Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

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Motivation and Momentum

Over the years, a lot of funding and research have been devoted to figuring out why people do what they do, and perhaps more importantly, how to make people want to do stuff they might not want to do otherwise. If employees aren’t motivated to work, then widgets don’t get made, and if widgets don’t get made, then CEOs and investors don’t get paid. Over 70% of American employees are not engaged at work, and a significant amount of that chunk consider themselves “actively disengaged”. Like, Peter from Office Space levels of disengagement. 

I don’t have the answer that these big corporations are looking for. I do know that the way we work is outdated, and employers need to stop fighting the evolution of the workplace if they want to see an increase in motivation. But this is a topic that can take up an entire post in itself. Today, I only want to talk about how I handle the problem of motivation on an individual level. It may or may not involve superpowers. 

Creating Positive Momentum

Focus at the beginning of the work day is crucial and often indicative of the direction the rest of the day is going to go. It’s important to instill that feeling of productivity within yourself early on. I always begin the day tackling some small tasks like answering all of my emails or finishing a project that I didn’t quite get to the day before. Even accomplishing small tasks can give you a small energy boost that you can take with you to the next tasks on your to-do list. I generally refer to this little boost as positive momentum.

In relation to mechanics, momentum is an object’s mass and velocity. The greater an object’s mass, the more momentum it has. The more momentum an object has, the harder it is to stop. Consider the Juggernaut. He’s big, and once he gets going, nothing can stand in his way. Once you get that initial momentum from completing small tasks, it becomes easier to complete moderate tasks, which gives you even more positive momentum for the big items on the docket. Eventually, you’re the Juggernaut and your workday is the nearest flimsy plywood wall.

Maintaining Your Momentum

Perhaps the Juggernaut isn’t the greatest comparison as there are some walls that are difficult to breach no matter how much positive momentum you have. We are only human, and eventually, we get tired. There’s also the problem of attention. The average attention span of an adult human is 8.25 seconds, which is actually less than that of a goldfish. The average amount of time an adult can devote to a task before becoming completely disengaged is around 20 minutes. This could mean stopping to stretch, checking your inbox, or just staring aimlessly out the window. It’s a wonder we can gather any momentum at all with these puny brains. 

My solution to these unavoidable obstacles is just that: don’t try to avoid them. Instead of trying to “power through” tiredness, take a break. Even short breaks are used by the brain to retain information that would otherwise not be absorbed if you forced to continue straining until your attention snaps like a rubber band. This is called chunking. We naturally break tasks down into chunks because they are easier to process. The intervals between each portion of a task are natural stopping points to reenergize and consolidate your attention for the next round. 

Positive Momentum on a Macro Level

Using positive momentum as a motivational tool need not only apply to work. In fact, it’s probably more easily observable with hobbies than it is work. When I first picked up a guitar, I practiced reluctantly. No one likes to hear themselves being actively terrible at something. But then I learned a chord, and the pure, wholesome “correctness” of that single chord instantly motivated me to learn more. Eventually, I knew enough to play a song, and I couldn’t wait to learn more after mastering it. I, uh, don't play guitar anymore, but that's beside the point. 

Watching yourself succeed can fan the flames of motivation at work, in your hobbies, or any positive change you're attempting to make in your life. You're not going to get instantly shredded after going for that first mile-long run. In fact, you might feel pretty shitty those first few times. But once you start feeling good (first) and you start noticing positive changes in your body (second), it becomes a lot easier to get yourself out the door. Same goes for decluttering and same goes for x. Momentum is a mechanical force in nature, but it can be applied in a metaphysical way that is useful to us in our daily lives, especially when bloggers grab it, beat it senseless, and force it into a long-winded metaphor.