Yesterday I was talking with a friend about the perennially vexing fact that knowledge does not equal power–specifically, the yawning gulf between wanting/intending/knowing how to do something and actually getting started on it. I seem unable to motivate myself to get back onto a good, regular writing schedule (talking about my work writing here), even though I consider myself lucky to have all the writing work I can handle and a great relationship with a good publisher and blahblahblah.
She told me that she’d recently read an article about some new brain-chemistry research on motivation and the neurotransmitter (if that’s what it is) dopamine. D is part of the pleasure-related brain activity that also involves serotonin. My friend was fuzzy–and possibly not entirely accurate–on the details; I’d look it up but I’m insufficiently motivated right now. Anyway, the gist is that there’s growing evidence that dopamine is linked to motivation. If you don’t have enough pleasure in your life, your brain becomes a restless, unfocused, distraction-seeking hamster, and you wind up frittering away time and energy browsing the Internet, watching The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy during the middle of the afternoon, thinking that you should go to the gym but never going, performing unnecessary housecleaning, and generally having no motivation or energy for the tasks that your brain knows are important but does not think are pleasurable.
The fix? Fun.
So far as my friend knew, this doesn’t amount to permission to give yourself over to absolute pleasure (which is exhausting in itself and can end badly, as we all learned from Dr. Furter). It means that if you build genuinely pleasurable moments into every day rather than telling yourself you can’t or shouldn’t go to a movie or read a new book in the bathtub or hang out with friends until you’re caught up with work, your dopamine levels will be stable and you’ll have more energy.
No doubt anyone who reads this is duh-ing about now. Yeah, this is Common Sense 101, but I don’t always live by it. Last year I passed through a particularly horrible stretch of work life–brought on by over-committing and procrastinating–during which I wrote 17 books in 7 months. No kidding. Of course, many of them were short, and for series with which I was familiar, but still, it was the hardest I’ve ever worked. The Season of Many Books, as we called it, was exhilarating to pull off, but it involved long days every day, no time to interact with Zach, almost no days off, and lots of turned-down invitations and canceled social plans. During that time I got into an all-work-or-no-work mindset, but my goal is a sane schedule, one in which I work for 5 or 6 hours every day, not zero hours for seven days and then 14 anxiety-fueled hours for three.
So the dopamine-motivation hook got me thinking about my daily work life and some strategies to try. Of course, if I were really motivated, I’d be working on the business plan for my new self-help book-seminar-infomercial-empire: Dopavate Yourself Now!