Consistency over motivation

Tim Deschryver

Throughout whole my childhood I played basketball. Because of school and the early years of work, I quit playing and thus I had no exercise anymore. 3-4 years ago, I started getting into running because I wanted to have exercise again and running was always something that I liked to do.

In the first months it was fun and hard while building up condition after years of just sitting on the couch. I had fun seeing my endurance improve after every week and it motivated me to keep going. After a couple of months I reached my limit and the progress was less visible and I struggled to find the motivation to keep running multiple times a week. When I did go for a run, I pushed myself to go for a run, and I pushed myself to get a better time or to run a longer distance. Because my body wasn't used to the payload I put it in, I started getting small injuries.

Most of the time I ignored the injuries or didn't give it enough time to heal, so the injuries kept getting worse. After each injury it felt like I took 2 steps backward and that I had to restart my training. I was stuck in a vicious cycle, because my motivation was to get better, I kept pushing myself making the injuries worse and after some rest I restarted the cycle.

After a while I couldn't see the (fast) growth anymore, so I just quit. Only running sporadically when someone or something triggered my motivation.

This all changed at the start of this year. I removed the need for motivation to go for a run and set up a schedule while listening to my body. Now, we're almost at the half of the year and I remained injury-free. I also enjoy it more, I've run more, I keep improving (slowly), and even on a bad day, I keep going. I think this is because I listen more to my body (not the motivation), and because it's become a routine. On the plus side, not thinking about my performance made me more aware during my runs which lead to ideas and other perspectives that I hadn't before.

I share this story because I believe being consistent is an important skill in multiple aspects of life.

It's been several times that I got asked the question if I sleep at night, I think this is because I'm perceived as being "productive". As a side note, don't skip sleep to do stuff, get your rest and your sleep because it's important and makes it possible to do that other stuff. Over the last years, I think that eliminating motivation as a factor to get things done and to just do I get more things done.

I also apply this to writing blog posts. Instead of waiting for the right mood to get in to "the zone" and to have a good topic, I just stick to the schedule and start writing. In my experience, while being in the process of writing a post (good or bad), new and better ideas will come out of it. Sometimes I drop my current writing for the new idea, other times I will add it to the to-write list. Even when a post doesn't work out in the end, it was a practice to get things better the next time. This system helped me to write a blog post each week throughout the year. While in the past it fluctuated, as I would only write when I had thought the entire blog post out. And to be honest, I don't want to break the streak right now.

The same can be said about my Open Source contributions. When I started contributing to Open Source I was highly motivated to do so. At times when I wasn't motivated, I didn't contribute and to my surprise this gave me a bad feeling and made me feel unproductive. I still wanted to contribute to Open Source because I enjoyed it, as I got the opportunity to work with awesome peoples while learning from them and improving my skills, I'm also able to create and improve projects I use daily. By adding the time that I want to spend on Open Source to my schedule where I see fit, I get to enjoy working on it while removing the unhappy thoughts when I'm not able to. Just like with running, where motivation pushed my body over its limit (creating physical pain), it created negative thoughts(emotional pain).

The message of this post is that because I eliminated motivation as a factor to get things done and to just start doing it, it has the effect that I get more stuff done as before. There is no time lost while waiting (or trying) to get into the right "zone", but it also improved my overall mood. Mostly it's starting that's the hardest but once you're on a roll it gets easier to continue and finnish your intentions. In my perspective, using motivation can help to gain attraction and build momentum, but after a while it will flatten out and then consistency is the key. This only applies to skills that you want to improve on, as it will help to maintain a foundation that you can work with.

Feel free to update this blog post on GitHub, thanks in advance!

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