Staying motivated is problem that is both simple and complicated at the same time. It’s simple because the key to staying motivated is to find what drives you and connect that to whatever you do. It’s complicated because if that advice worked all the time, you wouldn’t ever fall into a slump.
Anyone who’s started a project longer than three weeks can tell you that motivation isn’t the problem. Finding something that drives you to get started isn’t hard. The difficulty comes when, several months later, you need to keep going. Where does motivation come from, and how can you make it last?
Static and Dynamic Motivation
The reason staying motivated is hard, I believe, is because we make the mistake that all motivation is the same. The motivation to get started and the motivation to get finished are actually quite different. Trying to pursue one when you need the other pushes you into a slump.
As a quick aside, I arrived at these ideas after reading Robert Pirsig’s book, Lila. It’s the intellectual sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and it’s definitely worth reading. In this book, Pirsig discusses the idea that reality is based on Dynamic and Static Quality. I’d like to extend his idea into the realm of what drives people.
The two types of motivation I’m referring to are dynamic and static motivation.
Dynamic motivation: this is the force that causes you to get started and try new things. Another way of describing this form of motivation would be enthusiasm. When you are starting on something new, you’re probably running entirely on dynamic motivation.
The problem is that dynamic motivation can’t last. It’s based on novelty and it quickly hits it’s expiry date. No matter how motivated you are, you can’t keep the same level of enthusiasm for weeks and months. The newness is gone and you’re left with finishing what you’ve started.
Static motivation: this is the quiet motivation of routine and habits. It’s the motivation that comes from doing something enjoyable and familiar. You may not feel thrilled, but you quietly build the motivation to continue what you’re doing.
The problem with static motivation is that it can’t let you do anything new. It doesn’t provide the energy to start ambitious projects and make sweeping changes. But at the same time, it doesn’t burn out after a week.
Stop Relying on Dynamic Motivation to Get Work Done
I would argue that these two different forms of motivation are not really emotional states. Rather, they are more like skills that can be practiced. You wouldn’t say being productive or organized is an emotional state, so why would you claim being motivated is just a mood?
Some people are skilled with dynamic motivation. They find it easy to get excited about new projects and ideas. Some people are skilled at finding static motivation. These people find it easy to continue working hard on the same projects, day after day.
Problems occur, however, when people skilled at finding dynamic motivation, uses it to replace static motivation. They will keep searching for novelty and enthusiasm as a source of drive. As a result, it will be incredibly hard to stay attached to one project without bouncing towards another.
Staying motivated requires more than just enthusiasm. It means that a shift needs to take place once the enthusiasm starts to wear off. Once the initial novelty is gone, you need to replace that dynamic motivation with a longer-lasting, static drive. That static drive comes in the form of habits, routines and the smaller rewards of steady progress.
The Shift From Dynamic to Static
If you want to have lasting motivation, you need to become sensitive to when a shift is necessary. When you’re working on a project, you need to pay attention to when your enthusiasm starts wearing off. This is the time when you need to start building habits that can make the motivation last.
A good example of this transition is in blogging. When many new writers start a website, they will write prolifically for a few weeks. The novelty of blogging makes it hard not to write several posts a week.
But after the honeymoon phase is over, the enthusiasm wears off. Great bloggers were able to handle this phase by transitioning into a smooth posting routine. By building up the habit of a steady posting rate, they could rely on that habit to keep going. The static motivation that comes from the satisfaction of publishing another article replaced the dynamic motivation drawn from the novelty of blogging.
I’ve been writing and blogging for over two years now. After over 500 articles, the novelty of writing starts to wear off. The key to making the motivation last is finding the smaller joys that come from writing regularly.
Dynamic or Static Motivation Traps
Neither form of motivation are bad, they just serve completely different purposes. You won’t have the energy to make sweeping changes by establishing a routine. Dynamic motivation is necessary for getting started. However, if you overuse it midway through a project, you might have difficulty finishing.
Look for the transition point in your own projects. Notice when the enthusiasm starts to fade. Instead of rushing to fill that gap with another new project, build in habits that will provide static motivation. Habits and routines may not sound sexy. But they don’t need to be sexy to keep you motivated.
Images from iStockPhoto.