A quick look around YouTube brings up many videos titled something along the lines of “Powerful Motivation Video Very Inspirational,” featuring video clips of people working out while the Rocky theme song plays in the background. This reflects the common mindset that simply being motivated is the key to success. As a result of this over-reliance on motivation, many of us are stuck constantly sitting around, waiting for the ideal mental state that never comes for us to be able to function.
We seem to think that if our emotions line up properly, we’ll suddenly gain the ability to finish our homework, exercise, or take out the trash. This is a flawed way of thinking. Sure, enthusiasm can get you through a rough task or two, but it’s limited.
Emotions fluctuate, especially in teenagers. Motivation is great for a big speech, football game, or cross-country race, but it’s simply an unsustainable way to keep yourself going for long. You can’t rely on feel-good feelings to push you through a lot of strenuous work most of the time.
“My workload sometimes makes me depressed and I don’t find the motivation to do pretty much anything. What’s that about? Healthily coping with stress and anxiety? It’ll probably take too long and make me even more stressed,” said Class of 2020 Valedictorian Johnny Pan. It’s hard to keep motivation going for long, even for a valedictorian.
“Usually, I’m motivated to work by listening to music and my mom,” said Junior Nadera Powell. However, this feeling doesn’t last for Powell: “But when I’m not feeling like working anymore, I isolate myself, have a mental shutdown, and don’t concentrate as well.”
Increased effort to sustain motivation can lead to burnout that creates a bigger problem. Furthermore, trying to pump yourself up to do something as dull as geometry homework is just irrational. Trying to get excited about finding angles in a triangle is borderline lunacy. Fake enthusiasm and deliberate mania are not effective ways to perform tasks. It’s mentally unhealthy to lie to yourself in order to get something done, even if it works sometimes.
The long-term solution for productivity is discipline and forming habits. Discipline is the ability to control your feelings and persevere in tasks, despite possibly having urges to quit. To build discipline, you gradually form habits that are conducive to productivity.
These habits can start small. Is your phone too distracting? Put it in another room when you’re working. Dishes pile up? Make it your routine to wash them right after you eat. Homework never gets done? Estimate the amount of time it would take to complete each assignment, write down a specific schedule to follow when you get home, and try to pace your work according to your estimates.
This will take self-control and sometimes trial-and-error, but if you start small, you can build your way up. As you go about improving yourself, you’ll learn more about how you work and figure out what works best for you, and then you can adjust your habits accordingly to be more effective.
Students that demonstrated higher levels of discipline and self-control also tend to perform better at school, regardless of their level of motivation to do so, according to a 2015 study by the National Institute of Health. This is because self-control allows students to resist unproductive temptations and get work done without having to hype themselves up.
Discipline produces motivation as well: through small wins, you will gradually gain confidence in your ability to control yourself. This creates a positive feedback loop of productivity and success. Discipline produces motivation, but not the other way around.
“I like to think about three things I could improve on and I try to fix one of these things,” said Lizbeth Vargas, senior. Regular self-reflection is one example of a positive habit you can form to make yourself more productive.
By fixing your life through self-control and habits, rather than trying to force yourself into feeling like doing things, you will find yourself more productive and happier. Getting into the rhythm of productively is far more effective than trying to create passion out of thin air.