Driven to Distraction – Staying motivated in these uncertain times
It seems we live in a world of constant distractions and interruptions. How does one ignite and remain motivated with our attention bombarded with stimuli and overloading our senses? Read on.
First of all, I want to wish everyone a very happy Easter and Good Friday, it was strange not seeing the usual hordes of travellers venturing south for the break, but welcoming, as it seems people are listening to the advice to stay home.
This week’s entry came about from a conversation I had earlier in the week and I thought I’d reiterate and expand on a few ideas around maintaining or rekindling motivation for activities amidst the life endless interference in modern society, particularly more so now.
Motivation is linked with behaviour because it’s always about an incentive to do something. Motivation can be thought of as having a biological component, a learned (or social) component and a cognitive component. Now, I’m not going to bore you all with a whole lot of theories, but it is important to remember that motivation is a multifaceted concept sometimes involving many reinforcement or punishment (increase or decrease behaviour), positive or negative (add or withdraw stimulus) and approach or avoid (reward or escape) mechanisms.
So, back to the question at hand.
There’s nothing worse when you are fully present and in the zone with an activity and something or someone interrupts your flow and then the struggle begins to get back into the rhythm, mood and frame of mind you were just in. It’s difficult isn’t it? For a few possible reasons; one, the interruption has put you into a negative state of emotion (or at least reduced/removed the positivity), two, you start to anticipate when the next disruption will be, and three, your mind is now distracted and thinks about other things you need, could or want to be doing. Then, afterwards, our motivation to continue with the activity has waned and sometimes we don’t have the same energy or enthusiasm to do the same task/activity again as we now have anticipatory anxiety or dread about being interrupted and removed from what we’re doing, which in some cases turns out to be worse than the interruption itself, thus we become less motivated and you can see how easily this snowballs until your motivation levels reaches those equivalent to a Sisyphean task.
One way of dealing with this dilemma, I utilise the wise words of Viktor Frankl; psychiatrist, holocaust survivor, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” and founder of Logotherapy, “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” In essence, we are forced to adapt our behaviour and transform our attitude towards our circumstances. For example, you may have to learn to do whatever it is you are wanting to do in a shorter time span or in bursts if you know that you’re unlikely to have significant uninterrupted time to yourself.
Another way of maintaining motivation is to schedule in blocks of time and stick to it. This helps to prepare yourself psychologically to know that you are going to do said task/activity between ‘here and here’ because then:
a) You can look forward to it
b) Know you’re not missing out
So, you have the reward mechanism energising your motivation and you then remove the anxiety of “FOMO” (fear of missing out).
Alternatively, you could set conditions to limit the possibilities for interruptions/distractions to the greatest extent, which will help create conditions to facilitate staying in the zone or on task. This is a good method for self-management and if you are then distracted by something else realise that it is external and you have no control of it so don’t worry. A stoic approach if you will – control what you can control.
Everything I’ve said so far pertains to the person knowing what they’re doing and why, but it’s possible you may be having a moment’s self-reflection and realise you don’t actually know what you’re aiming at. Targets and goal setting can help with motivation, where you outline what is it that you wish to do, why and how am I going to do it (SMART principle – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely). Ask yourself what levels (of success) am I prepared to accept? Am I willing to do it for a shorter time or in bursts or am I willing to sacrifice something else in order to do it for the time I want to? And you truly have to be in agreeance with yourself on this or it won’t work and you’ll just make excuses or you’ll get bitter and resentful about it. It’s very easy to be so far along doing the jigsaw that one does not take a step back to make sure it is coming along nicely. Take a breath, take stock and see if you’re still going down the right garden path.
If you’re struggling with motivation, even if you’re not, remember what was the reason and/or when was the last time you enjoyed said task/activity and why you enjoy it, and what about it specifically. Is it the feelings that it gives you? Does it give you peace of mind and a chance to recharge? Is it mentally stimulating an interest? Is it moving you closer towards a goal and/or increasing your skills/knowledge? Is it the environment that it's associated with that makes it pleasurable and rewarding? Be specific.
One last thing, as this is turning into another thesis, it is better to be intrinsically motivated (internally) than extrinsic (external). This is because it increases the likelihood of maintaining your motivation and for whatever it is that you’re doing to deeply mean something to you, thus strengthening the intensity of the motivation.
I was up at 4:30am writing this, and have since had a plethora of distractions – see I’m not immune! – but I felt like retired Navy Seal Jocko Willink who takes a photo every morning at this time smashing a gym session. Now there’s a man who knows a thing or two about motivation, his voice alone would motivate a thousand men haha!