Cultivating That Spark Inside
I was exhausted. It started with a combination of moving to a new city and a new job. There was a lot to learn and too much work to be done. Much of the energy drain was in worrying. What’s going to happen next? What is home? Is my future secure? Friends? When I got home from work, that combination of doing, and worrying about the future doing left me exhausted.
“Outside of work” became a place to do nothing. To relax, meander, and wander. This is what I need. This is healthful. It was nice, sort of, until things fell into disarray. I avoided anything to do with the laptop. I avoided cleaning. I avoided general things you do for a foundation to live. The list goes on— personal finance, taxes, anything medical related. The fridge started to stink. From somewhere in the back of my mind an unknown dentist yelled for attention. Still, I needed this time to recharge. Let me rest.
Recently, I found a couple ideas that help build and maintain energy. I feel more motivation. It’s almost like I tricked my mind to want to do things that before felt annoying or unbearable. It’s strange because I know it’s happening, and somehow it still works. Looks at brain with trepidation. Please let this feeling last 😬.
For things that are challenging, find the bigger why
In Work, Thich Nhat Hahn describes the reframing of a universally understood tedious chore: cleaning the toilet. After an exhausting day at work, how can we be expected to come home and work more? But we must. Why? To clean the toilet. Because you have to. This might sound familiar. That parent voice to do chores from when we were children. It is not motivating.
On the surface there’s discomfort. As I look further, there is a connection to something I deeply care for. That connection energizes.
Think about the bigger why. Think about times where you’ve had to use a latrine, or a porta potty. Now your toilet seems much more wonderful. It’s so nice to have access to one, right where you live. Cleaning it becomes a joy. It’s a gesture of gratitude. Hahn writes:
Although just sitting is indeed wonderful, we don’t have to sit in order to be happy. We can be happy mopping the floor. Imagine if you didn’t have a home. There are many people who don’t have a home to clean. But you do. You feel very happy that you have a floor to mop. Cooking, sweeping, vacuuming, and cleaning can bring us so much happiness.
When I take time to clean, I’m making things a bit better around me. This is care. A pattern emerges around other things that are challenging to do. On the surface there’s discomfort. As I look further, there is a connection to something I deeply care for. That connection energizes.
Take time to feed your personal joys
I love playing music. When I play a synth and explore the sounds, I feel flow. I’m excited. Listen to these beautiful sounds I’m making. A calm spreads around me. A sense of inspiration follows. What energizes you? Consider things you love to do. When you’re doing them, be in your body. Notice how it feels to do something you love. Notice that energy you get from it.
Within my time there is choice, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I can direct my experience towards things that bring me joy.
Sometimes it takes a bit more digging to identify the energizing activities. As you notice the feeling you get from doing things you love, you gradually find other things that bring about that feeling. These insights are immense. They’re not always intuitive. At work I realized I love collaborative whiteboarding. There’s a combination of collective creativity and supportive ideation. I feel light. I feel opportunities. My mind is dancing.
Gay Hendricks encourages this exploration in The Big Leap: “[Ask yourself] ‘In my work, what produces the highest ratio of abundance and satisfaction to amount of time spent?’ … Whatever it is, I want you to find it, and I want you to put the highest priority on doing some of it every day.”
Once you find these activities, you can include them regularly within your week. At work, I make sure to include some collaborative creative time. At home, I make sure to spend at least a few minutes playing music. Within my time there is choice, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I can direct my experience towards things that bring me joy.
Every action becomes a chance to reframe
Throughout the day, begin to notice what energizes and what drains. When there is something that drains, take a look at it. Must you do it? If you must, why? Follow the reason beyond the superficial. There is a compelling reason. It could be a deeper gratitude to something that you care about. You’re reminded of something you love, and that is energizing.
When there is something that energizes, take a look at it. What about this moves you? It illustrates something deeper about your values and what you care about. These insights underlie your actions. You become more motivated.
I remind myself that this is a practice. There’s plenty of chances throughout the day to try this and try it again. The capacity in me grows, to feel through my body. It becomes a compass to what draws me, and what is challenging. Through the feeling, I better understand what I value, and orient myself around these bigger motivations.
I haven’t figured it out. I forget to run through the reframing. Sometimes the deeper why is elusive. When I remember though, I viscerally feel motivation forming. It’s the difference between doing just because, and doing because I love.