The Big Idea
Inspiration come from within.
Questions I Answer
- How can I get more motivated?
- Where can I look for inspiration?
- What are some strategies to boost my creativity?
- What do I do if I feel burned out?
Actions to Take
- Learn how to boost your creativity and motivate yourself in Episode 049: How To Boost Your Creativity & Work Effectively
Key Topics in the Show
Working within boundaries to increase freedom & inspiration
Why it’s more about your need for motivation, not inspiration
Measuring your progress to create awareness and challenge yourself
Decrease your risk of burnout with 5 ways you can boost motivation
Shifting your uninspired, unmotivated mindset with small steps
Resources and Links
- 5 Tips on How to Increase Your Motivation:
- Take more breaks. Step away from your computer and reexamine the big picture
- Use past experiences as motivation. This is very similar to visualization… when you think about how you felt after completing work or tasks in the past, it will motivate you.
- Create a pre-game and pre-work routine. This will prime your brain to do specific types of tasks – just like an evening routine.
- Create a sense of teamwork (even if you work alone). Keep yourself accountable, find support and ask for help.
- Start really small. Sometimes we get too caught up in the big picture and it can de-motivate us. Make commitments so small that you can’t fail and build up.
Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press, a podcast focused on finding success and happiness through the power of productivity. Each season, Tanya focuses on specific strategies to help you discover your own priorities and purpose. Season six is all about turning your stumbling blocks into starting blocks. You can also join Tanya for more interaction and support in her free Facebook group at inkwellpress.com/group. And now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.
Hello, hello, everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, owner of inkWELL Press, and this is Episode 70. Today’s episode is brought to you by Blue Apron, and I’ll be sharing later on in the show how you can get a discount on your very first box. I want to start talking, though, about today’s topic, which is waiting for inspiration.
Now, as you know, season six is all about turning our stumbling blocks into our starting blocks, and this is definitely a big one. Have you ever had a big idea, but then you just don’t even want to start? You’re waiting for that rush of inspiration that just never seems to come. And because you feel uninspired, you think, “I can’t move forward.” And we say, “It just must not be the right time,” or, “This idea isn’t any good. If it was, I’d be motivated.” So we wait, and we wait, and we wait for a sign, thinking that at some point miraculously inspiration will strike like a bolt of lightning; that’s all we need, a little bit of motivation. But here’s the hard truth. We don’t need motivation to start moving forward.
It’s true you can’t force inspiration and motivation, but too often we blame our inability to work on a mental block, and we just quit to go do something else, without returning to that work again. And the problem with quitting or taking a lot of breaks is that sitting down and doing the work is always exactly what you need to do to get that inspiration spark and to get yourself moving forward.
As painter and photographer Chuck Close says, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Sometimes the issue here is that it comes down to having too much time on your hands for a task. This is Parkinson’s law, which I discussed a few weeks ago in one of my Weekender episodes. Parkinson’s law states that work will expand to fit the time allowed.
So, in other words, if you give yourself three days to do a one-hour task, guess how long it’s gonna take you. Yup, three days. Not because you stretch the work out and you dive deep into making it amazing. It’s because you spend the first three quarters procrastinating, dreading and avoiding the work. Instead of saying, “I’m not really feeling inspired, but I’m just going to start,” you use that lack of inspiration as an excuse. But inspiration just needs a little bit of a kickstart, and that can come in the form of a deadline.
Think about a time when you had a deadline, and even if you weren’t feeling motivated to write that paper or to finish up that project, it still somehow got done on time, even if that meant that you worked down to the wire. If you create a false
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deadline for yourself that’s sooner than when the work actually needs to be done, and you find real ways to enforce that deadline, then you might actually find yourself pushing through those mental blocks faster than usual.
You probably remember that tip I’ve given before about giving a friend a hundred dollars and telling them that they could keep it if you don’t get your work done in time. I mentioned that I think last season, where that’s a great way to motivate and inspire yourself, right? Because you don’t want to lose that hundred dollars, so you have a little bit of incentive with that deadline.
