What 2017 Taught Me About Motivation

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being… Is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’” – Marcus Aurelius, ‘Meditations’.

This year, as in most years in late December, I find myself marvelling over how fast the last 12 months have gone. As the saying goes – the days are long, but the years are short!

When I look back on 2017, I see a time that had its ups and downs, its successes and failures, its new beginnings and losses – much like any year. One of the most valuable lessons 2017 has taught me is how to better focus my energy on the things that matter and how this, in turn, creates motivation.

Action leads to motivation, not the other way around.

I used to think of motivation largely as an outside force that struck at random. Though I never had much trouble summoning up motivation for my work life or family commitments, when it came to passion projects such as writing I spent too long waiting for motivation to come to me. At the end of a long day, low on energy, it was too easy to push writing or other little projects to one side – “I’ll do it when I’m more in the mood”.

The truth is, I had it the wrong way round. Action follows motivation. Establishing a habit helps – getting down 500 words a day of writing, for example. Even if you know you won’t produce a masterpiece every time, eventually your brain will adapt to your new routine and motivating yourself to get to that 500 words (or way beyond) won’t seem like such a mammoth task. The dreaded Writer’s Block won’t have a chance to settle in if you’re producing a steady amount of work each evening, regular as clockwork.

Focus on what you can control; forget the rest.

It sounds obvious, but effort yields the best results when it’s focused only on what you can control. It’s so easy to be sidetracked by events you have no control over, leading to anxiety, over-thinking and a draining of your energy – and therefore your motivation to take the actions you need to.

As for most people, this is a work in progress for me. I spend a lot of mental energy worrying about things with outcomes that are partially, or even entirely, out of my influence. However, once I became consciously aware that I was wasting a lot of time and emotion on this, it became much easier to control; I found myself automatically thinking “is this something I can change?” and switching my focus to the necessary action if so. It was actually very liberating to “let go” of some issues that had been taking up a lot of headspace by realising that ultimately, they weren’t up to me to solve, and my thoughts could be put to better use in the places where they can make a positive difference.

2017 has been an amazing year and I’m feeling very optimistic about the dawning of 2018 in a few days’ time. I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions but working on establishing a regular writing habit and focusing my energy of the things I can control seem like good targets to aim for, all the same.

And if I find myself worrying about something I can’t influence or don’t make my 500 words one day? Well, we’re all a work in progress. As the quote at the beginning of this article proves, even Roman emperors had trouble getting out of bed sometimes.