The secrets to self-motivation

I haven’t written anything for more than a week. You may think, well I post weekly and I’m not writing anything for uni at the moment, that’s fair enough. But at the start of the year I decided I wanted to keep a writing journal again, writing at least something every day. I haven’t written in it since last Sunday, and I don’t have a blog post for this week. Hence, you’re reading the transcript of my mind as I type.

When I kept a writing journal last year it started out as an assignment I needed to do for my course. As it progressed, I began to see the value in it and committed to writing in it every day. I won’t be graded on this new journal, so that explains a little bit why I’m less motivated. That’s some basic motivation theory for you folks. When you are extrinsically motivated to do something, doing the same task later without the same motivation is less appealing – in accordance with self-determination theory, it compromises our need for autonomy. In this case, the motivator started out as the possibility of a high grade – the motivation was outsourced as seeking reward and avoiding punishment. I later began to see the value in the task and so developed intrinsic motivation where the goal was mastery of improvement of a skill – this fulfils the natural need or desire for competence. When the journal was complete, my work was rewarded.

In theory, all of those intrinsic motivators are still present. I haven’t forgotten how writing in the journal improved of my writing abilities, increased creativity and increased happiness because I was regularly achieving a goal and doing something I enjoyed. However something seems to have changed, because I am less motivated to write in my journal this time in comparison to last year. Let’s work out why that is and how to fix it.

Humans are naturally motivated to seek novelty and variety, this is especially heightened in the teenage years of life. That’s one reason the journal has been harder this time – I’ve done it before. It’s not as fun or as much of a challenge now because I already know I can do it.

According to the Maslow need hierarchy, the need for creativity and the sense of accomplishment (my rewards for the journal) are not as important as other needs. I may be struggling to find drive to be creative because I’m not fulfilling my other needs first. This hierarchy can be consciously overridden though, so I don’t think this is a hugely driving factor.

The expectancy x value theory of motivation states that motivation may be reduced if a reward for a task has perceived low expectancy and value. If I do not expect that by writing in my journal every day, I will be rewarded, then motivation will be decreased. Likewise if I do not see the reward as valuable, I won’t be driven to trying to gain said reward. The expectancy part of this theory adds up, because I felt no reward for the first few days of writing – it felt like a chore and my writing quality wasn’t very high. This slump is quite common in most goals set to improve skills, especially in health and fitness. When there are no immediate results, the belief and expectancy that exercising and eating healthy will lead to happiness is decreased. There is also a possibility the value I have placed on the reward has decreased since last year. I know I have improved my writing over the past year, so maybe that’s good enough. I don’t intend to make writing a career, so it isn’t all that important for me to be able to write exceptionally well.

Cool, so I’ve picked up on a few reasons why I’m struggling to be motivated to write. What can I do about it then? Well, looking at these theories, there are a few ways I can increase my motivation. I could change the reward/punishment situation – perhaps adding in extra rewards for when I write or implementing punishments when I don’t write. However, this will make it harder to be internally motivated in the future if I develop a routine of relying on rewards to write. I could make the experience more novel – make a twist on my journal so that I’m not just doing the same thing as last year. I can also make sure I’m fulfilling my other needs so that creativity can be a higher priority.

This will be my new plan of attack for my writing. I will find ways to make it interesting, new and fun as well as making sure I am looking after myself properly in other areas of my life.

 

I hope this exploration of motivation can be useful to you in your writing endeavours but also in other goals you wish to achieve. Understanding our reasons for doing things helps us to continue doing them even when it is difficult or seems pointless.

Wishing you every success in your future goals, dreams and ambitions.

Stay safe,

Stephanie

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