How do you make changes when you haven't made any New Year's resolutions? PHS Editor Kali Anthony shares her suggestions...
That's about how long it takes for most people to forget their New Years' resolutions. You know the ones: get fit, write a thousand words each day, give up sugar/alcohol/smoking/chocolate... The options are endless.
Most of us start the new year with great intentions, only to have them fall away too soon after Auld Lang Syne has been sung. I've been the victim of that countless times, but the question people ponder is, why? Why can't some people stick to their resolutions, especially those that are for their own good, whilst others turn up to do the hard work and make big life changes.
To get the dopamine reward that keeps you keeping on, the goal has to be worth the effort we put in. To turn achieving that goal into a habit, we need to make it hard to get out of. It seems the secret is all in your motivation.
A few months ago I talked about keeping yourself motivated to write. They were external ways of removing distraction, setting small goals etc. But sometimes even that doesn't work and we have to dig deeper. You know the old saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again"? Well, I prefer the
saying I read somewhere else, "If at first you don't succeed, try something different!".
We all know that for our stories, the most important motivations and the ones that drive the narrative forward, are the internal motivations. A character's many sins can be forgiven, and actions explained, by strong internal motivation.
Funnily enough it works in real life too. To ensure you stay motivated and keep on with the hard work, the motivations need to be intrinsic, rather than extrinsic. This is the Self Determination Theory of Motivation developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. It's about doing an activity because you find it inherently satisfying—even if you don't love it all the time—and what kinds of factors support or thwart your efforts.
Extrinsic motivations are those external to you like doing things for money, unless money is an internal motivation in which case, go for it! *tip—money rarely is.*
Intrinsic motivations are those that are internal to you and deeply personal. To keep motivated and turn what requires motivation into a habit, the behaviour needs to be self-motivated and self-determined. Pursuing material goals of themselves won't help. You need to feel good about what you are doing and be able to answer the question, "Why do I want it, really?" The answer, if it's true to your real self and meets certain requirements, can keep you going where others give up.
The theory posits that for there to be intrinsic motivation three things are required: competence, relatedness and autonomy. So what does this mean and how does this apply to keeping motivated? Here are some some ideas...
This is all about having the feeling that you've mastered something. Positive feedback can increase this feeling and likewise increase your intrinsic motivation.
Now, I know any creative person is most often plagued by self doubt. So how to increase your feeling of competence? One way I do it is to pick out a favourite section from any one of my manuscripts and read it. You know what I mean. That one, beautiful sentence that you can't believe you wrote.
Want some positive feedback? If you have beta readers, read back over the nice things they said about your manuscript.
Another suggestion comes from Stephen King in his book, On Writing. And that is to read writing that's worse than yours. It reminds you that you're not so bad after all!
Autonomy is not about being alone, but about being self directed in what you do and having control over it. Sadly, anything that reduces your control—like external deadlines—can decrease your intrinsic motivation.
In a study on exercise, it found that people did best when they focused on personal improvement as opposed to beating others.
Writing of itself is a fairly autonomous activity, so how about ignoring what everyone else is doing and setting yourself an achievable word count for the day, then beating it?
There are some great little writing apps that can help with that. I use one called Writeometer, and looking at the daily writing charts really give me a boost when I see what I can achieve, and especially when I exceed my daily word count. Plus, you can set yourself rewards like eating a cookie, or walking the dog. As a bonus, walking the dog gets you out exercising, and counteracts all the cookie eating you'll be doing when you blitz your daily word count!
This is a difficult one, as relatedness means being connected to and helping other people. With writing being such a solitary activity, you can feel quite alone. So how to counteract it?
One way of helping others and remaining connected, is to join a writing group on line (PHS Aspiring Author's Group, anyone?) or in person.
There are plenty of excellent ones out there, and sharing your writing tips with other people and helping other writers when they feel down on themselves, never fails to make you feel good. Want to go even further, what about beta reading for people if you have the time.
Just remember the positive feedback and constructive criticism!
I can only speak for myself.
Let's talk exercise first, because most people start the new year with some resolution about getting fit. I've tried, and failed on many occasions, to keep a regular exercise regime. My job requires me to sit down all day. The hours are relatively long. Then I have to go home and look after the family. This has often left no time to do anything before crashing into bed.
To keep motivated, I've tried to think of many things like wanting to lose weight, reducing my Type 2 diabetes risk—it's higher than it should be, if the online test I did is anything to go by—or ensuring that I don't suffer heart disease like my dad. Unfortunately, none of those helped keep me exercising when I was tired, or had too much to do. Now, when I hesitate on going for a walk, I picture my kids. I'm an older parent and I want to be around for them as long as I can. Tell you what, that thought gets me tying my shoe laces and heading out the front gate without a second thought.
As for my writing, it's really something I do for love. How to intrinsically motivate myself there? I've often asked my self why I write. One answer is that I want to stop the chatty little voices of the characters in my head, and the only way to do that is to get them on paper writing their story. But on reflection, that reason wasn't personal enough. Digging down, at its heart I write because I would love my stories to make someone in the world smile, and their day a little better. If I can achieve that with even one person, I'll be a happy woman. And I reckon that this motivation achieves the requirements of competence, autonomy and relatedness in one neat package, that's personal to me.
Of course, I'll let you know how I'm doing in a couple of weeks... Happy New Year!
Kali Anthony is an aspiring writer and editor for The Pink Heart Society. Follow Kali on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Have you stuck to your resolutions in the past? If so, how did you do you do it? Tell us here or on social media using the hash tag #noresolutions We'd love to hear from you!