Throughout my life, I always felt like I had a fire going under my ass that motivated me to work hard on the things I was interested in. It wasn’t always a good thing (I often felt bad about myself when I felt like I wasn’t doing enough), but the unbalance pushed me to do things like write novels, learn how to juggle, and memorize the order of a deck of cards. Recently, my friend Amira asked me about this. She has a handful of things she wants to be better at, but she finds it difficult to find the motivation to follow through.
For a long time anger and fear powered me through projects. These emotional stressors made it possible to achieve seemingly impossible things, but in the end this system did not feel sustainable. I wondered if there were ways to avoid being content without destroying my quality of life, and fortunately I found that it is definitely possible.
For the sake of an example, let’s imagine that Amira wants to know more about poetry. Currently, she doesn’t read very much poetry at all, but she is interested in gaining a cursory knowledge of what “good” poetry is. Amira doesn’t know where to start, and in general is more interested in focusing on her career, eating good food, and hanging out with friends. Embarking on a new hobby sounds lovely, but it will take a push to get her to actually pursue this curiosity.
Goal-setting is the easiest way to create unbalance to tip the scales in the direction of change. By sitting down and writing down the things you want to accomplish, and by visualizing the end result, you orient yourself in the right direction for moving towards that goal. It sounds silly and almost every self-help book has its own version of goal-setting, so it’s not even worth recommending just one.
My friend Elliott writes his goals down on Post Its and puts them on his wall so that he sees them every morning. These reminders bring his goals to the forefront of his mind, so that when he sees an opportunity to pursue them, he doesn’t think twice. If you want to learn how to cook, you are less likely to forget about this dream if you spend time each day on visualizing it. It’s very The Secret (google it), but it is a universal tool that helps with first-steps towards growth. As often as you can, conceptualize your end goal.
Solving The Time Problem
The second problem many people face when trying something new is scheduling. Our lives are divvied up into things take time, and usually we are very good at filling up our days with habits, whether the habits are scrolling through Facebook, reading, or hanging out with friends. In college, my friends and I used to joke that if you care enough about something, you will make time to focus on it. “I don’t have enough time” is a legitimate problem, but many instances it is also an excuse.
The quick-and-dirty solution for making time in your schedule is to identify areas where you are currently wasting time, and to instead block out those areas for personal growth. I once heard of a musician who wrote song lyrics every time he felt like scrolling through Facebook, and by doing this he ended up writing nearly hundreds of songs about mundane shit. The shift doesn’t have to be this dramatic, but I am sure by analyzing what you do with every hour of your day, you can find the hours that you could spend more wisely on reading through a book of poetry.
As a footnote, downtime is super important. Relaxing does not always have to be “wasted time.” I find that by allowing myself naps and rests, I come to my projects with more enthusiasm than if I pushed myself continuously in the night, sacrificing sleep and play for personal gain. Again, this is not sustainable, and I bring it up because I learn and re-learn this lesson over and over again.
These are honestly the first steps in starting something new, and it’s easy to forget first steps. We get so lost in our planning and ideation that a lot of the time we get paralyzed and end up doing nothing at all. Visualize the goal and make time, and half the battle is already won. If you still want further reading, there are a wealth of books out there on the subject but these are a couple of my favorites.
- Moonwalking With Einstein (Joshua Foer). Amira! You own this book! This isn’t a self-help book but instead a true story about a man who learns how to be one of the fastest memory-athletes in the nation. There is so much information here about how to become exceptionally good at something in a short period of time that I find it to be indispensable. This book changed my life and also focuses a lot on the idea of the “Ok Plateau”, or the point where you are good at something and what it takes to be great.
- Designing Your Life (Bill Burnett & Dave Evans). I fanboy over this book excessively, and for good reason. This book is the product of Stanford’s most popular class on how to build a life well-lived. The authors focus on demolishing dysfunctional beliefs that hold us back. There are a lot of little worksheets for drawing out your goals and assessing your strengths and weaknesses, and there are so many tools listed for finding your way towards your own definition of achievement.
- Steal Like An Artist (Austin Kleon). Amira! You also own this book! This is book seems like it’s only tangentially related to your problem, but in actuality it is all about starting and finishing creative projects (which is super relevant to you). When I read Steal Like An Artist, I always walk away enthused about all the things I want to do. By helping creators and learners through the trials and woes of producing artwork, Kleon ends up teaching people how to follow through with their aspirations, and how to move through the feeling of being stuck or uninspired.
Hope this helps, Amira! As far as poetry goes, there is so much I want to recommend to you. The best place to probably start if you want to read something accessible and very, very good is Bluets by Maggie Nelson. However, now you have the tools to venture out on your own journey, and I’m sure you’re gonna kick ass.