I assume all of you have experienced the feeling that you want or need to work on something, but you are not motivated to do so. Today I am going to tell you how I keep myself motivated in these situations.
I do 5 things to stay motivated at all times. These tips work for me very well, and I hope this article will give some inspiration and you will find it helpful.
Make a list of ages when successful people accomplished their greatest achievements
When what we are about to do or are doing is very difficult, our motivation is not high. The biggest reason why achieving something big is difficult is that time is limited. If you had unlimited time, what you are doing, whether studying or working, would not be so difficult.
For instance, in Japan, high school students in STEM courses have to study quite advanced calculus to pass the university entrance exams. However, this is difficult because they only have three years of high school. If high school were ten years long, most students would be able to master calculus and all of them would be accepted into the best universities. Also, if things were easy to accomplish, you would not need much motivation to accomplish them and you wouldn’t need to stay motivated for too long.
When you start something, whether you are in your 20s or in your 50s, you feel as though you are already old. Imagine, if you want to become a doctor now, you would have to go to medical school, which in Japan is six years long1.
A considerable period of time is necessary to achieve something meaningful. The more worthwhile something is to achieve, the more continuous effort over a longer period of time is required. We need to stay motivated for such a long period of time, and that can be quite difficult.
Therefore, I make a list of the ages at which successful people have achieved great things. The picture above is a list I made four or five years ago. It lists my favourite films, the year they were released, and the names of the actresses who played the characters I would want to play if I were an actress, the year they were born, and finally, their age at the time they played the roles.
This piece of paper has been on the wall in front of my desk since I created it until today. I look at it every day and see that there is still a lot of potential in my future – many of actresses were in their 30s even though they were acting characters in their 20s. Even beautiful and talented actresses have had so many years to get the roles that highlight their careers. When it comes to male actors, it would be even older.
I am still, or already, in my 20s. I often feel that I am old, especially when I see Instagram posts that my high school friends are having family and kids. But looking at this paper every day makes me think: “I am not that old. Even for talented people it has taken so many years to become successful. I am not an actress, but in my field, I will also work hard and continue to work hard to realise my dream.”
Five years ago I made this list, but it doesn’t have to be a list of actors or actresses. If I am making a new list, it would be a list of the ages of writers when they published my favourite books. Or I might make a list of the ages of scientists I respect when they won Nobel Prizes.
Certainly, there are geniuses on the list, but even many geniuses were surprisingly old when they won a Nobel Prize, or when they published Nobel Prize-winning research. For example, last year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in physics was a Japanese-American researcher called Yoshiro Manabe. He is 90 years old and published his Nobel Prize-winning research when he was in his mid-fifties.
Both ‘young’ and ‘old’ are relative things. Therefore, no matter how old you are, you feel old. Currently, I consider that I’ve gotten older, but I also thought I was old, when I was 18 or 19 and a modelling agency told me “You are not young enough to be a model.”2
Everyday life is filled with many things that make us feel old. That is why it is important for me to look at this list every day so that I feel relatively ‘young’ compared to their age, and keep myself motivated to make an effort.
Striving for one thing for a decade or more may sound overwhelming. However, successful people are those who have done it. Even so-called geniuses have put in a lot of effort for years to realise their achievements. Perhaps we call a person ‘genius’ who have the ability to put in a lot of effort for a long period of time to achieve great things.
Keep the desk unorganised
Many people believe that having clean rooms or desks is a good thing. It certainly feels good when my desk is well-organised and my room is clean.
However, I don’t organise the desk I work and study at every day. There are piles of books, documents and envelopes on my desk. And I think this is a good thing.
These piles of books are books I need to read. Other documents and envelopes also need to be looked through. However, they are not urgent, so I am putting them off for a while until I can finish more urgent business. I want to make new business cards, but I haven’t done that yet, so there are also paper samples of business cards on my desk that I got from a printing company. This is something I have to do, but it takes a while to design on my own, so I am keeping it on top of my desk as a reminder.
