How to Stay Motivated

As I'm constantly learning new things, not everything is as straightforward as it seems.

Everyone has a different learning style and by extension, a different teaching style. In other words, the resources available to me are most likely suited for the author and not me.

I've heard variations of the following three phrases.

A: This book is a great resource on how to accomplish X.

B: Nah, take a look at this video. It'll explain everything.

C: I promise that if you do 100 of these problems, you'll be an expert on it."

All three are perfectly valid and a combination of them may yield good results.

But sometimes the documentation is unclear or even incomplete. Sometimes, what works for the video creator might not work for you. It's also unlikely you'll find 100 different problems within the scope of what you're trying to accomplish. When resources are varied and they're not necessarily suited to your needs, it's not always easy to press forward.

So in this blog post I offer a different perspective. We'll all inevitably be forced to push through a slog of haphazardly thrown together documentation just to fix a few errors. So rather than focusing on learning style, let's focus on a key concept we can use to motivate ourselves. In doing so, we can maximize our learning when given less than ideal resources.

I'm not a huge fan of anecdotal evidence so I'll back up my thoughts with cognitive psychology. There are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

The Prequels

One happy person and one sad person

Before we move any further, I'll explain what these terms mean.

  • Intrinsic motivation is when you're motivated to perform activities based on internal factors. In other words, I am internally driven to do something because I find it interesting or I care about what I'm doing.

    • I will fill out a survey because I am passionate about what the topic is
    • I will put a lot of effort into coding a feature because it is enjoyable
    • I will learn this new technology because I find it powerful and interesting
  • Extrinsic motivation is when you're motivated to perform activities based on external factors. In other words, I am externally driven to do something because I will be rewarded or I will avoid punishment.

    • I will fill out a survey because I am promised a gift card
    • I will put a lot of effort into coding a feature to meet an approaching deadline
    • I will learn this new technology because it is a requirement for the job.

Extrinsic motivation is great in the short term. Nothing motivates me more than tight deadlines. Intrinsic motivation is much better in the long run. Despite facing several setbacks and obstacles, my intrinsic motivation is what prevents me from leaving my hobbies in the dust.

That's not to say intrinsic motivation is the only motivation we want. Yes, it would be amazing if we didn't need motivation from anyone else. Sadly, this isn't a perfect world. It is important to note that both types of motivation are not mutually exclusive.

For example, the activity of exercising could have the intrinsic motivation of relieving stress and the extrinsic motivation of looking good. Just because I was told to do something doesn't mean I won't enjoy it. As you can imagine, a combination of the two would be more effective than just one.

The Endgame

Person accomplishing goal

Even if it sounds completely crazy...what is it you want to do with your life?

I want to end poverty.

Great. Then every decision you make from here on out should be in service of that.

This past week, I had a lot of extrinsic motivation. Now that it's the weekend, it's time to reflect and figure out what I can do to improve. How can I increase my intrinsic motivation?

Firstly, dedicate yourself to a purpose. Your mindset is key. This isn't going to be another article on growth mindsets but there's a reason why its a popular topic. Short-term satisfaction disappears the next day. Long-term satisfaction stays. Re-framing your mindset allows you to find interest in topics that you didn't have before.

In order to feel excited about my work, it needs to be framed in such a way that it contributes to my goal. I need to be proud of what I'm doing. I should see a positive effect from my work.

I'm lucky to be in a field where I love what I do. Technology and programming have always been an interest of mine. One of my end goals is to rework the way technology is used in public education. Yours can be anything.

Though not every decision I make is directly in service of that, it's still a long-term goal that I can dedicate my efforts to. That goal is where my intrinsic motivation comes from. Though my work does not directly relate to my goal, it's provided me with new tools and interesting scenarios that I can use to further it.

Secondly, remind yourself why you're doing it. Inevitably, your intrinsic motivation will wane. Imagine the future. Think about what your end goal would look like. Do whatever. Your extrinsic motivation will kick in. But if you've chosen the right goal, you'll renew your intrinsic motivation.

This week, I've learned that trying new things is crucial. Reading lines of documentation is tough at first. But the biggest obstacle in completing work has always been starting. My fellow classmates agree that after they get through the initial setup and configuration, everything else comes naturally. Once everything starts flowing, the motivation to continue prevents me from leaving my work.

Closing Remarks

A lot of this is easier said than done. Meaningful change rarely happens overnight. Motivation doesn't miraculously appear overnight. That's not how it works. It's an accumulation of factors that eventually lead you to sit down and say: "You know what? It's time to get it done."

Keep the right people around. They will keep you sharp. They will inspire you to move forward. A healthy competition can be good too. The top chess players don't play against themselves. They play against other people.

Your intrinsic motivation will wane, but the right people will provide you with the necessary extrinsic motivation. If you've chosen the right purpose, your intrinsic motivation will come right back.

We're still in the setup phase of the blog so this article was slightly technical but probably not in the way you expected. I recently created a Twitter account you can follow to get updated when I post. If Twitter isn't your thing, you can connect with me on Linkedin.

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