The Perils of Motivation

I finally read Pressfield’s The War of Art after having read and listened to numerous references to the book over the past six years. It was everything the recommenders had promised it to be. I had never felt more motivated after finishing the book. It made me want to grunt and beat my chest, as I prepared to face my recently discovered enemy. Of course, I always knew something was there, holding me back, telling me that I would never do anything special. However, Pressfield revealed it as the ultimate adversary and gave it a name, theResistance.”

You might suspect, upon finishing the book, I used my new found motivation to write up a storm or begin another creative task that I had been eyeing. However, around the same time as I finished the book, my writing ran as dry as it ever. I certainly do not regret reading it, as the Resistance is an iconic reference in the creative community. Additionally, I do not want to blame the book for my lack of action, but the motivation did me no good. If motivation doesn’t matter, then what does?

I had to think deeply about why I stopped writing entirely for over two months after writing more than I ever had in my life over the course of the previous six months. I certainly could not stand to place blame on a book and an empowered feeling. Upon reflection, I realized I had replaced my morning habit of writing with another practice, lifting. I had recently recovered from an injury and discovered that I didn’t enjoy lifting in the evening as much as the morning and found it difficult to get started. I did not have much of an evening habit for those evenings that weren’t consumed by table tennis or lifting. Eventually, my evening habit came back to one of my old addictions, video games. I would always tell myself to write in the evenings, but by the time I would get home from work, I genuinely felt like I had nothing to say. Even ideas that crossed my mind while falling asleep or thoughts that excited me while at work were no longer interest. Instead, I would eat and watch something or try to eat and play games (a bad idea). Despite my chest thumping, most evenings, I decided to play for an hour. As you might suspect, the hour usually turned into two, and eventually, only the lack of sleep would force me away. The Resistance won nearly every day, despite my continual promises of a better tomorrow.

You probably figured out what matters by now from my previous paragraph. You are what you continually do which (for the most part) is determined by your habits. Motivation can become pernicious if it inspires some binge of a good thing which can lead to burnout. The burnout will only stall your development of a habit. Additionally, like in my case, it can make you feel good when you have accomplished very little. I don’t have many psychological tricks to develop habits, but the most important thing I can recommend is to think of your primary goal(s) and do at least one thing to work towards your goal(s) every day, no matter how small. I believe this can help you discover things which will soon become habits. The solution is pretty obvious for a writer; write every day, no matter the lack of inspiration. Even if it is only five minutes of painfully bad writing, it will help build a habit to armor you for your war of art.

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