Posts Tagged ‘motivation’

“Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I have been re-reading bits of Letters to a Young Poet and then I found this cool site called zenpencils.com that illustrates quotations and poems in a comic-like style, and they recently did this Rilke quotation, and it seemed timely. So here we are. (The latest one they did is a Lang Leav one, which I also highly recommend, especially because I love Lang Leav’s poetry.)


It’s nice to think about living into an answer, but I think we are always living our questions. And the answers simply lead to more questions. Sometimes life seems to me to be one giant experiment. You can follow blueprints left by other people, some of which are more detailed than others. Or you can strike off on your own and see what happens. But it’s all about questions, starting with the simple “What will happen next?”

I ran into a friend at a party some time ago, and he said he reads the blog from time to time, and he told me how idyllic it seemed, that I got to sit around and ponder the big questions. And I do. That’s exactly what I do. I spend a lot of time sitting around and thinking. So here’s another question for you: Why? Why do I sit around and ponder the big questions? And why do I get to do this? And does it have any outward effect whatsoever?

I’m reading a book about playwriting, and I have learned that the “action” of the play is what the characters want. This idea will be familiar to anyone who has studied any kind of storytelling for more than a few months. (Weeks? I don’t remember, I just remember it is foundational.) So then some of the other questions we live are “What do we want?” and “Are we going to get it?” and “Are we going to keep it?” and “Is it going to change?”

I spent several hours on the phone this past weekend with a friend who is going through a break-up after spending more than twenty years not being single. “Friends aren’t the same,” this person told me. “I feel so alone.” And I felt a jolt of surprise that this was a revelation, even though after twenty years, of course it was. Yes, being single means being alone in a different way. How do we become okay with this? How did I come to this almost benign acceptance of yes, that is really how it is? And then another question: who am I when I’m alone? Who am I when I’m not fulfilling a role that is at least partially defined by my relationship to someone else?

These are questions that have been occupying my spare moments lately. Who am I when I strip everything away? When I put aside relationships to friends, family, a lover? When I subtract job and career and calling? When I suspend my hobbies, my interests? When I forget about my past? When I am no longer concerned with status, power, wealth, influence, and ego? Who am I then?

Who am I then? I am living that question. Maybe nothing, maybe everything. I am present. I am living into answers that will give me more questions, and my curiosity will be my fuel.

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Hope as Fuel

Let’s talk about hope today, shall we?

One of my friends posted this great thought about hope on Facebook, which I cannot share with you word-for-word because privacy, but he basically talked about the importance of maintaining a store of hope in order to continue accomplishing things in life. And then another friend texted me about hope a day or two later, and I said, “Yeah, I’m going to blog about this now.”

Hope really can be quite useful, I think particularly for more long-lasting and slow-to-reach goals and desires and projects. I don’t need hope to do small daily tasks around the house, but I do need hope to keep writing, for example. Without hope, it would be so much harder to discipline myself to work and do things that I find unpleasant or difficult.

So then, how do we cultivate hope? And not false hope that might keep us stuck, but rejuvenating, inspirational hope?

  1. We can do our best to be cognizant of progress. Instead of focusing only (or even primarily) on a big end goal, if we can be aware of what we have achieved, this maintains hope. It can be hard to notice these smaller shifts and achievements, but being able to identify progress I’ve made keeps me inspired to keep spending effort.
  2. We can give ourselves things to look forward to. I’m a huge practitioner of this one. If I don’t have anything at all to look forward to in the next six months, something has probably gone horribly awry with my life because I always make sure I have something, and usually the more somethings, the better. I often use trips for this purpose, but really there’s a lot of choice here: events, holidays, birthdays, parties, concerts, plays, movies, food, friend time, books, a day with nothing scheduled, and so on.
  3. We can reframe. Catching our negative thoughts and figuring out how to transform them into less harmful ones (or even actively positive ones) cultivates a smoother state of mind and, you guessed it, more hope.
  4. We can help other people. There is something about building connection that creates hope. It can pull us out of ourselves and remind us of the things we think are important.
  5. We can choose to celebrate other people’s successes. Your friend reaches a goal that you desperately want to hit yourself. Here is your choice: take your friend’s success as a reminder that the goal IS possible and celebrate with her, or feel unhappy with yourself for not being there yet. The first one builds hope; the second tears yourself down.
  6. We can remind ourselves of the inevitability of change. All things change, and so in this sense, there is always hope. Not of a specific outcome, necessarily, but sometimes all we need to is to know that things can be different.
  7. We can attempt to be flexible. Speaking of specific outcomes, the less attached we can be to specifics and the more we can adjust to what’s going on around us, the easier it is for us to maintain a general feeling of hope.

Hope without action is empty, but hope combined with action keeps us motivated to continue working towards our goals.

What do you do to replenish your stores of hope?

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Does publicly stating our goals make us more accountable and therefore more likely to achieve them? According to some recent research, no, not as much as we may think. Apparently sharing a goal publicly sometimes actually decreasesour commitment to it. In addition, we feel we’ve made more progress towards the goal just through the act of sharing it, without taking any other action whatsoever, therefore making us more likely to feel complacent or like we don’t need to work as hard.I bring up this little tidbit of research because I’ve seen lots of advice saying the exact opposite. I’ve been advised that sharing my daily word count, both target and actual number, can help my productivity. I’ve seen people sharing their monthly fitness challenges and their target weight numbers. Even my routine of blogging twice a week is a public commitment of sorts. The tried and true advice seems to be that if you wish to finish a project, tell someone about it and that way if you don’t do it, you’ll feel bad–hopefully bad enough that you’ll actually push yourself through it.Yeah, and that works so well with New Year’s resolutions…

Increasing accountability can be a wonderful tool. I have many friends who take exercise classes or work with a trainer on a regular schedule to keep themselves exercising. Music lessons work in the same way; after we have paid the money and form a working relationship with our instructor/trainer, we have greater incentive to “get our money’s worth” and work harder for our instructor’s praise. Other people make their business goals public and are thus able to gain valuable PR, build tribes (aka fan bases), and raise capital. Sharing goals can also be a great way to bond with a community.

However, I question whether external validation, pressure, and support are enough. Perhaps they’ll give us a boost when we need one and help get us through the hard times. But we shouldn’t forget the importance of internal commitment. How highly do we value our goals, and do we value ourselves highly enough to see them through? What do we actually care about? How can we best support ourselves? And at what point do we need to reevaluate our goals and adjust as necessary?

I don’t think the answer is to eschew public goal-making altogether. Rather, I think it’s important to pay attention and make sure that stating our aims publicly is having the desired effect. If we realize that telling other people what we mean to do is making us feel like we’ve accomplished more than we have, we can compensate for that fact by giving ourselves “extra” to do. If we realize that we often share plans that we don’t follow through on, then we can stop sharing and see if there’s a noticeable difference. If we have systems in place that work well at increasing our accountability, then we can keep on doing what works.

We are not cookie-cutter creatives; we are not one-size-fits-all human beings. As a result, so much advice and so many rules turn out to be over-simplifications. When thinking advice over and deciding on a best course of action, here’s what I try to remember: do what works.

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