In response to "About motivation"

March 16, 2015

This post is written as a follow-up to "About motivation" in which @guillemch writes about going through recurring cycles with lack of motivation. He shares his thought on why they take place as well as dealing out some general tips on how to lift yourself out of those rough patches.

From mid December to mid February, I entered some kind of vicious cycle of demotivation [...] this is not the first time that happens to me, and I know that this is a common issue, [e]specially among programmers, so I started thinking about the cause of these demotivation peaks."

Motivation is a tricky subject, overlapping with procrastination, inspiration, productivity, and discipline. Let's see if I can stay on topic.

What makes me lose motivation

I can emphasize with all three main points the original author brings up for why he gets unmotivated; repetitive tasks, frustration born from things that are out of his control, and procrastination. Beyond these culprits I have only a few thing to add:

Lack of context

Solving big enough problems require us to break them down into smaller pieces. Preferably encapsulated components with their own state. If I can't grasp the full context of a problem at hand, my attention quickly dissipates. The idea comes from the The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing in which the author argues that keeping many abstract things in your head is a skill that separates average programmers from great programmers. Possible causes for losing context include interruption, too tightly coupled systems (poor engineering), and being spread too thin across several unrelated tasks.

Draining mental energy

"You’re working on something and you start Google-ing for some issue you’re having — “Hmm this conversation is interesting [...] I’m going to read about it [...] boom! Suddenly the day has gone ..."

One problem I have is that I make small, often meaningless, choices constantly. When I'm coding and decide not to check for new Slack notifications - that's a choice. -2 mental energy points. By the end of the day, I am often too mentally exhausted to do anything but watch TV shows. The path of least mental effort. Therefore, I try to start the day with the ambition to reduce the number of choices I have to make. Essentially eliminating distractions and planning how to structure my day's work once and for all.

How to get or stay motivated

"It is difficult, but be strong, sit down and work on that task as soon as possible."

A while ago I found a short opinion piece that I can see myself coming back to every now and again just to remind myself of these wise words: Just fucking do it.

"[avoid] down-prioritizing it in your TODO list".

Indeed, but what if I already have those unwieldily lists of TODOs? My solution; declaring bankruptcy. Accepting my "sunk costs". Earlier in my life I was training to earn my drivers license. I felt a lot of pressure from my surrounding to go through with it. It created a lot of stress in my life that was suddenly lifted when I decided to just drop it. Isn't it interesting how this sense of relief can lift you up in moments of sometimes great emotional distress?

"Being truthful to yourself is important, and will help you to keep a good mood and energy."

This totally rings true to me. In fact, I feel it might be the single most important endeavour I should devote my future efforts towards.

"[...] the important thing here is that you know what makes you feel better, and that you find the time for those things [...]"

Actually, I'm not sure I always know what makes me feel better. Getting to know myself as well as accepting who that person truly is does bring me closer to that goal though. If something comes natural to me I should just embrace it, right? I'm not going to pretend this is an easy task. I wouldn't be as far along this path if it wasn't for a dear friend who has begun to elevate me above those external expectations and beyond those nagging thoughts. He reinforced the notion that if you just follow your instincts and do what makes you happy; good things will follow.

Don't complicate things

I'm used to second guessing my every move. I often make simple choices out to be extremely complicated. Not only does it waste time but also valuable mental energy and sways confidence. Even if none of this comes natural to me, I will try harder to trust my intuition going forward. I've recently discovered that even the big topics in life don't have to be very complicated. I will continue to treat people's emotions with care and I will do my best to be patient. But the point is rather that if something feels right - I will go for it - it probably is what I'm supposed to do. If something feels wrong - I will avoid it - it's probably something I will regret doing in the future.

Definitely read the original article and thank you for letting me share my response. Do reach out on Twitter or comment on Hacker News if you feel inspired to do so.

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