Motivational Tools Are Only As Strong As You Are

Posted by pladd on May 13, 2016

In a way, this is a follow-up to my previous post about Not Doing Things. See, I noticed my strong tendency to Not Do Things (or at the very least Not Finish Things) quite a while ago. It’s probably been at least a few years since I first made that realization.

I didn’t want to let that problem define my life, but I wasn’t sure how to go about solving it. It wasn’t until I started getting serious about self-education that I decided to try this crazy “Beeminder” thing a friend of mine swore by.

I wrote a little about Beeminder a few months ago. It’s a fantastic motivational tool, with a large array of useful features. It turns distant goals into immediate dangers that you can address. And it worked. In the span of a couple of months, I logged about 70 hours of art practice and around 90 hours of work on this website, including design, development, and writing. Beeminder was minding the shit out of me; the constant imminent threat of losing a few bucks was enough motivation to keep me working even when I didn’t feel like it.

Then, like I mentioned in my sausage post, I got tripped up. Literally.

No, wait, that makes it sound like I tripped and fell. That’s not what happened. I went on a trip. I got “tripped.” Get it?

During and after the trip and the subsequent visit from a friend, I made a crucial mistake. In my defense, it was late in the evening, and I was drained and exhausted. I was stressing out because I hadn’t done my hours of work for the day. Beeminder was poised to sting, and I didn’t feel like I had the physical or mental capacity to follow through on the day’s promises.

That’s when someone suggested that I “bank” an hour of work. I would mark down that I needed to do an extra hour of website work and art later in the week. It wasn’t cheating, really! I’d make up for it later!

But I would have to lie to Beeminder.

The Fall

Like Lot’s wife when she heard the Sirens start to sing, I was tempted. Like Macbeth when he asked for a kingdom for his horse, I was weak. And, like Othello and Ophelia, I drank the metaphorical poison: I typed in a number that wasn’t true.

Thusly did I break Beeminder’s hold over me. The power was gone. I didn’t have to do anything all along! It was an illusion!

Almost immediately, my working pace slowed to a near-halt. I have drawn things since that day, but not with any sort of regularity. I have made blog posts and worked on the code of this website, but my posts have been few and far between.

I had been like a chronically overweight person on their Last Diet Ever, I Swear, Seriously I’m Going To Get In Shape This Time Forever For Reals. Finally, this was The Thing that would keep me away from that dang junk food! I found it!

But a diet doesn’t stop you from exercising free will. Dr. Fatmelt won’t physically restrain you from driving to Donny Diabetes’ Donut Dive and cramming four bavarian cremes right into your facehole. Unless he does? Unless you have some sort of very specific standing relationship with a Dr. Fatmelt, in which case I won’t judge. You do you, man.

Similarly, all of the Trellos and Beeminders and Todoists in the world won’t stop me from ignoring their friendly pings and lying my ass off if I so choose. If my decisions put the restrictions in place, my decisions can remove said restrictions. Nothing can stop that.

So where does this leave me? I’m not entirely sure. I’ve written two blog posts this week, and I plan to move to a regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting schedule, so I’m making blogging progress. But I don’t have a plan to continue developing my code portfolio or my art skills. Maybe I’ll try again soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to do what I can. That’s all anyone can do, really. And I’m starting to think that “do what you can” doesn’t necessarily work the way I’ve always thought it did. I’ve been treating the phrase like a challenge: you can do so much with your life! Go out there and do it! You’re capable of amazing things!

But then I don’t do amazing things, because I don’t put in the work. I feel like a failure. And I hear people talk about how failure is fine, as long as you try; but I feel like I failed to try.

Maybe that’s okay. Maybe sometimes you can’t try as hard as you wanted.

Maybe sometimes you look back at your life and realize that, despite your original intentions, you’ve done none of what you set out to do. You stopped trying to really try.

But I think that’s something I should expect of myself. I do what I can until I can’t, because sometimes I can’t. I’m a human damn being. I don’t expect to get every drawing “right” every time; it’s the practice that matters. I shouldn’t expect to get every day “right,” either. The value is in the attempt.

So let’s try this again.