Once I have done all these things, my desk will be clean, which will make me happy. Since I want my desk to be clean, I want to read the books I need to read, look through the documents I need to look through and make business cards as soon as possible. A dirty desk is, paradoxically, a motivating factor, and it is not only my case.
Hiroshi Ohguri, a theoretical physicist at Caltech, is one of the scientists that I am following. He is a researcher in quantum theory and superstring theory, and his books are a great read. They explain complicated physics concepts that even I can understand. In one of his books he says;
Let’s think about how much information can be written into a black hole. Generally speaking, how much information can be written depends on how many ‘fields’ there are. … On my desk at home, there are always piles of books and papers. Still, I know where everything is, so it’s not a problem for me. If my wife asks me where last month’s phone bill is, I can instantly take it out. But to my wife, it is just a field that is not a nonsense chaotic pile.3Hiroshi Ohguri 『探求する精神』(translated by Lina)
I am not as intelligent as he is, but I also do the same and I could not agree with him more. I also do not put books back on the bookshelf until I finish reading them. Putting them in and out of the bookshelf is tedious and a waste of time. The piles of books are important ones for me to read; they are far more important for me right now than the books that are neatly arranged on the bookshelf.
People say we need an organised space to motivate us, but in reality, this is not always the case. Indeed, I like to live in a tidy room, so I have 2 separate zones; the clean zone and the messy zone. The messy zone is where I can concentrate and motivate myself because of the messiness. After work or study, I move to the clean zone where I lay down on my bed and feel relaxed and comfortable4.
Update prioritised routine ToDo list every day
We first make our habit, and then our habits make us.John Dryden
As I said earlier, the greatest ability that great achievers might have is the ability to keep themselves motivated and make efforts. If you can also keep doing something, even if it is reading, workouts or playing games, then chances are you too have the ability to achieve remarkable things.
Doing something for 30 minutes every day, or even 10 minutes, for your great aim, can be life changing. However, setting aside a couple of hours for studying or extra work, 30 minutes doing the same thing every day, can be challenging. This is because time is limited.
Let us think of a day with unlimited time; we get up early in the morning, go for a walk or exercise, read a book with a cup of coffee, do our hair and make-up perfectly and head off to school, or to the office in your freshly cleaned suit. There, we would study or work for eight hours, then a little overtime to make a difference to our friends or colleagues. Then on our way home we stop at the grocery store, cook a fresh and healthy dinner and then, study for two or three hours to improve ourselves. After that, we take a bath, take good care of our skin and hair, and sleep for a good eight hours.
…It would be ideal if we could live like this. We could achieve anything if we could have a life like this. However, this is not the reality. There are only 24 hours in a day. We have to make the most of the 24 hours we are given. To do this, we have to prioritise things and choose what to do and what not to do. That is why I have a priority routine ToDo list and I update it every single day.
The routine ToDo list is associated with the core things I want in my life that are non-negotiable. I have listed the ‘core of life’ – the things that are essential to my life and without them I cannot be happy, no matter what, the baseline of future happiness. Then I have decided on the routines I need to do in order to obtain or keep them.
For example, one of my “core of life” is health. Even if I became successful in my business, I am sure I would not feel ‘happy’ if I was not healthy. Therefore, in order to stay healthy, I have decided to; cook at least three times a week, and exercise once a week, no matter how busy I am. Another “core of life” is being a writer. To be a more trusted writer, having deep knowledge in particular fields is essential, so I have made it a routine to take a 30-minute online course in medicine every day.
I update this routine list every morning, reviewing the previous day and what I need to do for the day. By updating this list every day, I am recognising what kind of life I really want, how much/less I am continually making an effort for, and what kind of person I can become by doing so. Many people set New Year’s resolutions, but very few people review them daily or update their aspirations.
