Motivation sucks... well... kind of. Motivation is an abstract idea of highly condensed energy that can quickly move you forward with your goals. However, you cannot rely on it forever.
Motivation is like a nice, sunny Spring day, where everything seems perfect and good. However, pretty much like the weather, your brain, emotions, and life come into play and change it; and they change it more often than you care to realize.
People saying you need to keep your motivation up all the time is like them asking you to sustain that sunny spring day throughout the whole year. Yeah... Not. Gonna. Happen.
Motivation is awesome as it gives you the inertia for action. A motivated individual can very quickly do anything, or at least they can start something. However, what about actually finishing it?
So, how do you hack motivation?
Excuse my clickbait title, but you do not really hack motivation. You manage it. As with everything in life, good and bad times will come, but life will find its way eventually, and bad days will go, and good days will return, but keep in mind that this is a repetitive cycle. Do not rely on good or bad days to accomplish or postpone things. You will only lose out and never accomplish anything.
Instead, accept that, at some point, you will feel bored; you will feel like "You know nothing!" (Ygritte, 2012); you will feel like what you are trying to achieve is out of reach. Accepting this is one of the most difficult things. However, it will take the weight of failure of your back. You will feel free.
We need to find a balance. Moreover, we need to define ground rules and, most importantly, acquire the habit.
The habit of focusing on a particular subject no matter what. But how to do that?
I created this algorithm, this recipe of how to approach a new goal.
Find something that you want to learn or do. This is the easy part. Think of something that you have always wanted to learn or accomplish. This can be anything, learn a new programming language, start a business, learn to play an instrument, exercise, start eating healthy, etc.
The rule here is to find something that can improve your life somehow. Something that, once you accomplish it, will make you feel awesome about yourself.
Create the Habit/Routine
Before jumping into it, and motivation sometimes can make us do impulsive things, set some ground rules. Start by writing everything down.
Define a weekly schedule: do not be too strict, and do not set aside too much time in one go, but leave some room for change. I am usually more productive during early hours, but sometimes I can be equally if not more productive at late-night hours. So I reserved 2h per day for this. 1h in the morning and 1h after dinner, every day from Monday to Friday. I leave weekends free for me to do whatever I want. You, however, should create your own schedule which works for you.
Focus: remove any distractions while doing this. Turn off your cell phone and social networks notifications. Instead of browsing the web, get some books related to that subject. Make sure your workspace is clean and that you are alone. This is your “me-time".
Take a break: I like the Pomodoro technique because it allows me to step away from something I was doing for 5-10 minutes to regain focus. So take a break every 30 minutes and talk to yourself about what you are learning.
Take notes: after every session, get a pen and paper and write down what you have learned today. This does not need to be super specific, but get into the habit of taking notes and explaining in your own words what you have learned.
Divide and Conquer
Take your goal and split it into smaller pieces, then those smaller pieces into smaller ones and so on until you have pieces of which you can digest one each day. The goal here is to allow you to keep track of your progress. Remember, motivation is fine, but actually watching your progress is way, way more awesome. If you are stuck on a particular subject, do not stress. Just take a day off and a good night's sleep, and come back the next day. There is nothing wrong in slacking once in a while, so do not force yourself if you are not into it.
Just make sure you come back tomorrow.
Motivation can be re-generated by your own progress. It might not always be 10/10, like when you first started, but as you progress, you can manage to keep it at a 5/10 or 6/10, because progress equals moving, and moving is the opposite of inertia; and when things get moving move, things start to happen.
How Are You Today?
Ask yourself this question every day. Do you feel bored or out of energy? Or do you feel full of energy and ready to kick ass?
This is important, because, this is when motivation comes and goes. When we feel down or tired, we tend to postpone or procrastinate on things. This is a vicious cycle. Procrastination leads us to become less motivated — and remember we want to keep those levels above 5/10 ;) — which will translate into thoughts like “I can never do anything right!”, “I never finish anything”, “Everyone else is so good at this things, I suck”, “This is too complicated for me” which eventually will make us drop our goal and feel bad.
So, to avoid this, practice it! Even if you are down, stick to the plan! Force yourself, sit at that desk, and read or do something, no matter how simple it is. If you are just able to do it for 10 minutes, that is great; it is better than not showing up. Those 10 minutes can turn into 20 minutes tomorrow, and those 20 minutes can bring you back in at full speed in the next day.
The main idea is, accept that some days or weeks will suck, but fight it, keep showing up. No matter how little time you got, just show up, learn something new every day and write it down.
Remember, there is nothing wrong with failure unless you quit. Failure is when you complete something, but it did not turn out to be what you expected. Quitting, on the other hand, is when you throw in the towel because you mismanaged your expectations or habits.