In the book Creative Block: Advice and Projects from 50 Successful Artists, a recurring piece of advice in dealing with creative blocks is mastering the balance between creative freedom and constraint. So in other words, giving yourself narrow parameters to work in, and just enough room to be free and to be able to explore and play.
Back in Episode 49 we talked about creativity. And while it seems counterintuitive, we talked about the fact that boundaries set you free. Setting limitations can force yourself to think outside the box about the resources you really have available. I shared in that episode the story of how Dr. Seuss actually created one of his most popular books, Green Eggs and Ham, after being challenged by his editor to write an entire book using only 50 different words.
So you see, constraints can direct us to make the best out of what we already have. So adding these boundaries, giving yourself these constraints, really can help you push yourself a little bit further, and that can really help with your inspiration. When you’re not feeling inspired, give yourself boundaries and get to work anyways. Don’t fret about it. Rather than resisting a mental block or looking for an immediate resolution, just keep going, just start anyways.
“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the muse shows up.” That’s what Chilean writer Isabel Allende says. Having a moment of extreme divine inspiration or an aha moment, that’s mostly fantasy. Great outcomes come from hard work and dedication, even when you’re not inspired.
This means that there will be things you work on that just don’t turn out great, and that’s okay too. The first step is really getting yourself going, getting the motivation to start moving forward. Inspiration will follow. And it’s that motivation that we really need. It’s not really so much about the inspiration. It’s getting to motivation to just get up off of that couch and start moving.
There are two kinds of motivation: external and internal. External motivation is from factors outside of yourself, things like deadlines that others have set, earning a raise or a promotion, or helping others. Internal motivation comes from within you, so it comes from inside of yourself. Maybe you want to do something for the pure enjoyment of it, or maybe it’s making something for yourself, or it’s connected to your North Star.
The problem is, too often we tend to rely on our external motivation, and that can be unreliable since those factors are out of our control. Longterm, we really want
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to rely more on internal motivation. We already rely on it for a lot of things. For example, we eat because we’re hungry. We go to bed early because we’re tired and we know that sleep will make us feel better. These are things we are motivated to do for ourselves, so we know we have that internal motivation, and therefore we have inspiration there too, because motivation leads to inspiration.
The Goldilocks rule is that we experience peak motivation when we’re working on tasks that are right on the edge of our current abilities, whereas tasks that are too hard or even too easy feel discouraging. So we really want to find that sweet spot of pushing ourselves a little bit.
Working on tasks that we perceive to be at a suitable level of difficulty is also a major source of happiness, so there’s two bonuses there: a little bit of motivation and a little bit of happiness. So to figure out where this peak motivation is, we need to measure our progress and figure out what exactly is too hard and what is too easy. Measure your progress as you work, and see what feels just right at different points. As you grow and learn, this peak will continue to grow as well, so we need to create a real awareness of where our abilities are, and see our wins.
You want to start with a challenge that feels manageable. So this could be as simple as two minutes of work. Then stop and measure your progress, and build the challenge up as you go. Just keep repeating that process again and again. And you’ll start to see that motivation and inspiration will begin to follow as you challenge yourself and push yourself against those boundaries you’ve created. I’m going to share with you five ways to create your internal motivation and turn that into a starting block. But first, I want to give a quick word to our sponsor.
Blue Apron is a weekly meal delivery program that I have been using myself for several years. It’s my go-to to help make hectic weeks feel a little less stressful. I simply choose the recipes I think my family will like, and all the ingredients are delivered to my door. I love that it’s so convenient. The instructions for all the meals are easy to follow, so if you’re looking for a quick and simple meal solution, give them a try. And they’re offering a $30 discount to my listeners. Just go to inkwellpress.com/blueapron to grab your discount. No code needed. It really is that easy.
