Seeds of Motivation

If you’re bored, do something for someone else.

Helen Nelson (Age 92) on knitting 30 scarves for the homeless during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Dateline: December 22, 2020

I shy away from that advice because focusing my energies on others is, too often, a way of avoiding my own work. Putting other’s priorities ahead of my own feels noble, doesn’t it? And that sense of do-gooder satisfaction obscures my evasions. Or I pretend it does; more often I harbor resentment. “I can never do my stuff because…” And the list of blame I lay elsewhere is long and endless: work, school, children, parents, house-keeping, yard work, paying bills.

Doing something for others can be a form of procrastination; however, it can also be a source of motivation. As usual this year, I’m slow to get into “the Christmas Spirit”. I didn’t feel much like baking our usual Christmas treats. But then I promised to deliver Christmas dinner boxes to two people. Suddenly, I’m in the kitchen wondering what else I could bake. What would make a good box of treats. It is easier to do things I don’t like if I’m doing them for someone else.

So why is it so difficult to focus on my own projects, when I am able to do difficult projects at work that are much more involved and can take months to complete? Why was it easy to write up a lot of quick posts on Google+ than it is to blog, anymore?

What is necessary to get me beyond the pondering and day-dreaming stage to the stage where I combine my thoughts into a coherent whole? I think the essential ingredients for motivation are three:

  • Audience
  • Deliverable
  • Deadline

The missing ingredient in most of my personal projects is having an audience. I identify action items and set deadlines. But with only myself to please, the work often outweighs the satisfaction of any deliverable.

My one big successful project this year was typing up my mother’s notes about her own mother and creating a book with photographs for her. I worked hard to get it done because I knew there would be a handover.