When Motivation Fails, Grit Gets You Going

As I write this, I’m growing a tree.

Not literally, of course. There’s this nifty little app called “Forest” that has a pretty fun twist on the whole “focus time” method. It’s kind of a productivity Tamagotchi, in that you set an amount of time – say, 25 minutes – and you hit “start”. A little animated tree starts growing on your screen. Right now it’s just a tiny twig and a couple of leaves.

Here’s the catch: if I pick up my phone for anything else, the tree will die. Right there on my phone, the leaves will drop off leaving nothing but a withered husk.

If I leave the tree there to grow, then it will chime merrily and I will see the fully-grown tree in my “daily forest”, as well as earning points towards “unlocking” other trees (personally I want the Japanese fir with a little Go board at the base). Kudos to the app for not making these upgrades “pay to play” (or at least making it hard to find a way to do that).

In fact, since the app is created by an organization that has been planting real trees for decades, you can even trade in your points towards having them plant a real tree. So maybe I am growing a tree as I write this. Just very, very slowly…which, as it happens, is how trees grow.

But that’s the point of this post.

Motivation, Where is Thy Sting?

Today’s one of those days when the voice in my head is full of “Don’ wanna!” Excuses, ranging from “Real people take a vacation this time of year!” to “Hey, you made some money yesterday, you deserve a day off!” I even have the voice saying “Your content publishing schedule is totally self-imposed and arbitrary and it’s not like anyone is reading/listening anyway. Why bother?

None of those voices are true. There are “real” people working today. The money I made yesterday has no bearing on today. And you’re reading this right now, so even if it’s just you and me in this together, (cue Morpheus from the Matrix voice ) We are still here!

A lot of productivity tips are about things like motivation, headspace, affirmations, manifestos and such. That’s great, and when it works, that’s all well and good.

Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes knowing that you have access to thousands of yoga videos is not enough to get you on the mat. Having thirteen different apps for making daily schedules and forty three notebooks and seven calendars and a whiteboard and a personal assistant still won’t get you out of the chair where you’re scrolling through Twitter.

Sometimes it’s a little animated tree. Sometimes it’s a Spotify playlist, or just a moment to send a whiny message to your dear ones saying “I really don’ wanna!

If you’re fortunate, like me, their responses will be empathetic, but unflinching: So sorry, dear. Wish life worked that way. Here’s some coffee.

Each of those tiny little things is like a grain of sand, both irritating you and also giving you traction. Eventually you work your way out of the rut and just a bit forward. It’s not miraculous, it’s not easy, and it’s not even pleasant. It’s grit, after all, and the best that can give you is a feeling of grim satisfaction: I am no longer there. I am here, now. And then you start over.

I may be wrong, but it’s possible that 2017 is going to require a lot of grit. A lot. Might want to start building the mental version of a “Go-Bag” – the things that will get you going when the going gets meh.

1 thought on “When Motivation Fails, Grit Gets You Going”

  1. Interesting tech and interface. I can see one for dinner time that allows you to change the faces of your children from happy, to sad, to angry depending on how often you pick it up.

    Yah, motivation is hard. Taking lots of hits, trying to get through. Grit and determination has always been difficult, in a lot of ways the 9 to 5 helped coast through that. Argh. On to the new year.

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