The Motivation Experiment

Life can be rough sometimes.

I’m still struggling to be productive since I moved back home recently. I have had spurts of productivity, but it feels as if I’m fighting an uphill battle. When you’re fighting an uphill battle, your motivational strength is sapped easily.

As I wrote about in a prior article, the key to using motivation correctly is to set smaller goals that you can accomplish. Once you accomplish a goal, you’re ready to tackle the next. This is an experimental post that involves an actual experiment.

The Experiment

I’m less motivated now than I have been in months.  It’s weird. It’s hard to pinpoint any one reason, but generally I’ve been failing to focus.  There is so much I want to do at this very moment that I’m being pulled in 568 directions.  When you are being pulled in every direction – you stay in the same spot.

So my experiment is to test the motivation method I talked about earlier. I have several hours left for the rest of the day and SO much I want to do.  Today, I have literally accomplished nothing so far (how’s that for honesty?).

An interesting tidbit is that the motivation article was not talking about intra-day motivation, but I am going to apply it in this way.  I also think that having this information online where hundreds of people can see it will serve as a motivator.

My goal is to build momentum by motivating myself to accomplish tasks one after another.  Each accomplished task will take me incrementally closer to my goal of regaining my vigor for life (which is typically there).  If all goes as planned, I will go to sleep tonight being very pleased with the day and excited about my success.

Here’s What I’m Going To Do

I’ll post a list of things I want to accomplish by midnight tonight (US Eastern). At midnight, I will update this page with my results and thoughts on this experiment.  If I fail…well, I’m not going to fail.

The motivation-building list (start simple and build up to more difficult tasks):

  1. Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes
  2. Read one chapter in a book
  3. List three items on ebay
  4. Clean my room to satisfaction
  5. Write 1,500 words in the e-book I’m working on
  6. Organize my bookmarks toolbar to satisfaction (such a mess right now – flooded with links)
  7. Transfer MS Word blog post ideas to Excel SS

I have a whopping 8 hours and 10 minutes to do this.  I’m gonna go for it. You know what?  Just making this orderly list and setting clear daily goals has my motivation climbing rapidly.  I’m excited! I’ll update this post a little bit after midnight with results.  🙂

Wish me luck!

The Update (8 Hours Later)

Readers, I just had an incredible day.  Even with the terrible start, the finish was so incredible that it made up for the first half.  In short, the experiment was a ridiculous success.  I essentially combined shock treatment and my motivation technique with an added focus on momentum building to have one of the most productive 8 hours I’ve ever had.

1. Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes  √

Yes, I am using the square root symbol as a check mark.  😛

For this I jogged 2.5 miles in 30-40 minutes.  Part of the way I ran while dribbling a basketball.  I wanted to start this list with exercise as it is suitable for the “shock treatment” aspect of this equation.

It worked wonders.

Not only was I out the door running 5 minutes after I published this post, but I literally had about 20 ideas for blog posts and websites during the run.  It makes me want to hire an assistant to run alongside me and take notes next time.

The run increased my motivation and positivity.  I haven’t mentioned this yet, but being positive is essential to being creative.  Knowing that, it wasn’t too surprising I came up with several good ideas.  The increased blood flow to the brain helps too.

2. Read one chapter in a book √

I read chapter one in The Hobbit.  It’s developing into a nice story.  I had trouble getting into it in the very beginning, but towards the end of the chapter I found myself very engaged.  Nice job, Tolkien!

After completing task #2, I was very encouraged by my quick reversal of a bad day.

Affiliate link above – by the way, nearly everything I link to that can be purchased will be an affiliate link to because I love Amazon, they sell everything, and affiliate links don’t cost you any money (but can help me a tiny bit).

3. List three items on ebay √

I did this quickly.  I could really sense the momentum from tasks 1 and 2.  It took me 30 minutes total to list three items.  This might be standard for most people, but I usually take longer with ebay when I should just focus on quickly getting rid of items for cash!

4. Clean my room to satisfaction √+

Here is the surprising MVT (Most Valuable Task).  Not only did I go well beyond my initial ideas for cleaning – I deeply organized – but cleaning up my work area resulted in an epiphany.  I believe my room being messy was the cause of my unproductive skid.

As I was talking with Tom about productivity (see it in the comments below), he mentioned that cleaning my room was busywork.  While the work itself is busywork, it unleashed a gargantuan amount of value upon completion.

