From my bookshelf: Two tips to help you stay motivated!

I tend to balk at doing “What I am reading” posts since they strike me as navel-gazing. Why the heck do you care what I am reading?

That said, I really enjoy other people’s posts about their reading lists. (I’m that annoying sort who will contort my spine in orthopedically unsound angles to see what you’re reading on the train.)

So I figured, why not?

Also, I’ve been short on ideas lately and haven’t written a post in a while. I am grasping, so if some navel-gazing can save the day, that is fine with me.

Here goes! I’ve been reading (rereading, really) Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.d. This book includes a discussion on matters of motivation, which is interesting to me since I am supremely lazy.

What makes Grant’s discussion of motivation so useful is that she goes beyond the normal view of what motivation is. Sure, she talks about how we feel pumped when we think of the big picture, of the “why” we do something. For example:

Why do I want to be an astronaut? So that I can get closer (cue tears) to the stars! (sniff.)

But Grant also talks about how “what” thinking will get us into action mode, which, in my book, makes “what” thinking just as much of a motivator. Thinking in terms of the small, concrete steps we need to take to accomplish a task makes it easier to get stuff done. The astronaut-in-waiting who is failing rocket science, for example, will want to outline the steps he needs to take so he doesn’t flunk out of astronaut school before he ever gets a chance to get front-row seats to the stars. These steps could be to read chapter 2, practice exercises, or set up a meeting with his professor. None of these steps sounds all that grand, but each one will get the student closer to his goal.

Motivational posters tend to focus on the “why” (cue soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey). There is nothing wrong with that, but I really like having the “what” sort of thinking in my toolkit as well. For those who, like me, tend to get lost in the weeds of ideas, “what” thinking will drag us out and plop our feet on the path of getting crap done.

How do I know which one to use and when?

Use both, of course! As Grant points out in her book, using “why” thinking is useful to give us a boost when we get down in the dumps about the task at hand. “Why” thinking will put the fire under our behinds . . . or in our bellies . . . or whatever the expression is.

The “what” thinking, though, is great when we aren’t quite sure how to get to the goal, for example, when a task is hard to do. Thinking of the stars when faced with a difficult physics question isn’t so useful; asking yourself what steps you need to take to get your final answer, however, is.

My tip for you: If you aren’t sure which sort of thinking to use at any given moment, use trial and error. If big-picture thinking isn’t getting you motivated, switch to “what” thinking and see whether that helps, and vice-versa.

Practice Time! Your mission!

1)      Pick a goal you have. Any goal, big or small, will do. (For example, let’s say you want to motivate yourself to fill out an application for a scholarship.)

2)      Ask yourself “Why do I want to complete this task?” (For example, you want to fill out this application because a scholarship will make you feel good about yourself. They like me, they really like me!)

3)      Ask yourself “What steps do I need to take to complete this task? (If the task is really big, pick 3 steps for now. For example, to work on a scholarship application, the tasks may be to fill in personal data, read the essay requirements carefully, and pick a time to ask three people for references.)

Are you reading anything interesting? If so, post below and tell us why you recommend the book!

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About the Author

Elise Loyacano Perl
Elise Loyacano Perl is the Puerto Rican author of The Little Guide to not Being Dumb: How to Stop Making Excuses and Actually Learn. Click here to see her funny YouTube show called The Brain Drain. Elise holds a joint BA/MA in French literature from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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