Hey, you. Quit messing around.

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by Katherine Gotthardt, M.Ed.

That’s what I tell myself when I want to procrastinate (which is too often). Quit messing around. Well, sometimes I use stronger language, but this is a family publication. It’s enough for you to know I give myself a stern talking-to, and then I sit down, and I do the hard work.

See, like most people, I can’t afford to wait until inspiration and motivation waft in like some fabled specter. This isn’t a Charles Dickens novel. Messenger ghosts and visions of dead bosses don’t suddenly appear, tap me on the shoulder and say, “Write, oh bard! Write!” No. Like everyone, I’ve got deadlines. And sometimes, I’ve got deadlines to write about inspiration and motivation when I have neither. But here’s one thing I’ve discovered about those two elements that make life so worth living: Doing something and doing it well inspires and motivates me.

That’s right. The work itself motivates me, no matter what the work.

Here’s how to make that happen for yourself:

  1. Close your eyes. Remember how good it felt to complete a difficult project in the past. Let that feeling seep into your skin. Revel in it.
  2. Open your eyes. Make a list of things you need to do to complete the task.
  3. Work in 20 or 30-minute increments and start crossing items off that list.
  4. Every time you cross something off the list, put a smiley face next to it, pat yourself on the back or tell your dog, “I did it!”
  5. Repeat until the job is done.

Now here’s why it works.

First, whenever you connect the senses to something abstract, it becomes less abstract. So when you allow a good feeling to overtake your whole body and you associate it with a memory, you ingrain that into your psyche and you want more of it.

Then there’s writing down your list. This is basically short-term goal setting, cementing each small goal kinesthetically by holding pen to paper and forming words. You can meet those goals if you know you aren’t going to get overwhelmed. Short bursts of work are usually doable, which is why 20 or 30-minute sessions work. Move yourself through a few of those and reward yourself with a “Great job!” By the time you get through the process, you’re ready to go back to the first step and integrate that wonderful feeling, which…yes—gives you the motivation and inspiration to keep going. Before long, you’re working in longer spurts because crossing tasks off that list is so damn satisfying. And sometimes by then, you’re even enjoying the work itself.

This might seem like a pretty basic process, but it’s one that has worked for me for decades. Turns out, the process is pretty solidly based in education and psychology, too. And it can be applied to just about anything, making you more productive and feeling better about the work you’ve been putting off.

Now to be transparent, I wasn’t planning to share my trade secret when I sat down to write this column. It just kind of happened, and I don’t regret it. I started off struggling, I went through the process, I got inspired and poof. Seemed like the right thing to do, so I did it. And it feels good. So I’ll probably knock out next week’s column, too. But first, a short poem.

Some days

I wish for a specter,

the ghost of Christmas past, perhaps,

to remind me of better mornings.

See how he carries me in from the cold,

sets me softly down,

points to the gift?

Look at that red ribbon.

How will I untie it,

when all I can think of

is dreaming?

Enough, he tells me.

Wake up! 

Run your fingers

across the shiny surface.

            Inhale the care

            it took to create.

Absorb the effort

it required to wrap

a masterpiece.

Understand it was for you!

Place the bow’s end

between finger and thumb.

Hold fast, now.

You’re almost there.

Until next time,

Katherine

This article is part of a series from my forthcoming book, Get Happy, Dammit. Copyright 2019, All Rights Reserved. Learn more at www.KatherineGotthardt.com.
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