Now, I can see why I instinctively placed a high priority on cleaning my room – because to me it is a cornerstone of productivity.  When my “sanctuary” is messed up, so is my life.  A cluttered environment gives me mental blocks and makes me unhappy.

5. Write 1,500 words in the e-book I’m working on √-

This is the failure in the list, but not really.  I only wrote 750 words in the book.  I’m not sure I should have set a specific word count to begin with because that can force terrible writing.

As I reached 700 words, my mind just wanted to move on to something else.  Eventually, I stopped fighting for the sake of reaching an arbitrary goal (a valuable lesson).  What I did write was quality content, however, and I look forward to finishing the book and setting it loose.

6. Organize my bookmarks toolbar to satisfaction √+

This had the same completely refreshing effect that the room cleaning did.  Life is twice as good because of this. Now my internet world is organized.  I even organized my computer files for extra credit!

7. Transfer MS Word blog post ideas to Excel SS √

This was wonderful.  I organized my blog ideas on a spreadsheet (still more to do here).

Conclusion of Experiment

I highly recommend trying this.

  1. Compile a list of tasks that you believe you have enough time to accomplish (if in doubt, aim a little low, but not too much that you can slack off!).  It is good to have a little bit of pressure that gets you focused, but too much will just overwhelm you.
  2. Once you have the list of tasks, organize them from easiest to hardest.  You’re building momentum with the small easy tasks and using that positive motion to help you complete tasks that you have been putting off.  It is a confidence-building process.

I like to start off with exercise as it serves as the shock treatment and sets a great tone for a productive day. After I ran, I was much more decisive than usual – something you need for getting things done.  I believe it had to do with increased brain activity and that “go go go” mindset carrying over from my run.

If you do decide to try this, please let me and the Deep Existence community know.  It’s cool that there is a community here.  Deep thinkers unite!  🙂

Until next time,

Stephen The Experimenter

Live Like You’re On Vacation…At Home!

If you were to throw vacation into a pot and boil it down to its essence – what would you find?

Young woman relaxing at the beach

Does she look like she's concerned with needs?

The essence of vacation is living a life of wants – not needs.  At home and work we have tasks and responsibilities that we need to get done.  Vacation removes these needs temporarily and we’re free to do anything we want.

Or so we think…

Truthfully, vacation is full of needs.  We still need to eat and find a place to sleep if we’re traveling. We need to book flights and plan our days’ activities. Heck, vacation can entail more needs than home life!  So what is going on here?

The difference is that we want to take care of those vacation needs!


Wants vs. Needs – Fight!

In the battle of wants and needs, needs seem to come out as the favorite – the more important one. Everyone says to take care of your needs first.  I don’t disagree with that per se, just with the mindset behind it.  In the most important area of life – daily living – wants are victorious.

As I shaved my face in the bathroom, I was having a deep thinking session.  I realized that I was putting off some very important tasks.  The main one being getting reorganized with my Getting Things Done system (affiliate link).  I considered laziness first, but I knew that was not the culprit.  It was something else – something subtle, but crippling.

The culprit has been found and arrested. I have learned a valuable lesson that could change your life.  I have just discovered how to live the vacation life at home. Like many life-changing things, it involves a small, yet very significant, shift in mindset.

Just minutes ago, I needed to get some things done.  It was a requirement. It was work.  Not anymore!

In my 4 step career guide, I wrote about how “working” can be play if you’re doing what you love.  In a similar way, now I want to get these things done.  I’d rather do these than watch TV or check my traffic stats.

Our needs – the not always fun things we must accomplish – are just more important wants.

The Resulting Mindset

If you “get” this, your mindset regarding wants and needs will change dramatically.  Rather than the two being distinctly separate concepts in your mind, everything becomes a want.  What do I mean by that?

  • Needs:  You need to eat today.  You need to pay your bills.  You need to email Jeff back. You need to apply for a job.  You need to call your girlfriend back.
  • Wants:  You want to go to the pool.  You want to read a book.  You want to watch the NBA Playoffs tonight.

With the mindset I’m suggesting (I’ll explain how to get it later), your needs are relabeled as wants. Not only does this make life simpler, but it frees you of stress associated with the obligation to do things.  Now, you’re a motivated person full of wants and desires.

