So you’ve just started a new project. You love it. You feel amazing about it. You spend hours making plans, drafting ideas, gathering supplies, and refining your goals. Finally, you decide you’re ready to start actually doing it.
And then the next day something comes up at work and you think I’ll start tomorrow. And then you put in a bit of time, until things start to get super busy again, and then someone needs your help, and then… Well, by now thinking about your project just makes you feel guilty anxious, so you try not to think about it at all.
Within a few weeks – or maybe even days – the project is dead in the water.
Sound familiar? It does to me. When stuff like this happens, we tend to think I just wasn’t motivated enough. We assume that wanting something really, really badly will translate into action, so if we didn’t act, we just didn’t want it enough.
None of this could be further from the truth.
Motivation Isn’t Your Problem – Follow-through Is
The number of “motivation tips and tricks” posts I see on Pinterest is staggering. I even repin some of them for y’all on my Organization and Productivity board. But the more of them I read, the more I think “This isn’t really solving my problem.”
I’m slowly coming to realize that a lot of us are highly motivated people with a follow-through problem.
If you open the middle drawer of my desk, you’ll find detailed plans for:
- An online course
- A webinar series
- Email newsletters
- Three or four post series
- Social media calendars for 3 networks
- A second website
None of those are currently happening.
Well, correction. None of those were happening last time I opened the drawer.
We all have a mental “junk drawer”
The stuff inside this drawer isn’t necessarily junk. In real life, it hold all the odds and ends we can’t find a consistent use for. It might seem like wasted space, but once you actually need a spare rubber band or clothespin or takeout menu, the junk drawer proves its worth.
Your mental junk drawer is similar. It’s full of all the plans we made but never followed through on. Like the real junk drawer in your kitchen/office/wherever, when something seems like it might be useful but we can’t be bothered to use it now, we shove it in the drawer.
The mental junk drawer is a security blanket. We feel comforted knowing that, should the “right time” ever come, we have a plan to execute. But the truth is, the mental junk drawer is where good ideas go to die.
Following through on ideas isn’t about motivation
Motivation is what gets us writing up those plans and thinking of amazing ideas, but it rarely translates to follow-through. The “actually doing things” part of an idea runs not on motivation, but determination. Determination isn’t easy. It’s not particularly sexy sounding. And it doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But determination is a habit that we teach ourselves and it’ll change your life, if you figure it out.
We all have to learn, eventually, that wanting something isn’t enough to make it real. A lot of people – myself included, sometimes – seem to think the key to success is finding your passion. We think that our “one true passion” is a magic bullet that will suddenly make us dedicated, determined workers. If we can just find that one thing, we won’t have to learn to be determined, we’ll discover we were determined all along.
Do you see the problem here?
The ability to work hard won’t magically appear the moment we find the right project. Like every other skill, hard, dedicated work has to be learned. And if you spend all your time looking for a passion that will instantly teach you dedication, you’ll never learn it. Harsh, but true.
Pick Your Passions
Obviously some things are going to be more attractive to you than others. If your heart leads you towards graphic design rather than auto repair, by all means follow. But eventually, loving something is not enough. Wanting something is not enough. Eventually, you have to choose it.
“We just decided to.”
That’s my mantra. I stole it from The Newsroom, which is an excellent show. As a quick preview: Will is a newscaster in an identity crisis, and Mackenzie is his new producer. They decide they’re going to revamp their network by doing the news right – honest, balanced coverage of issues that matter. No spin. No fluff. No distractions. When people ask why they’re making these changes, that’s their response: “We just decided to.”
Both Will and Mackenzie are passionate about the news, of course. They care deeply about the truth and informing the American people. But they don’t say “We’re doing this because we’re passionate about it.” They say they decided to.
You’re the same way. Follow your passions as far as they’ll take you, and then make the decision to do.
Learning to follow through
This is going to depend, in part at least, on your knowing yourself. Why do you stop before you really get started? Maybe it’s a fear of failure, maybe it’s a lack of accountability, maybe it’s a bad habit, maybe it’s anything. If you’re having trouble figuring out your stumbling blocks, there’s a mini-workbook at the bottom of the post for you.
At the end of the day, though, learning to follow through is individual. Be intentional and deliberate about how you pursue your goals. Take a moment to think and plan before you act on new ideas. Be practical about what you can or can’t – and will or won’t – do. And then set your shoulders, keep your goals in sight, and push really, really hard in their direction.
Nike was on to something. Eventually, you have to just do it.