Updating this list also means thinking carefully about where you want to be not only in one or three years’ time, but also where you want to be in 10 years’ time, or even 30 years’ time to be happy. The set of “core of life” is the baseline of happiness, and my future happiness depends on what I do today. If I don’t do it, I might be unhappy, miserable and frustrated in 10 or 30 years. Therefore, I can motivate myself. Plus, starting a day by imagining your happy future is like pushing the motivation activate button every day.
Put motivational sayings/maxims around you
In Japanese there is a word ‘zayū-no-mei(座右の銘)’. In English, ‘personal motto’ is probably the closest translation, but it is slightly different. Zayū-no-mei is a saying that a person always keeps close at hand as a reminder.
When I was a high school student, I started to put zayū-no-mei around myself. I started doing this to motivate myself, as for most students in Japan, high school is the toughest time to study. When I was in high school, I used to write on sticky notes and stick them in my notebooks and textbooks. After I entered university and started living by myself, so I started putting them up in the room that I see every day; in front of my desk, walls, bathroom, kitchen and so on.
Today in front of my desk, it says: “You are the only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving” These zayū-no-mei are both my own words and quotes from others. However, I feel it should not be an affirmation.
Affirmations can be effective in mental health care, but I personally don’t think they are so motivational. If I state typical affirmations like “I am successful” or “I am confident” and look at them every day, I will tend to be lazier. If I was actually successful or confident, I don’t need to motivate myself and put in the effort I must do.
If you enjoy gardening, you probably know that by giving plants some stress, they grow stronger roots, more beautiful flowers and sweeter fruits. Techniques to make vegetables and fruit tastier, such as limiting the amount of water, setting lowering temperature or exposing them to salinity, have been widely introduced in agriculture.
Two randomly chosen human genomes are identical at an average of about 99.9 per cent of their nucleotide sites. A human genome and a chimpanzee genome are identical at about 98 per cent. The difference between you and your dog varies from study to study, but is said to be 80-90%. The difference between humans and fruit fries is 60%, and the difference between you and bananas is also 60%. So, we can apply the method to ourselves.
In one of my previous articles, I said that being negative or pessimistic is not necessarily a bad thing, but similarly, being a bit stressful is not a bad thing.
Sleep is the best meditation
When you are busy, the first thing you might cut back on is sleep. However, reducing sleep time can lead to a decline in productivity and spirit. In discussing this, I would like to borrow the words from an expert. It is far more accurate and convincing to quote experts than for me to explain it in my words.
Matthew Walker, a professor at University of California, mentions the impact of an hour’s lack of sleep on us in his best-selling book;
For cardiovascular health, I believe that finding comes from a “global experiment” in which 1.5 billion people are forced to reduce their sleep by one hour or less for a single night each year. It is very likely that you have been part of this experiment, otherwise known as daylight savings time.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the switch to daylight savings time in March results in most people losing an hour of sleep opportunity. Should you tabulate millions of daily hospital records, as researchers have done, you discover that this seemingly trivial sleep reduction comes with a frightening spike in heart attacks the following day. Impressively, it works both ways. In the autumn within the Northern Hemisphere, when the clocks move forward and we gain an hour of sleep opportunity time, rates of heart attacks plummet the day after. A similar rise-and-fall relationship can be seen with the number of traffic accidents, proving that the brain, by way of attention lapses and microsleeps, is just as sensitive as the heart to very small perturbations of sleep. Most people think nothing of losing an hour of sleep for a single night, believing it to be trivial and inconsequential. It is anything but.Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep (2017)
In this book, great effects of having proper sleeping time are stated like sleep:
- “enhances your memory and makes you more creative.”
- “makes you look more attractive.”
- “keeps you slim and lowers food cravings.”
- “protects you from cancer and dementia.”
- “It wards off colds and the flu.”
- “lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes.”
When you are asleep, you cannot do anything. you cannot study, work, or have a great time with the people you love. Sleep would appear to be the most foolish of biological phenomena. When homo sapiens were not protected by a safe and cosy house like now we have, sleep left us vulnerable to predation. The subsequent perseverance of sleep throughout evolution means there are tremendous benefits that far outweigh all of the obvious. Hazards and detriments.5
Still, you are not motivated?