  • Needs push us to do something.  Essentially, you have to fight yourself from doing something else that you’d rather do.
  • On the other side of the street, wants pull us toward them.  These are what we choose to do if given a choice.

Which one sounds like more fun?

The new mindset is…you need want to eat today.  You need want to pay the bills.  You need want to email Jeff back.  You need want to apply for a job.  You need want to call your girlfriend back.

A Single List Of Wants

With only wants, you can sort a single list according to importance.  Think about how much less work this is than sorting two lists for importance. After sorting two lists of wants/needs, you must try to determine which #1 on each list is more important.  That’s a lot of unnecessary work.

Here is a sample list that includes wants and needs turned into wants.

  1. Pay your bills
  2. Watch the NBA Playoffs (The girlfriend can wait until the game is over, right?  :-D)
  3. Call your girlfriend back
  4. Read a book
  5. Email Jeff

See how the wants and needs of an individual naturally intertwine throughout the day?  It makes sense to label them all as wants – because believe me – you WANT to get your needs taken care of. Look at what happens if you neglect some of these needs…

You have an angry girlfriend, receive annoying calls and letters that let you know you didn’t pay your bills, suffer from a malnourished body, have no money, and a miss out on a great business opportunity because you didn’t email Jeff back.

Hmm…yes, we want to do those things.

How To Transform Needs Into Wants

It is easy to say it is best to change your needs into wants.  But if I were you, I’d be asking how exactly we’re supposed to do that.

The key to needs becoming wants involves your focal point.  Stop focusing on the task itself – this causes mental blocks and procrastination.  The wrong way looks like this (I’m sure you’re familiar with it):

“Oh, I need to work out today.” — “I need to get those bills paid.” — “I need…”

This is pointless.  Ask yourself WHY you need WANT to do these things.  What’s in it for you?

After the following example, everything I’ve said will become crystal clear, you will be inspired, and you’ll stop procrastinating. You’ll be able to live like someone who is on vacation (except for the tropical paradise part, for that you probably need to achieve your dreams.  I’ll add a picture to tide you over).

Island in blue sea and sky

When you buy this island, please invite me to your parties.

The old mindset: “I need to work out today.”

Transforms into…

The new mindset: “I want to work out today because it is the only way I will ever lose weight and get a six pack, I’ll feel much better physically, I’ll feel better about myself, be healthier, and have a great excuse to rest and watch TV later.”


Did you see what just happened there?  A bland, boring, and bothersome need to work out just became a very desirable want with a huge list of benefits. This is the key.  You can’t force yourself to do things you don’t want to do for very long – so work with yourself.

Whenever you’re avoiding a necessary task, recite the benefits of completing it to motivate you.

I want to do laundry today.  I know I’m running out of clean shorts and it would feel great to know that I have a fully stocked selection again.  I also like the look of an empty laundry basket.  Why would I delay doing this wonderful task that benefits me so much?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to get some things done now.  What do you want to do today or tomorrow?

Your Life Is Stagnant – Get Shock Treatment

You may be failing at life right now, and it isn’t for the reasons you think.

It isn’t because you’re not trying hard enough.

It isn’t because you don’t have what it takes.

You’re failing right now because you let yourself do it.  You’re doing the same things you always do.  You’re running on a treadmill, trying to move forward.

Essentially, you’re stagnant.  Some of you think I’m not talking about you.  The truth is I’m talking about almost everyone including myself.

Examine your life.  Are you really racing towards your dreams?  If not, you need shock treatment!

Picture a nasty, green swimming pool.  It has been sitting there for months in stagnancy – building up disgusting slime that lines its walls. Nobody wants to swim in it.  It isn’t lifeless, as the bacteria have invited algae and her friends over for a pool party.  They are all having such a great time.  Unfortunately, this pool party isn’t any fun for humans.

Stagnant Pool

For those who had trouble picturing a nasty, green pool...

Shock Treatment

So what’s the treatment for a stagnant pool of green slime?  Shock treatment.  You dump chlorine or other appropriate cleansers in the water and it “shocks” and destroys the undesirable elements (for the record, I’m a fan of salt water pools).  To make an analogy of the analogy – I see it as the cops showing up at a teenage drinking party – the situation is disturbed to a significant degree.

The other thing about pool shock treatment is that you need to do it about once a week to maintain the desired cleanliness.  When I talk about shocking yourself in the next section, keep in mind that it is not a one time thing.

