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Ask HN: How do you motivate yourself?
55 points by kevutu on July 29, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments
I know i like tech stuff and i do great stuff when i'm motivated the problem is how do i keep this motivation going? what is it that you do to keep the motivation on.

My father dropped out of high school to help support his family. He served in the military and started his own business. Except for Sundays, he worked his ass off 12 hours every day of his life until he died.

My mother could have been anything, but never got the chance. Instead, she raised us so that we could become what she never could.

My grandmother had nothing. When she was 13, she had to drop out of school to care for 7 other children. She ate her first egg as an adult. She never travelled more than 50 miles from home her entire life.

My grandfather was the smartest man I ever knew but never went to school a single day in his life. Instead he did mind-numbing factory work and stimulated himself with books, musical instruments, languages, and people whenever he had energy after work. He died prematurely from industrial causes.

I, on the other hand, was born at the perfect time. I got to go to college and now I'm a computer programmer immersed in thousands of opportunities of the biggest technological change in human history. I am limited only by my own imagination in building almost anything I want. And I make more money than any of my ancestors every dreamed possible. I'm probably the first out of 100 generations of my family who actually gets to do what I want and love it.

It that doesn't motivate someone, I don't know what would.

The same set of circumstances could arguably destroy motivation as well.

Your life is already better than any of your ancestors, why stay past 5pm? You already make a lot of money, why bother with a side project or startup on nights and weekends?

Sometimes I think motivation is fairly disconnected from circumstances of life.

This really resonates with me. I've often said that its crazy how I have the ability to literally create something from nothing, something worth potentially millions if not billions of dollars, investing nothing more than time. And I have access to almost all of the information I need to be able to do it, for free. I can't think of any other profession where so much is possible; I just wish I could have an idea of what to do with it. I don't have an issue with being motivated - my problem is deciding what is worth putting my mind to.

"its crazy how I have the ability to literally create something from nothing, something worth potentially millions if not billions of dollars" i get that too, but it doesn't sustain me for long.Do you like meditate on this or remind yourself constantly...how do you keep it in your mind.

Almost same story for me. My parents are probably upper middle class and I do what I think returns the most dollars per dollar they have invested in my education.

That is an incredibly well defined "why". Everyone should find theirs and remember it often.

Pressure like that, I would feel a great temptation to say fuckit. I think it's implicit. A big fuckit lurks.

In my personal experience, motivation is secondary (but closely related) to passion.

Generally, when one has an issue with motivation, then he or she may not have discovered his or her true passion in life.

You have to find your passion.

If you do not find it, then it is likely that you will never be truly motivated.

However, once you have found your passion, then you will find that it is literally game on in your life. You will wake up earlier, because you have engaged passion in your life, which will bring motivation to your actions. You will be bringing the thunder. You will be firing on all 12 cylinders. You will not want to sleep more than is necessary, because you will know from deep within you, that you want to bring what is inside of you to others, and to the world.

Ask yourself:

1. "What am I truly passionate about?"

2. "How can I deliver what I am passionate about to others?"

Answer these questions, back the answers up with action, and you will see motivation unfold in your life.

I wish you every success.

For me, a big change was to stop to beat myself so much about my failure to work on the things I wanted to do. Now, I'm much more leisury about my projects. I have very unproductive periods, and very productive periods, I goes in cycles. It's normal.

The only thing is to persist. As Confucius said "It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop."

Finding and remembering why you're doing anything in any situation is motivation.

How much we want to do anything, is relative to how energized, focused, and passionate we feel about it, or more importantly, take time to regularly reflect on.

Motivation, as classically defined doesn't fit techies that well because we march to own drum so much. Those that fall for someone else's koolaid can end up jaded and on the same search imho.

Motivation is like bathing.

If we don't bathe our body, we begin to smell and not feel fresh.

Similarly, our thoughts, feelings, and gut begin to smell from having not enough energy placed on hitting the reset button and starting fresh with a clear reminder.

What can do it? Remembering why. Also, things like meditation, exercise, going for a walk, etc can be very powerful to clear your senses to deeply embed the why. Over time it resonates more and more on it's own.

