Motivation? What's that, exactly, again?

I don't normally ask you, my dear readers, for help, but this time I think I need some. You see, my motivation seems to have taken a loooooong vacation. (I mean, who can blame it, really---it's February, which is a really sucky month, so why not disappear until it's over? I hope at least that my motivation is sitting on a beach somewhere sipping Mai Tais and having some hot cabana boy rubbing sunscreen on its back.....but I digress.)

OK, so my motivation is gone, and my usual tricks----tricking myself into working, tricking myself into thinking things are not all bad, tricking myself into remembering how much I (sometimes) love my job----well, they're not working. And I'm just getting less motivated, crankier, and more behind work-wise. I was able to make myself feel better for about 5 minutes earlier by making fun of myself (and I had Mr. Jane laughing hysterically), but now I'm back to being bitter again. I'm just tired of working all the damn time, tired of having no free time, tired of the crap I've had to put up with lately at my job, tired of students who make my life miserable, tired of the hazing tenure process, tired of sexism, tired of never sleeping enough (and of the string of bad dreams I've been having lately), just tired tired tired.

So I need a good motivational kick in the pants. "Fear of losing my job" is not cutting it, so I need some motivation with flair, with creativity. And that's where you, my dear readers, can help.

Hit me with your best motivational speech, or story, or mantra. Help me get out of my head and get back to my work. What works for you when you hit a brick wall? What gets you back to work and back to loving your job? How do you keep the bitterness at bay?

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Hey, if you figure out the answer, be sure to post about it, okay? Because I suspect that a lot of us out here could use the same help!

This may seem like a really lame suggestion, but it's the best I've got: go rent the movie "Parenthood". I don't think it's a great movie, and there's nothing in it specific to your job situation, but I think the message of the film is relevant nonetheless. It's about letting go: realizing that you can't be the perfect parent/spouse/professional all the time, and you can't control the world around you to the degree that you'd like. At some point you have to let go of that urge, and just go with the flow. And realize that things will eventually work themselves out okay anyway.

I am passionate about technology and its transformative effects on society, science, and culture. My goal is to help everyone learn to tap into and embrace his or her inner geek. I am equally passionate about opening access to technology for all, and in smashing the stereotypical and unwelcoming "geek culture" apart.

I admire you.

Go take a walk around campus. Seriously. Holed up in the lab, you get no exercise, you see the same people, and if you lab looks like mine did, everything is a horrible brown. Walking gives you fresh air and stimulation, and best of all you can feel that electricity that universities have. Walk among the undergrads. They are so busy and energetic and hopeful. I just loved walking around, hearing snippets of conversations on politics, quantum theory, and last night's frat party.

Also, walking always helped me work through problems. Running you have to focus, so it doesn't work the same way. Aimlessly walking around campus always made me feel better.

No advice cause I am in the same position. All of my motivation slowly drained away last week while I was home with a sick child.

One thing that sometimes works for me is bribery. I give my self some small reward for X amount of time I spend working on the thing/things I don't want to work on. I usually give myself an iTunes download for every hour I slog through a project. I may have to get more creative this time though.

Hang in there!

One of the things that work for me is to visualize the goal. For example, right now Iâm in the process of making a game with a small team of people. My task involves writing the entire code from the engine, to the scripting engine, to the maps themselves. To say that this is draining and tiring is an understatement. This is where visualizing the goal comes into play.

When Iâm feeling like I canât just do anything more, I try to think about how cool it will be for the game to be done. I try to think about some of the interesting challenges that Iâve hit, and how to solve them. Maybe I can re-write that method so that it runs faster. Maybe I can take that section of code, convert it into machine language and get an 80% processing improvement. I try to think of neat challenges like that, in which I can solve in innovative ways.

I also like to think of the reason why I embarked in this endeavor in the first place. This inner need to both entertain, and to hopefully affect people in a small way is something that I really want to do. What Iâm hoping to accomplish is to make a game that will make people think a little bit about what they have accomplished within the game, and to come off better because of it. This will be made even more significant given that the player will have such a direct influence on how the storyline shapes itself, and thus the player will feel that they have ownership of the outcome.