Shock Yourself Sensible

The problem I have seen in my own life is that I will rely on nothing but my instincts and previous decisions.  This puts me on the same level as a mosquito, and I hate mosquitoes.  Like a man performing a ritual he does not know the meaning of, I have been guilty of making decisions based on ancient principles that I have not considered for years.

Can you know exactly how to do something perfectly the first time?  No, nobody gets everything right the first time.  Then why do we rely on our first decisions so much?  You will rely on them less and less if you are willing to fail.

Here is a recap of the past several months:  When I left this house several months ago, I was a stagnant, passive human being.  In February, I made a decision to start a blog.  That decision changed me permanently.  Here I am mere months later as an active, aggressive pursuant of my dreams.  I’m not going to be stopped.  Like many graduates these days, I just moved back in with my parents.  In an eerie realization, I found myself suddenly being much less productive than when I was out on my own.

The point of that example is this – a familiar environment caused me to revert to my old ways.  This was the environment that I became stale in.  Chances are, if you’re also in a familiar, comfortable environment, at home or work, you will have developed several stagnant tendencies.

Take a look at some of the stagnant dirt I’ve already found growing in my life pool since moving here just a few days ago:

  1. Bacteria – A small amount of work being “good enough for today”
  2. Algae – The tendency to wait on things instead of constantly creating new opportunities
  3. Human waste – Being “safer” and less aggressive about what I truly want in life

There is a huge difference between healthy routines and stagnant living, and yet they can easily be confused with one another.  The similarity is in their repetitive behavior and the big difference is what that behavior produces.  Look at my stagnant behavior in the list above and compare it to the following habit.

Waking up at 7:30 AM to run and read in a great book – a fantastic routine that breeds success.  I am going to do this tomorrow morning. It is a conscious decision to rise early and complete two worthwhile daily activities that will lead to a healthy mind and body.

This Article Is Its Own Fruit

Do this in your life.  It works.  I’m going to run at 7:30 AM (which is in 6 hours) – it is my response to the shock treatment.  You’re reading more evidence of the treatment – this post.

An hour ago, I told myself that I had done enough work for the day when I really hadn’t done much (#1 from the list).  I noticed the problem and decided to give myself shock treatment by challenging myself.  I had plenty of writing juice left in me, got fired up, and let my fingers fly (at only 60 WPM. I’d like to type faster).

In doing this, I am breaking an unspoken rule I had set about posting frequency.  I was going on the “every few days” schedule, but I’m going to keep you on your toes by firing out this article the day after my previous post.  Didn’t see that coming, did you!?

Ok, I have some thanking to do….

This thanking is related to my last article on criticism.  Take a look at the benefits I’ve gained from inviting criticism.

I appreciate that Martin criticized my blog design. From this I began to redesign and tweak things and I believe it looks much better now.  If you’re coming from my Problogger post, you can see I’m still experimenting!

Thanks to Hugo for pointing out a possible greater impact if I had not released criticism part I & II back-to-back.  Next time I will write one or two posts in between them for greater variety and build up.

Thank you Martyn from Two Hour Blogger for pointing out that I need to find a blog design and stick with it.

Chris from Soundspott, I believe it was your comment on posting frequency that ultimately led me to challenge my posting habits and create this post.

Thanks also to Ashvini and Riley, who did not criticize my blog, but gave me some valuable feedback.

I appreciate all of you.

Criticism Is Misunderstood – I Have Proof (Pt. I)

Criticism (of the constructive variant) is the nicest thing you can give someone.  Receiving criticism in the hot seat changed my life.  I love criticism. I want you to love criticism too. But currently, it is widely misunderstood.

Do you want proof that criticism is misunderstood by the masses?  I’ve got it for you right now.  This happened just three days ago.

In a recent #blogchat on Twitter, there was a tweet going around that was being retweeted and agreed with enthusiastically and nearly unanimously.  I think it was the most retweeted statement in the entire #blogchat session.  It bothered me.  I vehemently disagreed with it.

The setting: Four bloggers were having their blogs reviewed and critiqued/criticized by the many #blogchat participants.

The bothersome comment: “A standing ovation for those who bravely volunteered to have their blogs reviewed.” (paraphrased unless my memory is perfect)

My response: “Why?  I would PAY to have this.  This is a privilege!”

