Archive for September, 2010


Inspiration is Perishable


Over the last week, I’ve outlined two blog posts that have excited me, about topics that I think are important and I feel I have something worth saying about. The problem is that now that I have some time to actually write them, I just don’t have the motivation to do so.

The title of this post comes from a short essay in a great book called Rework, by Jason Fried and David Hennemeier Hanson of the company 37Signals. The idea is to act on your inspiration when it strikes because it won’t be here tomorrow, no matter how potent it might be right now. If that means working well into the night, rearranging your plans, whatever, then go for it.

There’s definitely merit to this idea, but it’s not really practical in most situations. I write this blog in the margins of my life, mostly on the weekends and in the subway to and from work. It’s necessarily a secondary priority to my job and my girlfriend. If the only way I could do good work on the blog was to drop everything else, I would choose not to do good work.

So I am often in the position of having to return to work I’ve started earlier, and that brings me to the question of why the motivation perishes. I think it’s this: motivation results from a belief that you have something worthwhile to gain from taking an action. To truly be motivated, that needs to exist not just as words in your mind but as a clear and tangible vision of what you have to gain and how, the clearer and more tangible the better. The challenge is that this vision depends on a lot of supporting factors, including your recent experiences with the problem, experiences of your own success in related circumstances, relevant knowledge you have about the moving parts. All of this was in your head at the time of the inspiration. In the meantime, other experiences, facts, and thoughts have taken their place.

So I am often in the position of having to return to work I’ve started earlier, and there are two simple strategies I follow.

1) Give up and move on.

This is a variant on “Inspiration is perishable.” If I don’t have the inspiration for what I said I’d do before, what do I have the inspiration for? That’s actually the strategy I am successfully doing in this post. I had something outlined about interactions with others, but it’s been four days since I was confused by a coworker that I thought was too flippantly dismissive of another coworker’s perspective, and I’ve moved on. Maybe I’ll write about how to think about others’ opinions the next time a similar situation comes up. In the meantime, my outline has been captured, so some progress has been made should I return.

2) Commit to ten minutes.

The secret of this is that it helps to recreate the original mindset, those experiences with the problem and your own successes, all that relevant knowledge. This may sound like a lot of work, but I think for a lot of people, this happens fairly automatically when they actually force themselves to sit down again. The inner monologue sounds something like, “Okay, let’s get this over with. What was I trying to do again? Okay, I wanted to write a blog post about dismissing others. Why was that again? Oh, yeah, Jane was making fun of George’s good idea. Why does she do that? I think it’s because she’s just so focused on checking things off that she oversimplifies things. Oh yeah, I was thinking that a lot of people do this.” And so on. One question begets the next, and all those answers make up a mindset. Nine times out of ten, you lose track of the end of those ten minutes because you’re off pursuing your inspiration.

Now, those are the simple strategies for recreating a motivated mindset. I think they’re really effective for a lot of people a lot of the time. But clearly there are often bigger issues. If there weren’t, I wouldn’t have much of a blog to write. So expect more on this subject. When I feel like it.


“Pursuit of Awesomeness” Gets a New Name


Whenever I’ve told the name of my blog to anyone in my personal life, I’ve received a wide smile and excitement about the venture. When I’ve told it to anyone in my professional life, I’ve received a forced smile and polite nod. If I could put the look into words, it would be something like, “Oh, okay. You’re not actually someone I should take seriously. My mistake.” Colleagues tend to ask me about my “awesomeness” blog, and I cringe.

As tempting as its been to make a change and regain some professional respect, my mind has always rebelled against changing it. “Pursuit of Awesomeness” means something to me. It names in broad emotional terms what my professional work and my entire life are about, even if I don’t quite have a precise handle on what it is means. If my choice is between a name that gets me excited to write or something bland but professional like “Performance Psychology Weekly,” I think it’s better to choose the former.

But now I figured out how to have my cake and eat it, too! Behold “Psychology for the Ambitious!” Drink from its glory!

I came to the new name while working out what problem I’m trying to solve with my career. A key question here was who to consider my audience, and my answer was essentially my friends and people like them. The people I gravitate to and sympathize with are the ones that live with the attitude of “Okay, I’m alive, and I have this really cool world to play with. What do I want to do with it? Translating that attitude into goals and quality work and ultimate success is a real challenge, and that’s where I hope to add value.

The name “Pursuit of Awesomeness” actually does seem immature to me now by comparison–not because pursuing awesomeness is something best left to childhood but because its so damned imprecise. As I said, “Pursuit of Awesomeness” names a broad emotion; I actually have to explain it in order for the name to mean anything to anyone. “Psychology for the Ambitious” summons up a subject, an audience, a tone, and suggests some topics you might read about. I like it.

So now I’ve written two posts in a row about the blog itself. I suppose I should actually get to doing something. Fair enough.


Randal Hits a Setback


Hello again, my readers (aka Ginny, Matt, Sam, and maybe Dan),

I’m back, and I’m hungry. Or at least, I’m hungry for hunger.

I started this year with a commitment to writing 24 posts over the year. And I actually did pretty well for a while before suddenly stopping. I didn’t even leave a “Dear John” letter. How inconsiderate am I?

Well, I was working on a book. The focus was first on how to build skill, then it changed to how to improve yourself post-mistakes, then how to bring your A-Game to the table. I did quite a bit of research, made quite a few detailed outlines. And then when it came time to actually start writing…I didn’t actually feel like I had something worth saying.

I’m back here at the drawing board, trying to find a topic and something to say that I’m deeply excited about. I want a cause. Something to be proud of proclaiming as loudly as I can because the world will be so much richer, powerful, and happier for it.

I’m a little discouraged about the setback, but I do think that setbacks are normal. The best things in my life are the things that had the bumpiest roads. I don’t think it’s the difficulty that makes them great–that just speaks to the height and rarity of the goal. But the difficulty makes me feel like I deserve the prize. One of my favorite quotes is from Randy Pausch: “The brick walls aren’t there to stop you. The brick walls are there to show you how much you want something.”

I also think that I did make progress in the interim. I did a lot of solid thinking and research over the last few months, and I’m excited about sharing that work with others. Expect posts on risk, focus, priorities, worst case scenarios, all of which I believe have merit. I’d be surprised if my ultimate point weren’t directly related to one of these topics.

More importantly, I think I’m returning to the blog with a stronger goal. Where before my intention was to explore my field in a meandering way, I am now specifically looking for something I need to say. What’s worth the one/three/ten years of my life that a book would require?

My intention now is to explore the field of motivation deeply and personally. What has already been said that’s worthwhile? What do I have to add? I’m trying not to put too much pressure on the process. If there’s value, I’ll say it. But I always want to be moving forward. I think that if I can keep moving in the general direction of things that kinda sorta have value, then eventually I will have what I want, something with dramatic value. Though probably not without a few more setbacks.

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