Because of an established sense of autonomy, however – a sense garnered through other writing and teaching successes, not to mention the wisdom that comes with age – I had the confidence in my ability that many others lack as they set out to try something new. From there I built competence through reading, and continue to do so through revision of what I hope will be a most excellent piece of adventure fiction that is also meaningful to the reader. If you are struggling with any or perhaps all of the above, I urge you to work first on competence. The rest will follow quite naturally.

So where do you sit in the realm of autonomy, value, and competence? Do you struggle with one or more of these aspect(s)? Sound off here with your thoughts and questions.


Your Resolutions Should Be Daily

There’s a popular tradition this time of year to make resolutions as if the date of January 1 somehow holds significance above any other first day of the rest of your life.  I suppose, in fairness, that for some people the new year provides the opportunity to commit, finally, to getting on with something and hopefully sticking to it.  If this is you, then by all means get on with it already.  Once you cross that threshold, however, you must ask yourself: what is the plan to keep it going from here?

I heard a quote recently which stated that “success is entirely dependent upon consistency of purpose.”  I believe the key word here is “consistency.”  Nothing is more consistent than daily practice, but before our mind slips off into some other distracted thought about how boring daily effort can be, note very quickly that the intent of this effort is success. Diligence, in other words, breeds success.  And whatever your definition of success, it is primarily through a diligent effort that your success will come.  Think about how diligent you may have already been up to this point being utterly inconsistent.  I imagine you’ve been wildly successful at being unsuccessful, am I right? 

The thing about the creative life – that is, living with creative purpose, as an artist of one or many sorts – is that the creative urge is already constantly present.  Even when we do nothing about it there are thoughts, ideas, images, and inspirations coursing through us with their own energy.  Our goal as creatives is to cast our net and collect a few of these things as they pass by, to do this every day, even if only in play, or by making small notes. Part of the creative life is being the conduit for expression of the whims of the subconscious and, depending on your cosmic views, the messages of god, or the visions of the Universe. We give ourselves too much credit to think we are the sole originator of creation, and in realizing that we are more so the stewards of creative eloquence, stewards of the gift of artistic expression which we allow to pass through us, we realize, too, that we have an obligation to continue our work without ceasing.  So god speaks, so we listen and do that bidding.

Our resolutions are not something to make once per year with a weak hope that somehow they will stick to us without effort on our part.  No, we must resolve to commit daily to the creative process, commit to allowing the vespers of creative vision to flow over and through us, in obedience to a higher calling to the life of beauty, of art, and of expression.  This is how we must think of these things.  The artist is blessed by a certain magic, a mystical spirit that is invisible to some, frightening to others.  The greatest grievance the creative person makes is to neglect this spirit and do nothing, to grow bored and dismiss the calling as whimsy.  Of course it is whimsy!  Creation is play, it is discovery and enlightenment.  But creation is also serious, deserving of proper treatment and all of our effort.

Our resolutions should be made daily, with no mind of the years that go by, nor of the hours we spend fulfilling our duty to the creative life.  Rest, play, live – but always, always return to the creative work.  Dabble, pick, start and stop, then go forward.  Persevere and be bold.  Wake committed, in the smallest, most guarded part of your mind, to do something creative this day and the next, and the next beyond that.  Be resolved, as you said you would.  Do not count the cost.