In my mind, it was as if these individuals had been given a $1,000 check and were being praised for cashing it.  We should have congratulated them instead. They were the most fortunate of all bloggers that night – getting constructive criticism from a multitude of intelligent bloggers. Companies spend money on surveys for a reason – feedback is valuable.

I understand that it can be difficult to be told that something related to you is imperfect, but it is no reason to receive a trophy or standing ovation.  This minor discomfort is displaced by the avalanche of honor and usefulness of the criticism.  The blogchat session showed me how twisted peoples’ perception of constructive criticism is.

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Most people are familiar with the phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  But how many of them understand what it means?  Love is broader than romance and deeper than “being nice.”  Sometimes love might literally mean slapping someone in the face. Loving others is acting in their best interest, even if nobody enjoys it.

And how do you love yourself?  You take care of yourself.  You work hard to stay in shape and eat well to take care of your body. You push yourself to succeed in areas of importance.  You brush your teeth and bathe.  You don’t say, “I’m fine without food,” when you’re starving to death.  Don’t think you’re loving others when you tell them everything is fine (or fail to say anything) when their life is a mess.

There have been many times that I have taken criticism of others too far.  Specifically, I am still learning how to criticize others in a fruitful and loving way. My personality leans towards “brutal honesty” and sometimes I forget that my love of criticism is not shared amongst the entire human race.  I have met very few people that openly enjoy being criticized.

A Personal Example

One time, I criticized a person for how they were living – we’ll call her Jane.  I did it because I cared about Jane, but the way in which I did it offended her.  When she pointed out my harsh criticism as being unacceptable, I told her about my belief that criticism was important and essential for growth.

Jane: “So what, you want me to just say what I think about you?”

Me: “Yes!”

Criticizing woman

Ok Jane...I get it.

After I finally convinced her that she could “let me have it,” she did not hold back!  She told me that I often came across as arrogant, abrasive, and a know-it-all.  She said I seemed to think that I was perfect and had all of the answers.  You can imagine I was immediately defensive on the inside.  On the outside, I told her that I would think about it so as to avoid “instant hypocrite” status.  😛

Once I got over myself (an important life skill), I realized that I needed to listen to what was being said about me as it was vitally important feedback.  When I decided to have an open mind about the truth of her statements, I learned a lot from them.  I didn’t see myself in that way, but at least one other person did.  Since then, I have been much more careful about how I criticize others (I still mess up) so that I don’t come across in this way.

Personal Development

Personal development is dead a popular and important concept.  It is the idea that we can improve ourselves through learning and gaining experience.  Possibly the most important source of information that we can learn about ourselves from is other people.  We are so familiar with ourselves that we don’t realize all of the flaws we possess.  Not only is it difficult for us to see them when we’re looking, but sometimes we subconsciously blind ourselves to our imperfections because we aren’t comfortable with them.

When a friend takes the time to point out a potential life hazard or an inconsistency they see in our beliefs and actions, they are doing us a great favor.

Another reason to seek the opinion of others is perception.  You might not be arrogant, but what if everyone around you perceives you as such?  Habits and mannerisms convey a large amount of information that we’re not always intending to broadcast.  When we communicate verbally or non-verbally and the interpretation is incorrect, there is a misunderstanding.

Understanding Misunderstanding

Misunderstanding is perception failing to match reality.

  • It happens in sports – Tom Brady was perceived and selected as 6th round talent and he already has three Super Bowl wins.
  • It happens with Justin Beiber – Justin is perceived by teenage girls as a super-human when he is just a little boy with some musical talent and interesting hair.
  • It happens with people in conversation – you think she’s stuck up, but she’s just shy.

Misunderstanding happens on a daily basis, and it is yet another reason why criticism is very important.  You might find that criticism reveals a misconception that you had about the person.  In that case, your view of that person is made more accurate.  If your criticism was based on the correct perception, then the person has a chance to benefit from an outside perspective.

I hope that I have made a case for criticism being important and beneficial.  Criticism is a sensitive area for many people, and that is why we need to know how to do it effectively.  The next post – part II – will be on how to criticize others effectively and lovingly.  I hope you’ll stick around to criticize it.

How do you deal with giving and/or receiving criticism?  Do you like it?

Part Two: How To Criticize Others Without Ruining Everything