Thursday, April 30, 2020

Motivation vs. Priorities

Up to this point, I have ignored the suggested prompts for all of Blapril. Today I'm going to indulge on this week's theme of keeping up motivation because a writer writing about motivation is the craft's most common self-wank and I'm not about to miss out on that.

And because finding one's motivation is such a common topic, nothing I'm going to say here is profound. I have nothing to say that every sentient being on Earth hasn't heard a million times before. But it's helpful for me to think about this stuff a lot. Maybe if I write it down I can make it stick a little longer than it usually does. Maybe if I write it down it'll help someone else too.

I don't think the concept of motivation by itself is all that useful. I think it's more helpful to think of either priorities or prospective priorities. Priorities are the things we actually do in our life. Motivation is required for the things we would like to become priorities but currently aren't.

Priorities aren't things you need to put on your to-do list. If your kid falls off the swing and comes up a bloody mess, do you need to check your calendar before running to help them? I'm guessing probably not. That's what a priority looks like. It doesn't necessarily have to be the routine things we do everyday, but also the things we would stop at nothing in order to accomplish when the opportunity arises. But either way, priorities are the things we actually do. Not the stuff we want to do.

The issue is that our priorities are often not what we want them to be. We want to read more every week, but really we just keep playing World of Warcraft. Leveling your Warlock is actually the priority whether we like it or not.

If I want to be a great writer one day, then I probably need to wake up at the crack of dawn and type into this machine for about 4-6 hours every day. If I don't do that then I don't get to be a writer. Those are basically the rules.

Yes it's all arguing semantics. You have a different definition of priority. That's fine. We both have a concept of things that are important to us, and the things we want to be important to us. Call them whatever you want. I call them priorities.

And semantics is the everything in this game. I'm sure there are tons of writers who write more or less, do it at different times of day, on different brands of computers, etc. And what is a writer anyway? Do they write books? Articles? Blogs? Copy? Both the priority, the actual execution of the priority, and the motivation are up for debate. But they have to be something, and they have to be concrete, or they probably aren't going to get done.

But it's your priority and motivation. You'll have to decide what is what. And that makes things even more complicated. But if it's really a priority, you'll figure out all the details anyway. If you drop a prospective priority because you couldn't figure out how to define your goals, or how to fit it into your schedule then it wasn't a priority.

What's motivation's role in all this? Do you want to be the person who reads a book every week? Why? The why is the motivation. Either you have a good answer to 'Why?' or you don't. I don't think there is a whole lot of good advice that can be given on motivation. It's too personal. If you fail your quest it's because you:
  • lost sight of your answer to the 'Why?' question, 
  • you found out that your answer just wasn't very good at all.
  • something changed in your life and consequently changed your priorities and motivations.
And all that's fine.

Motivations that weren't that strong in the first place tell us we are meant to be someone else. That someone else can still be a perfectly good person. There are a lot of wonderful things in this world to achieve and do, and nobody can experience them all.

Lots of times we find out our motivations weren't very strong because we simply didn't know enough when we wanted to make something a priority. It means we're learning and moving forward with our lives.

And finally, life changes people. If you have a newborn, it can't be a priority to go out with your friends 3 times a week. This literally cannot be considered a 'failure', it's just means were reacting to the realities of life.

A lot of the Blapril posts about motivation right now are about how you shouldn't feel bad because you didn't blog enough posts or ended up taking a hiatus from writing. And you shouldn't feel bad. At this moment in time, maybe blogging every single day wasn't actually a priority. Maybe blogging everyday isn't actually a good goal. Or maybe, in the middle of a once in a generation global fucking pandemic, your priorities were elsewhere.

I make priorities and motivations concrete concepts because it helps takes the mystical 'what-you-should-be-doing' out of the equation. I don't have a goal, I have a priority. And I don't have declarations of intent, I have a motivation. And if I fail it's because that's how life is at that moment of time, and not because I'm a total piece of shit.

It feels rotten to not have your priorities match up with your prospective priorities. But if you're a human being of any ambition then that's going to be the case no matter how wildly successful you are. You will always want more self-improvement. You will always want to write checks that your skills and energy can't cash. You will always want to be better at something, or less bad at something, or learning a new skill all together. And if you fail at making something a priority, then just try it again. Or try it from a new motivation. Or drop it all together and use what you learned to focus on the next thing. Your priorities and prospective priorities will never be in sync. So why beat yourself up about it?

Again, I know I haven't written anything profound here. And my life would probably be a lot better if I took what I wrote to heart more often. But when I'm actively using this idea of priorities versus motivation I find that I'm happier and more productive. Maybe something in all of this rambling will be useful to someone else too.


  1. I agree with all of that, as you might imagine. I think I've already said enough on this topic though, so I'll leave it at that for once.

  2. Profound or not, this is the best articulation I've seen on priority / motivation and helped clarify a lot of my own thoughts on the matter.

    Whether one agrees with the terminology here or not essentially doesn't matter with how you've explained it. And it starts digging at the surface of all sorts of related subjects such as stated priority vs. actual -- and that 'actual' might not even be a conscious one, it could be you believe your intent but then when push comes to shove for whatever the the reason other underlying things come to the fore.

    Fascinating area all around, I do think your post is helpful. Certainly more thought required on my part.

    1. I'm glad you liked it. Strict definitions help make things a bit more concrete in my mind. I suspect it helps others as well.