If I try these 5 things and still do not have motivation, then I would stop doing it. If it’s something I really want to do or something I really need to do, these 5 things will definitely motivate me. Even so, if I am not motivated, somewhere in my mind I know that it is not something I really want to do, or is not something I really need to do.
If I had a date planned with someone I really liked, I would not just forget about it and shrug it off. If I had a wonderful ground-breaking idea, I would not stop thinking about it and no matter how busy I was, I would try it out. If you are not motivated, then you have other things that are more important for you that you truly want/need to do. You should spend your precious time doing those things instead. Then, I am sure you will feel motivated to do them.
When I was in high school, I was a member of the tennis club. But I quit soon after. Then I joined cheerleading, and I quit it as well after about six months. I had other things I wanted to do more. I didn’t want to let my teammates down, but when I explained my feelings and thoughts, they understood me and they are still my friends. I would do everything if I had unlimited time, but I knew I didn’t, without realising the meaning truly lies in the context.
You may not want to go to school or work in the morning. But you probably go. That means you are weighing up the two options; ‘going to school/work’ and ‘being absent’, and choosing the former. No matter how much you feel discouraged by going where you do not want to go, you are choosing the better option because you know deep in your mind that absence will cause more trouble; like being scolded by your teacher or parents, or you cannot earn money for a living.
If you know in your mind that it is really for your future, no matter how much you don’t want to do it, you can still have the motivation and you will do it, no matter how much you don’t want to do it. And by doing these things, little by little, step by step, I believe we get closer and closer to our ideal life.
- Before that, in order to enter medical school, you have to study for a year at least for the examinations. No matter how smart you are, you are required to take the advanced exams of calculus, chemistry, physics and English and probably more. Taking into account that there is a two-year residency period after graduating from medical school, it takes around 10 years to become a fully-fledged doctor. This means that if you are 20 years old, you would accomplish this at 30, and if you are 30, it would be 40 etc.
- I think it is an extreme Japanese thing, and it is actually the truth in the industry.
- He continues;
If there are ten books in there, there are 3.6 million ways to stack them (if you doubt it, calculate 10 x 9 x 8 x 7 …… x 2 x 1). The actual number of fields is astronomical, since there are more than ten books on the desk. I accumulated the pile, so the current state is meaningful compared to other states, but for my wife, no matter in what order they are accumulated, they are just chaos.
It is like this even on my desk, so there are far more fields in nature. For example, air at one atmosphere and zero degrees celsius has as many as 10,000,000,000,000,000 molecules per cubic centimetre. No matter how you arrange them, the air looks the same to us, but if you consider the exact state of each molecule in it, you realise that there are mind-bogglingly huge numbers of patterns in the air. Looking at a macroscopic level there is only one possible state while on a microscopic level there are so many possible states.
- I am a Tokyoite in my 20s living in central Tokyo, and we cannot expect to live in a flat that has more than 2 rooms.
- Walker says;
Addressing the question of why we sleep from an evolutionary perspective only compounds the mystery. No matter what vantage point you take, sleep would appear to be the most foolish of biological phenomena. When you are asleep, you cannot gather food. You cannot socialize. You cannot find a mate and reproduce. You cannot nurture or protect your offspring. Worse still, sleep leaves you vulnerable to predation. Sleep is surely one of the most puzzling of all human behaviors.
On any one of these grounds—never mind all of them in combination—there ought to have been a strong evolutionary pressure to prevent the emergence of sleep or anything remotely like it. As one sleep scientist has said, “If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made.”
Yet sleep has persisted. Heroically so. Indeed, every species studied to date sleeps. This simple fact establishes that sleep evolved with—or very soon after— life itself on our planet. Moreover, the subsequent perseverance of sleep throughout evolution means there must be tremendous benefits that far outweigh all of the obvious hazards and detriments.