Lastly, I also like to remember that I am where I am due to my actions. This can sometimes mean that I am in a not so great position, but since I got myself in that situation in the first place, I know that I can get myself out it. The fact that I have control of my life, as well as how I react to events beyond my control, means that at the end of the day, I will be able to get through whatever life throws at me, and sometimes that is all that it takes to keep me going. I hope this helps! :)

How about reminding yourself how lucky you are to have a job in academia where you get paid to play around with really cool fascinating shit all fucking day every fucking day?

With all due respect, CPP, that is the most useless piece of shit advice I've ever seen you give anyone. When someone is in a hole, you don't tell them to concentrate on how grateful they should be for being in the hole. Sure, things could be a helluva lot worse somewhere else, or in some other situation. But things could be a helluva lot better, too. When things are great, no one ever says "oh, I shouldn't be so happy, there are so many people who have it so much better than me." So I have no patience with that "I should be grateful that my present shitty situation isn't any crappier than it already is" crap. I suppose we could all climb up on our own crosses and sing Always Look On The Bright Side of Life but that ain't me.

What you need, Jane, is a vacation, but you probably have no time or money for one right now. So maybe you can craft a mini-holiday for yourself. One day. Can you get someone to care for Baby Jane for a whole entire day? Tell yourself at the start of this day that you are going completely away on vacation. Turn off your cell phone, don't go near your computer, try not to think about work at all.

Make an appointment for massage and a manicure and/or pedicure. Take yourself somewhere nice for lunch and maybe have a glass of wine. Go to a movie in the afternoon and buy popcorn. Maybe get takeout for dinner so there's not much work involved there. Spend the evening playing with Baby Jane and/or reading something purely for pleasure, preferably a trashy novel, or watching some really worthless t.v., like bad sitcom reruns. Do this with another glass of wine or a beer in hand. (If you are not fond of alcohol just skip the drink recommendations in this scenario.) Go to bed not too late. Get up the next morning reflecting on how fab your vacation day was and tell yourself "well, now it's time to get back to work. Where the hell was I? Why don't I dive in somewhere different?" Resolve to get one small piece of something done, even it it's as trivial as getting a letter out in the mail. When you do this, congratulate yourself inordinately. Reward yourself with chocolate. Talk to yourself in the kindest of voices.

If you can't manage a whole day, make it a half a day. If you can't afford a massage and pedicure, just go to a movie and wander around the mall and try on fabulously expensive beautiful clothing you have no intention of buying. Preferably ball gowns at someplace like Nordstroms. Anything to jolt you out of your present state of mind for just a little while and let you land back in reality a little refreshed.

Wish I could come by and whisk you off for some R&R. I'm sure you don't feel like you have time for any of this but it is exactly what you need.

Agreeing with Zuska. There's only so much Working All The Time (and yes, playing with your kid is fun, but it's tiring, too) that one can take.

I'm a chronic procrastinator, and I've found that I can get something done if I'm doing it so I won't have to do something even worse. For example, in college I would often study to put off cleaning my bathroom. So, try finding something even worse than working right now, and don't do that thing instead.

Just keep slogging along. You will get through it, even without motivation.

I feel with you. What I do in those cases is close to what Zuska suggests: I take a (half) day off, but I guess that is easier done when you are in grad school than once you try to get tenure.
Honestly, I just sit around doing nothing watching crappy soap operas and maybe knit. That helps. By the end of the (half) day I am so annoyed by me being unproductive that I usually am glad that I can start working again.
Also, I find that I am much more effective and get more things done afterwards than I would have if I would not have taken that day off.

Finish one small task and reward yourself with an hour of doing something you really like. I remember that days off after sustained, hard work are always particularly glorious.

Hi Jane,

The year I finished high school (1999), the following mini essay was circulated over the 'web. I found it inspiring then, and, even now whenever I "get the blahs" I'll play it again to re-center. A lot of it is no longer relevant because I'm no longer 18 years old, but the core message still motivates me: Your life belongs to YOU, and don't let anyone think they can take that away from you.