No one can learn about you for you, you have to dedicate time to it just like the time you have to dedicate yourself to technology.

Motivation for me is remembering why I want to do things at a very deep level. I like taking the 5 whys approach to get to a root trigger word or two.

Building discipline and work ethic are the two master skills that underlie any goal I'll find or want to undertake, so it's what I try to optimize on.

So, instead of wanting some eureka moment, I build a practice of improving my discipline and work ethic a little every day. I am part of a weekly group where we set goals and check in with each other, creating obligations around the things I want to be doing for others to force me to move.

The above could be a blog post in some way as I've been self employed for over a decade and have had to work on these routines to be my own best support.

Thoughts and input most welcome :)

I use the Napoleon Hill method of having a definite chief aim - Bruce Lee is probably one of the most famous users of it. http://imgur.com/r/GetMotivated/CvaN5QB

The method boils down to writing something down to yourself outlining what you want to achieve, how you're going to achieve it, and when you're going to achieve it by. Then you keep reading the aim and it helps to motivate you.

That sounds very much like a "ritual magic" technique. Beyond the document you might include visual, olfactory, etc cues. Pictures and incense etc that create positive goal-achievement-associated feelings and ideas. Maybe a physical metaphor of progress too (...as this candle burns lower so I approach my goal...). Ritual magic enthusiasts (like Aleister Crowley for example) would say that you are actually imposing your will upon the stuff of reality in this controlled way, or something like that. Fascinating stuff.

For me, the motivation comes by having other people use and respond to the software I create. This means getting out of my developer bubble and doing some marketing. When people are engaging with your creations in a positive way, it's hard to not be motivated.

I think this applies to any software product that is written with the intention of having someone else use it, open source or otherwise.

Oh man, positive feedback from people who use my software is the most wonderful thing in the universe. I laugh and cry and my existence is justified. Shit, I kinda like negative feedback too. I think I need more sex.

I can't say that it motivates me much tho. Well, maybe a little. I guess I'm mostly motivated by thinking about how my software could be.

This gives me a short burst of motivation but is don't seem to get around to actual completion of a project and seeing it in use.

Well, what if you started generating revenue, and customers were sharing your stuff all over the world? What could be more motivating than that?

Knowing I've made something of quality. For me, that's more important than people using/paying for my stuff.

I imagine how my son (5 years old) sees me through his eyes, and I think about how my life is a large predictor of his life, and then I ask if I am being the kind of man I want my son to be.

My startup is all about solving this problem! http://beeminder.com

It's specifically for lifehacking data nerds (so probably most people here on HN) and the idea is to combine a quantified self tool with a commitment contract. Specifically, you pledge (actual money) that you'll keep all your datapoints on a "yellow brick road" to your goal and if you don't, we charge you.

We integrate with various gadgets and apps like RescueTime and Trello and GitHub (also fitness things like Fitbit but I guess this thread is more about productivity-related motivation) so, for example, you can force yourself to waste less time on Facebook or commit to GitHub more often, or enforce a steady rate of moving Trello cards to the Done pile.

Don't you think it's a bit evil to make a profit out of people's lack of self-motivation? I would prefer to give the money to a good cause...

Here's how we look at it: We force you to toe the line at least for a while so that when/if you do fall off your yellow brick road then the motivation Beeminder provided up until that point still seems worth it. Everything we've worked on in building Beeminder has been with the objective of making people succeed and we'd have to be very myopic for it to be otherwise.

More on this: http://blog.beeminder.com/perverse

Or just think of it this way: You're paying a fee for Beeminder's service and that fee is waived if you never happen to need Beeminder's kick in the pants.

If you really want a charity option though, some of our competitors offer that: http://blog.beeminder.com/competitors At least one (StickK) offers an anti-charity option, but I really don't think that's a good idea: http://blog.beeminder.com/anticharity

It seems the model is driven by negative reinforcement rather than positive reinforcement. Charity or no charity, I'd prefer a model that rewards staying on track rather than punishing lack of motivation.