Okay, let’s talk about five ways to create your own internal motivation. I want you to take this stumbling block and turn it into a starting block, because burnout is considered an epidemic in the modern workplace, that feeling of mental and physical exhaustion when your work demands exceed the energy you have to spend.
There’s no question we’re at a greater risk of burnout today than ever before. We’re surrounded by devices that are designed to grab our attention and make everything feel urgent. So we exhaust ourself and we give in to that lack of motivation and drive. I want us to figure out how to put a little bit of gas back in our tank, and I’ve got an easy way to do it. I have a free download to make it even easier for you. Just go to inkwellpress.com/podcast and look under Episode 70. I’ve got a free download that you can grab that will help you get a little more motivated.
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The download goes through all five of these steps, but let’s go ahead and take a few minutes to go through each of them right now. Let’s dive into the first one: take more breaks. Productivity expert Ron Friedman recommends taking regular breaks throughout your day, like taking a walk, having lunch away from your desk, anything that gets you to step away from your computer and re-examine the big picture. When he’s working on a big project, one of the things he does is he moves his office temporarily to the gym. He shared with me that he works for a while on his research, and then he builds in his break for exercise. He literally moves his workspace to a place that’s conducive for him taking these brain breaks. He grabs his computer, takes it to the gym and when he needs a break, jumps on a treadmill. And he says it’s often in the intervals between thinking really hard about a problem and then stepping away that the solutions become apparent.
There’s something to be said for taking a break and looking at the bird’s-eye view and really taking into account what the problems really are. That can make a huge difference. So, plan a break, something that you can really look forward to. We know that anticipation is often the most enjoyable part of an experience. So schedule something that feels restorative to you. It’s something you can look forward to, and that will often reignite your motivation. Research shows that doing an activity that you find interesting, even if it uses mental or physical energy, is better for you than just relaxing on the couch and watching TV. Doing something that challenges your brain will ultimately give you more energy.
The second tip is use past experiences as your motivation. In a study of college students, researchers found that asking students to think of a positive memory of them exercising in the past made those students more motivated to exercise in the future. And they were more likely to act on that motivation and actually get up and exercise more. They didn’t need external encouragement from the researchers.
Another group was asked to think of a negative memory of exercising in the past. This also caused the students to exercise more. According to the study, thinking about any memory, positive or negative, of exercising in the past provided the motivation to exercise in the future.
So this process is very similar to visualization, where you want to remember as many details as possible in your memory. Where was it? How did you feel before? How did you feel afterwards? What did you get accomplished? So think about the times in the past when you’ve completed similar work. How did you feel once it was completed? Take a few minutes to think back and reflect on that memory and see if that doesn’t push your motivation a little bit further.
The third thing you can do is create a little pre-work routine, kind of like a pregame warmup. Athletes don’t always feel like playing every scheduled game, so many of them have a pregame routine that they go through to get themselves psyched up. They want to get themselves into game mode, even when they don’t feel like it. Think about when you’re watching athletes warm up before a game, whether it’s football, or basketball, or swimming. Most of them go through a series of exercises that they do again and again. This is part of their routine to get their mind focused on what they need to be doing. So if you can create a routine that you
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always do before a certain type of work, this will prime your brain to get ready for that type of work, just like an evening routine primes your brain for sleep.
And here’s a few rules when creating a routine. Make it easy enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re putting in a ton of effort to go through the routine. It can be as simple as drinking a glass of water and putting on a specific playlist on your phone. Include some physical movement. Even if the task doesn’t require physical movement, moving around a little bit, getting your body moving, even just doing some stretches, can help your body wake up, get your blood pumping, and it helps get your brain out of that unmotivated slump. So what you want to do is you want to figure out what’s a routine that works for you. And then repeat it every single time so your routine starts to feel natural and it’s connected to that work that happens after it. The routine will start to take over, and that will put your mind and your body in the right place.