Jane, I am a relative newbie at marriage. I've been dating my husband for 4.5 years now and we've been married for one and a half. I've always known that he was just the right thing for me and I pictured our marriage being blissful into eternity. But there we were 6 months ago, already in some kind of rut. Unimpressed with each other. Unmotivated. Bored, if you will. And I was left wondering why the hell I had to work so hard to keep loving someone that I thought I'd always love to begin with. Hahahaha.

Our marriage is back where it should be right now, but only because we recognized that all of the fun had been sucked out of our relationship, and we had to put it back in. It was kind of annoying to put it back in, but we did it, and we are very happy.

I have to wonder if you aren't going through a parallel situation. If you had this love affair with your science and with your job that has just gotten boring and stale. It's not the relationship you used to have with your work, and that is upsetting.

So I would suggest fixing it the way one might go about fixing one's marriage. Ask yourself about the fun you used to have when you worked. What used to make you feel so good about it? How could you help yourself to feel that way again? Some of the solutions might be straightforward and easy (e.g. enjoying some hot chocolate along with your journal articles, closing your door for some alone time for an hour per day, or scheduling some time to brainstorm with students or colleagues). But some of the solutions might be hard. It might be time to get critical about things at work that make you truly unhappy. How can you cut this shit out of your life? Maybe you have to be vicious about saying 'no' to certain requests. Maybe you have to overhaul the way you lecture. Maybe you need to start working from home one day per week.

I am not sure what the exact solutions would be for you, but it seems to me that something needs to change.

A vacation or break of some sort will help, of course. But I find that when I am in an extended rut at work, one that I don't come out of after a few weeks, then I know that it is time to make a change.

I go for a cuppa, chat with a funny friend whose office is near the hot water urn, and walk back via outdoors to get some fresh air. This doesn't deal with the issues of long-term motivation, but gets me through the day! I think February is unofficially 'motivation-holiday' month, but on the plus side only 11 days to go. It's spring soon.

By Pale climatologist (not verified) on 16 Feb 2009 #permalink

Wish I knew. Been there a while, with brief intermissions. So I guess this is a fairly unhelpful comment - just to say, though, I have a great deal of sympathy for you. And I just keep saying to myself that I have to do what I can, and that is enough. This place, this job, can only have so much of me, and it gets more than it deserves.

PP, it's great the you feel like that, but I think it's dangerous to make too much of this 'you have a job you should be so happy' idea. Life is tough and stressful whatever you work at or do these days. I've had times when getting sacked would almost be a relief. I don't get to do cool stuff all day, or rather, on many days I put in ten hours at the job and then cram in a little science in the evening. Much of science is not super-cool, bench-work is repetitive, editing papers and checking citations is just sodding dull. Yeah, it leads to super-cool moments and it matters - but parts of this life are a hard slog, just like any other line of work. And if they aren't over at your place, can I borrow your slaves who do all the crap stuff for a day or two? Or send them to Jane-who-we-see-computing, she clearly has need of them!


Put on some music that you love. Crank it up somewhere private. And dance for the whole album. Doing it in private ensures that no one a) laughs at you or b) gets injured from your flailing.

Sounds to me like you have a case of Spring Fever. Nothing to worry about though, it happens to the best of us.

What you need to do (pardon the clichés) is unplug and decompress. Get away from the daily grind, even if it's just for a day.

And not the standard 'stay in pajamas all day Saturday watching TV and eating junk food' getting away, I mean a REAL get away.

Get up early one day, dress for the weather, hop in your car, pick a direction (preferably AWAY from work and other all-too-familiar places) and just go. Take your cell phone (in case of emergency) but turn it off.

Drive for hours with nowhere in mind. If you see something interesting, stop and check it out. Look around. Pick up a momento, even if it's just a shiny rock. If you're so inclined, bring a camera and take some pictures.

Then go drive some more.

When you're hungry, eat. When you're thirsty, drink. When you're tired, rest. Enjoy just BEING and forget about so-called 'life' for awhile.

