On Motivation and Developing a Personal System

I once wrote the words, “I’m not very motivated by badges.” This was, apparently, a bald-faced lie. I am extremely motivated by badges, and streaks, and the visual representation of meeting goals. On Halloween I was so close to hitting 20,000 steps after trick-or-treating with my son that I paced the Perkins parking lot in heavy, scary fog because I knew that there was a badge at the end of the tunnel. (Also: I had never done it before, and I wanted to know if my FitBit would buzz when I lapped my 10K goal. It did not. I was disappointed.)

While choosing “personal participation badges” on the NaNoWriMo website, I realized that I really wanted to achieve all of them. You may not know this, but that’s impossible. Some exclude others (e.g. you cannot realistically be both a pantser and a plotter). There’s now a badge for logging a word count every day. Dear god, I have to do that, because damn it, I want that little monochrome bastard filled in with glorious, successful color.

I feel so Pavlovian right now. I’m choosing to embrace it.

Last night, I sent a tweet from my private account:

Screenshot, @scatteringashes, meeting goals

I thought about this tweet again this morning. Those are three good goals to have. One of them is easy. It’s a rare day that I can’t manage to get my step goals in because I have such a vast and excellent support network and can usually get out for a walk. The other two are things I know how to do, and am able to do consistently if I just make them into priorities rather than, “Hey, it’s a perk if I pull this off.”

My friend Rachel and I were talking about her process at a write-in yesterday. She’s successful and awesome at being a writer, yet still working on really finding a process that works with her rather than against her. And thinking about it, a lack of process and consistency has always held me back. I have a history struggling with amorphous goals.

I also have a history of being motivated by data and stickers:

I had a moment where I thought about resisting the siren call of digital stickers, but then I looked back over the things I use to meet my non-writing goals. Y’know, they work for me. My desire to keep up that streak on MFP kept me thinking about my food intake and weight loss goals even when I otherwise gave zero shits. It’s probably the biggest reason that I didn’t gain back more than five pounds in the months I wasn’t being proactive. The FitBit’s data (and badges, though not quite so much as data) motivates me to push myself just a little bit further to meet those goals, because damn it, I can. NaNoWriMo’s newish badge function keeps me thinking about it — push just a little farther, be at least as good as Past Ashley, and earn that fucking sticker.

This is not a groundbreaking thing here. My friend Christie uses a real calendar for this same purpose, with a wide variety of goals. She has for, I think, about two years now. I always thought it looked cool, but never thought, “Hey, can that be applied to my life?”

Today, I decided to try to apply it to my life. I’m too scattered for a real calendar; my paper planners always end up trashed, lost, and out of date. But I’m great at keeping a digital calendar, and using apps for things that most people don’t need electricity to manage. I installed an app that allows me to keep track of how many days I’ve met a goal.

We’ll see if it works. I’m really bad about taking small failures and making them into big personal failures that mean I should just die I’m useless, so maybe it won’t work. But maybe it will. Maybe having a small, tangible thing to document my success, even if it’s just a tap and a number when I complete it, will be enough to keep me going when nothing else works.

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