The fourth thing you can do is create a sense of teamwork, even if you’re working alone. A study on enhancing performance split participants into two groups, and they gave everyone a puzzle to work on. Everyone was going to work on their puzzle alone, but participants in group one were told that they were working in teams, and they were introduced to their teammates before they started working on their puzzle. The other group was told that they’d be working alone, and they didn’t meet any teammates. While working on the puzzle, those in the team group were given handwritten notes from their teammates. Really though, those notes were from the researchers. They weren’t actually on a team; they were working alone. But what the study found was those people who thought they were part of a team ended up working 50% longer trying to solve the puzzle. And they found it to be more fun and interesting than participants who were told they were working alone, even though in reality all the participants were working alone. So there’s a lot to be said for growing these team mentality.
So what you can do is you can create some accountability and support even if you’re working alone. Find a support network and ask others to hold you accountable to your goal. That will help you along the way. Even when you don’t feel like working on your goal, if you have someone checking in with you it’s going to make a huge difference.
Make sure that you’re able to ask for help when you’re not feeling motivated. Call upon that support network and tell them that you’re having trouble, and ask for some advice. Have them hold you accountable for completing the next, smallest possible step, and see if that doesn’t help you feel a little bit more motivated.
The fifth thing that you can do is start really small. Sometimes we get so caught up in the big picture, and we demotivate ourselves because we think we have to do everything all at once. Instead, complete the smallest step possible. Just make the tiniest movement forward, and it can make a world of difference. Let’s say you want to get healthier through exercise. Just commit to a five-minute walk outside just to start. Don’t worry about the hour-long workouts. Make a commitment so small that you cannot fail. That will really encourage you to continue to grow those commitments. So you can commit to just that little goal. If you’re trying to accomplish too many goals at once, you can easily become overwhelmed and lose
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motivation, your energy, and your focus. Pick one goal. Focus completely on it for now. You can always return to the other goals when that first goal is completed.
When you start to build up this motivation, it seems to grow exponentially. So once you accomplish one goal, you’re going to be encouraged to accomplish the next, and so on. It’s a little bit of that domino effect we’ve talked about before. We can build on those small successes. Because once you’re reliably completing these small steps, then you can start to challenge yourself a little bit. Try five minutes of walking and two minutes of jogging. Or if your challenge is to work, just work for five minutes at a time and then take a break. And then build that to 15 minutes. The key is to reward yourself so you feel successful. Even if the big picture doesn’t feel like those small steps account to much, it really can make a difference.
When you’re feeling uninspired, focus on those benefits, not the difficulties. This goes back to that idea of thinking about the big picture too much and everything that possibly has to get done, and then you just don’t want to do it at all. It becomes so overwhelming you just can’t even think about it. Instead, think about what you’ll do once the goal’s accomplished. Think about how good you’ll feel when you’re done. And those benefits will start to energize you to keep you going.
Go back to your why, go back to your foundation, and connect your current assignment with a larger personal goal. Focus on why the work matters to you, and you’ll find that extra motivation to get through the work. Stop waiting for inspiration. Start making it for yourself. Turn the stumbling block into a starting block. And I promise you, once you get that motivation going, you’re not gonna be able to stop.
To help you with that, don’t forget to grab that free download at inkwellpress.com/podcast and look under Episode 70. The download will make it even easier to stop waiting for inspiration to happen and just start making it happen on your own.
Next week on the podcast, we are going to be asking the question, are you a self-interrupter? And we’ll be talking about how to turn that stumbling block into a starting block. And this week’s mini episode, The Weekender, that will be launching on Friday, and it’s all about shipwrecks of Sri Lanka. So see what that has to do with your stumbling blocks. I’ll be anxious to have you listen.
In the meantime, I want to encourage you to sign up for my email list. When I have a free download like I did today, that will get emailed to you automatically, so when the episode goes live, you have everything you need to get started. You can join my email list at inkwellpress.com/podcastemail. I’d love to see you on the list. All right, until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To join Tanya’s free group, simply go to inkwellpress.com/group.