Then, about half-way through the day, turn back around and head back, slowly. Listen to some favorite music as you drive, especially something you haven't listened to in years.

Get back in touch with an earlier version of yourself - perhaps one less jaded and world-weary, one more optimistic and hopeful.

Then maybe - just maybe - when you get back home, you'll look around and see/think of something you've been wanting to do/get rid of/change... then do it!

(Sometimes the slightest changes have the biggest impacts on our daily lives)

Best of luck to you, Jane. I'm sure you'll be in fine spirits by Spring.

By Eric Alder (not verified) on 17 Feb 2009 #permalink

Wow. You all seriously rock. Thanks so much!

At this point the vacation/mini-vacation/half-day-off is not possible....but a half-day or so off will be possible sometime in the next month, so I'm trying to make it until then. I have a massage appt later this week. And I'm seriously thinking of making myself a chart and giving myself gold stars for accomplishing various tasks. :)

Your stories and suggestions are truly inspiring, and I thank you all so much!

I saw this post fairly late, but thought I'd share something that helped me. I went through a fairly protracted post-tenure funk, but what helped me immensely was to try an adventure/thrill I'd never done before (for example, something like bungee jumping, thrill rides, mountain ATV'ing, etc. etc.). Anything that restores the passion in your life is a sure-fire remedy for the kind of blues you're describing.

It's all about Pride and Predjudice. Colin Firth is delightful.

I visualize jumping.

More specifically, I watch reruns of TV shows involving leaps: Season 5 of Buffy (episode 100 and as many before as I have time for, plus Once More with Feeling to cap it off), or Season 3 of Babylon 5 (episode 66, Z'ha'dum, and as many before as I have time for, hopefully including War without End but at least And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place). Then I think about what it took to take those jumps and how the problems facing me aren't really that big. Works for me :)

Well, here is the thing, you are motivated; to take a break, to get some sleep, to explore the 101 things that you have repressed in order to "focus" on what is "important", to progress, you know all that sort of stuff. So, what would happen if you followed your current motivations, yes, perhaps you would find your life looked completely different, you could end up working for (fill in the blank) or (fill in more blanks), you get the idea. Sometimes it takes a break to become motivated to give up pseudomotivations, well maybe. Nice post though.

By Larry Severson (not verified) on 11 Mar 2009 #permalink

Another thing, do you want my sympathy? You don't deserve it. So jump. Get on with your life. You have created a disaster area. The land of the dead feelings. The stress is suffocating me. I have a boring life. I want what I want now. This place that has become a breeding ground for pain and suffering. Why? I won't let you. I want my life to look differently, feel differently, be different. We have always had choices. It is not enough.
It will never be enough. It will never end the Rock Cried. Go ahead and cry, and keep your motivational ego to yourself. I am bored now. Thanks for listening.

By Port Tentous (not verified) on 28 Mar 2010 #permalink

Motivation is the activation or energization of goal-oriented behavior. Motivation is said to be intrinsic or extrinsic. The term is generally used for humans but, theoretically, it can also be used to describe the causes for animal behavior as well.

The self-control of motivation is increasingly understood as a subset of emotional intelligence; a person may be highly intelligent according to a more conservative definition (as measured by many intelligence tests), yet unmotivated to dedicate this intelligence to certain tasks. Yale School of Management professor Victor Vroom's "expectancy theory" provides an account of when people will decide whether to exert self control to pursue a particular goal.

What you need to do (pardon the clichés) is unplug and decompress. Get away from the daily grind, even if it's just for a day.

And not the standard 'stay in pajamas all day Saturday watching TV and eating junk food' getting away, I mean a REAL get away.

Get up early one day, dress for the weather, hop in your car, pick a direction (preferably AWAY from work and other all-too-familiar places) and just go. Take your cell phone (in case of emergency) but turn it off.

Drive for hours with nowhere in mind. If you see something interesting, stop and check it out. Look around. Pick up a momento, even if it's just a shiny rock. If you're so inclined, bring a camera and take some pictures.