There is a fine balance between being inspired and exercising the discipline to maintain consistent habits. It’s easy to fall into a slump and do nothing, waiting for moments of inspiration to come on their own. On the other hand, it’s equally easy to fall into forced routines, where art begins to feel like a chore and an obligation. Both of these patterns can suck the life and soul out of an artist. Over the years, I’ve met with various artists who practice in a number of different fields, and I’ve made a study of human motivation. It has been my goal to identify the right mix of different ingredients needed to get “in the zone.”

I wish I could say that I’ve found a set of simple steps that will work every time for every artist. However, I have found a number of areas that seem to be essential for the purpose of tapping inner brilliance. I have found that when I tend to these areas on a consistent basis, my motivation begins to improve.

Fun First

I was raised in a culture that values hard work. There are some unfortunate side effects to that. I came to realize that I had the habit of refusing to allow myself to do anything fun until all of my work was finished first. I had a hard time defining my workload for a given day, and so I would just work until I went to bed. As a result, my work was half-hearted and unfocused, and I was not productive. Now, at the age of forty, I’ve decided to adopt a “fun first” mindset. I’ve come to realize that doing fun activity provides the motivational fuel for my work.

Asking for Help (Before It’s Needed)

American culture celebrates the idea of independence. We hear stories of entrepreneurs who “pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps.” I find little evidence to support this notion. Successful people are successful because they seek out help, not just when they are desperate, but when they see the possibility for going farther with a team. I also notice that there is a social component to motivation. When something is a two-person exercise, I’m naturally more motivated to do it.

Creating Communities

For most of my life, I’ve struggled to fit in. That’s been a huge liability when it comes to motivation. There came a point when I realized that I was unlikely to find a ready-made community of people who shared my core values. Now, I focus my efforts on finding those people one at a time. My experience has been that the right people show up in unlikely places, and that they’re scattered throughout a constellation of different groups. Some of my closest friends and allies are people I would never have found in the same room. Over time, I am slowly cultivating my own private network, akin to a garden. This pulls me forward and calls forth my higher self. The people who share my commitments are an external reflection of my inner thoughts. It is a constant reminder of why I must do the work I was made to do.

Silent Declaration

The gift of language gives us the power to create our own reality. I didn’t realize it for most of my life, but the spoken word (and even the silent thought) have enormous and immeasurable power. Thinking, “my job sucks” will produce that reality. We each need to exercise discipline over our thoughts, and make a conscious effort to speak that which we intend to create. Usually, when people come to grips with the power of their words, their initial response is to speak much less. Silence has power of its own. Successful people are often silent during conversations, and when they do speak, they hold the full attention of the room. This is no accident.

Staying motivated is not easy, but I’ve found that when I pay attention to all of these dimensions, it becomes much easier. I’ve also found that when my motivation starts to slump off, these four pillars give me a way to run a quick diagnostic scan.

To sum it up, here are a few questions to quickly and silently ask if motivation is falling off:

  • Have I fallen back into a dead routine?
  • Am I neglecting my garden of communities?
  • Am I entertaining the delusion that I can do it all without assistance?
  • Have I begun once again to think and speak carelessly?

If you ask yourself these questions honestly and with a commitment to re-start your motivation, the next step will present itself.