When you're talking about motivation, I feel that getting someone to do something to avoid negative consequences will result in low quality work and a begrudging state of mind.

This is good criticism, and I bet you'll like http://lift.do

But here's our response to that: http://blog.beeminder.com/lift

CUDOs for providing such good summaries of your competitors! Such a public service really makes me want to signup for a B-sting!

Heh, it's like gympact :)

I have three things that motivate me:

1) I keep a photo on my desk as well as the back ground on my computer: http://austingwalters.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/skyline...

It is an image I took at the Taste of Chicago. There was a crowd of roughly 10,000 people and directly above them there is a group of buildings, seemingly rising from the crowd. The picture always reminds me that humanity is the creature that can build ANYTHING. So, I find that motivational because I want to be one of the people to build something like a skyscraper making me worthy of calling myself human.

2) I read inspirational books, to me The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand) and Time Enough for Love (Robert Heinlein) are always inspirational because they project characters that are considered "ideal" or at least worthy of aspiring to be. I also read a fair amount of history books and biographies about inspirational people, if find it helps me to maintain focus when I am attempting to be competitive (in work ethic) with the great people throughout history or characters with similar traits.

3) I go for walks and think. Nothing is better than pure and utter relaxation/boredom to stimulate your creativity and motivation. For example the average person can only do high quality mental processing (learning or creative thinking) about 4 hours a day and if you want to increase the that 4 hours to a longer period you must extend the relaxation time as well. In other words, its good to do stuff you enjoy and its good to be lazy for a while, it gets you motivated to do other things.

First you have to remind yourself it is ok to be bored. Second you should find people that share the same interest. I wrote about it recently, and I rather sound like a self promoter then repeat my self:


I find that my motivation is self sustaining as long as I get started. When I'm feeling demotivated it usually manifests as putting off getting started. "I'll start after I've read Twitter". "I'll just read these articles from Hacker News". "It's almost lunch times, so I'll get started after I've eaten something". And then it's the end of the day, I've done nothing, and I feel really crap about it.

Every time the trick is to just get myself started. Work out a way to reduce the commitment in getting started. Never tell yourself you'll settle down to 10 hours straight work after you read that article, send this tweet, or reply to that email. Instead break down your todo list into tiny chunks, and just do the first thing. Or use something like Pomodoro and just sit down to do 25 minutes work.

Motivation is something personal, you have to find what motivates yourself. There is books on that, but I can't advise you as I never used them.

As I see it, the key for doing things is to begin, then to focus. Can't focus ? Do another. Just keep doing. Motivation is not really something that helps you when you are doing, it's something that helps you to begin and to end.

But is motivation the only way to begin and end things ? Obviously not. Duty, deadlines, promises, anything that make you morally engaged in an action. So, go set some goals ! Make it as a timeline with deadlines, make it as a flat TODO, make it as a scrumy (http://scrumy.com is a great service), try, fail, repeat until you win.

There is no way to find the good one until you tried it. So keep doing things, be amazing. ;-)

Duty, deadlines, promises, anything that make me morally engaged does not actually get me to do good work as this drives me to procrastinate and do stuff at the absolute last minute.

So, put the last minute right now !

I like to set external-facing deadlines. I'll do things like tell my department I'm going to do a presentation on technology X in two weeks, and then start learning about it. If I don't get it done, I have to tell 20 other developers why I have to cancel the meeting they've all accepted.

This is part of the motivation of team and peer-accountability in some of the agile methods like Scrum / XP / Pair Programming. If you feel personally responsible to someone else, you're likely to follow through. A good way to do this with personal projects is to find a partner - I work with a designer on a lot of my personal projects, and telling him that I'm going to get X done helps, as well as seeing the time and progress he's invested in the project.

Motivation, passion and inspiration are mostly figments of the mind. It's the dopamine hit you get when you learn something for the first time or when you come up with (what you think is) an inspired idea. Just like a hit of cocaine, the high doesn't last forever. What you want to do is establish routines and habits. When the excitement, passion and motivation wears off, what's left is the routine.

"Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work." - Attributed to Chuck Close, echoed by countless writers and artists.

My level of conscious figures highly. That which I find sufficiently satisfying depends on my level of consciousness.

When my consciousness level is low I am satisfied to mope around aimlessly, watch stupid tv and sleep a lot.

When my consciousness level is high I demand higher joys like cool projects, am happy and motivated and my shit is together.

I keep my consciousness level high by taking care of my body and meditating a lot. You see how it can be an upward spiral.

However sometimes I fall into laziness, life upsets my wagon, etc. So there's the "get back on the horse" thing.

There's no such thing as motivation. Most likely you are just giving into distractions. These distractions are there to test you as to how much you actually want to finish the thing you are working on. It comes as a result of looking towards the future too much instead of just focusing on what you are doing now.

I'm putting together a course related to this if you're interested - http://www.programmingspiritually.com/

I think it's helpful to do something on a project every day, no matter how minor. If I'm feeling unmotivated that could be as simple as renaming some files I've been meaning to rename, or fixing the simplest of warnings in my project. Usually by the time I've done that, I'm in the project and rolling into the next thing. Conversely, it's important to take a day or two off after more vigorous stretches of productivity.

It's not about being motivated. It's about working when the work itself isn't intrinsically motivating. I think that's what pg calls the schlep.

I deal with schleps by making them a part of larger, non-schlep goals. And if the schlep is really resistant to attitude adjustment, I'll wrap the larger goal in a more formalized project plan, so I can clearly see the schlep's role in the more valuable/interesting/motivating work.

Not to get off topic but I have a much harder time focusing on a single task/project. The motivation is there but I'm all over the place. There's so much to learn and I seem to start a new project every other day, but they just never get finished because I end up stumbling on a new thing that I want to learn/make.

I stumbled across a site on here called http://getinspired365.com that dishes out daily inspiring/motivating quotes and videos. I find it a good way to start my day but my friend who uses it dips in and out as and when his motivation levels drop..

thanks, it looks good i'll try it

No worries, hope you find it useful! My friend reckons it's helped him no end..

Sometimes the harder you try to force yourself do things, the harder it becomes to do them. I lost a lot of time in the past trying to make myself more regimented, clearer about goals, etc. and it just made me resist (ironic process theory).

I think of what my long-term goals are, then how the task at hand fits in the path to reach those goals. This makes it much easier to work through the boring stuff, since the motivation is drawn from the big, personal life goals.

I find the only way I'm able to work on anything to my full potential is to force myself to look at it without any distractions. At any time, I can rattle off three or four things that I should be working on.

Adequate sleep, ensuring I get up with daylight. Okay so they aren't motivations per say, but without them I suffer, my creativity suffers and my ability to actually do work suffers greatly.

what time do you wake up?, how many hours do you sleep? any strategies for waking up?

>any strategies for waking up?


These things are personal, but it is something that helps me. I used to use a standard SAD alarm clock by Phillips, but have since put some Hue light bulbs in my room. I have blackout curtains and the bulbs I have programmed to turn on via a little process on my server, I've been experimenting with ripples and which frequencies to use best, but haven't got nearly enough data yet.

I generally try to always wake up at 7am. The hours of sleep depend on exercise and how tired I felt in the morning (never think at 11pm oh I feel fine!).

Diet mixed with that helps, generally I won't eat after 8pm, unless I'm staying up late!

It's the difficulty level of the challenge that matters. It can't be too easy, it can't be too hard. Read the flow book if you need to understand the road to happiness.

That one day, I will be able to do some great work while living in the US / Europe / Australia / Canada and provide good quality of life and education to my kids.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Get a wife and kids that rely on you. You'll quickly find you'd swab toilets if it would keep food in the mouths of people you love.

I quit my job to work on my own stuff. Lack of income is an excellent motivator, for me anyway.

Genuine interest and the ability to blacklist hackernews via /etc/hosts

Caffeine and Metallica (...and Justice For All > other albums)

do great stuff

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