A Break from Rules + A “How to Stay Motivated” Thing

This will start off with daily personal rambling and eventually try to give advice/insights. No guarantees on the utility or specificity of any such advice, but we at Aril-where-does-this-name-come-from & Co. will always promise a dose of insanity.

Totally relevant song of the day (you have to listen to the whole thing! =D):

Yes, this weekend I went and watched this korean drama called City Hunter. Up to episode 14. Starting Friday night. With a break for Saturday morning + afternoon sleeping/going out. And then ending Sunday… at 8 in the morning.

Yo this is the FIRST TIME I’ve watched anything this summer, or stayed up anytime past 12:30 (most often) to 2. Cut me a break? Maybe? At least this isn’t the ‘normal’ here, as opposed to at MIT (still didn’t stay up quite THAT late… usually… only till 5 or 6 =P)

I had also made Saturday my ‘off day’ for exercise (after 4-5 miles and 12 striders OUTSIDE on Friday). Mostly to enjoy my new music and City Hunter. And while I was walking around, listening to “Reinventing Robert Cohn” and “I Fell Through” on repeat, I wondered where that drive was to… you know… do more productive stuff. I mean, I had all day and had decided to sleep in and then go to Barnes and Noble again. (But I did install Drupal! And write novel stuff, for two – and soon to be THREE nights in a row!)

That’s probably the way it should be, right? Taking time off regularly to chill out, do nothing, and not feeling guilty about it. (Especially now that it’s… summer, and work for me started the Monday after finals ended, no weeks off.)

I tried to do that a lot last semester. But I wouldn’t feel guilty about it while I was doing it. When procrastination and guilt coincided, it was like looking down and realizing I was walking on air. And when procrastination left, the guilt remained for a bit, but was part of what kept me on track.

Just as a note, or clarification – I don’t write these types of ‘personal’ posts just to rant and resolve or reveal my own feelings for my own sake. But I think maybe others that have similar stories, whether at a college, another school, or a job, could feel some comfort in not being ‘the only ones’ that feel that way, as cliched as that sounds. I know that perhaps only family members or friends read these posts occasionally. But just in case, I’m sharing some of my stories.

I feel like the most effective – and least personal – way to help people in school would be guides, like ‘How to Overcome Procrastination from Someone Who’s Not Writing for Fortune 500 Company Heads.’ Like ‘How to Stay Motivated to Exercise,’ ‘How to Get Enough Sleep when You’ve Been a 5-AM-er for a Year,’ ‘How to Finally Put the Advice Everyone’s Been Giving You – at least the helpful stuff – Into Action.’ Because sometimes someone saying ‘Just DO IT!’ doesn’t make you immediately spur into action.

But everyone’s different. Some people are more motivated by one of the following more than the others: financial goals, ideals and morals, or out of a love of what they’re doing (there are people that love being in labs, love designing things, love photography, etc…). In school, there is also that genuine insatiable curiosity students have to learn about how the world works, how physics works, how governments work and interact, etc. And there’s competitiveness as a further motivator, and people have different comfort zones for it.

So what motivates you? A lot of people want to change the world, make a difference – but how exactly would you want to do that? Do you like organizing things and dealing with numbers, writing code, teaching kids new things, putting things together in a wood shop? If you want to be a doctor, say, but can’t stand those organic chemistry classes and find the other classes hard, and are kind of hating life, how do you manage your classes and stay happy – or figure out if you need a change?

I feel like I’ve been trying to do some self-discovery for a grand total of two months. Despite my efforts that’s probably not enough time to claim to be a master of… motivational coaching, or something. Even that thought is pretty funny. (But it sounds like a REALLY fun job!)

I think one of the keys to overcoming school and work-destroying procrastination is to keep your goals in mind, and make a plan – formal or informal, depending on your style – to reach them. In making your goals, don’t ignore your hobbies. What you do to procrastinate. I mean, you procrastinate by doing things you LIKE to do, right?

Why not consider a procrastination tool as a career, or part of one? If you draw things or write in your spare time, maybe you could be a graphic designer, architect, or journalist for a magazine or newspaper? Or an editor? Maybe you want to have time to explore your hobbies, so what type of job would give you that flexibility (while still satisfying your other needs, like alleviating poverty, facing a challenge, discovering new scientific knowledge, etc.)? What do you need to do now to get there?

As for me, I go to work on time each day, happy to have an internship where I’m basically working on my own project. I relish the tasks – getting to figure out the company’s needs, finding the best ways to meet them by communicating information to the manufacturers that might sell us the needed equipment, learning new technical skills such as how a controller works and how it is programmed, and trying to think of new ideas of what to do within the scope of the project. At the same time I pay attention to the actual internship experience, considering factors such as the work environment, the nature of the work, and the tasks I have – and how well they match my own preferences and interests. At the end of work each day I feel accomplished and responsible. Those feelings – these needs – keep my self-expectations high, just as receiving this internship opportunity had – and it is sooooooooo much easier to do things when, at a subconscious level, you believe you CAN do it.

And then I have time each night to get exercise done, listen to music, read or write, and try to teach myself some web design or GIMP/Photoshop. Or walk around Georgetown/Dupont Circle/Eastern Market looking for Indian food. So I get to satisfy my ‘get me exploring the city or art’ needs.

So maybe the key is planning out your days with just enough structure to make sure you satisfy your own ‘needs,’ both financial and personal, every day?

That’s my working theory!

And this is what your world sounds like when you’ve had an awesome day, like the above:

(ahhhhhhhhhhh GHOST IN THE SHELL I STILL HAVE TO WATCH YOU… cough I meant go to sleep…)

2 responses to “A Break from Rules + A “How to Stay Motivated” Thing

  1. This was really excellent. I’ve been thinking about motivation a lot as well, recently.

    I feel like some people naturally have tons of motivation and energy, or have developed a work ethic for long enough that it’s second nature to them. Since I’m definitely not one of them… it’s encouraging to hear how much planning and good habits can affect your attitude towards work. If I end up figuring this out, it’ll certainly be the most valuable thing I learn in college.

    • Wow, this comment TOTALLY made my day! And seeing you on this blog made my day AGAINNNN =DDDDD

      Yeah, I’m always thinking about motivation, partly to keep checking on myself, and partly because I want to figure out how to sustain it for the next half of MIT. I’d have to say that you were pretty inspiring in Terrascope and in your Shakespeare plays, and in picking course 12! =D

      The thing is that MIT is truly a difficult place. I don’t think anyone can really be happy at MIT unless they are truly happy doing the work they choose to do – because they’re going to be spending a heck of a lot of effort on it. That being said there are classes that are just difficult and annoying to get through, and take extra effort to get done – math, GIRs, etc. – so how do you get through those when there are so many other things to do (or that are sooooo much more fun to do)?

      Back when I took math in freshman year, I never really thought about its applications. It was more of a theoretical class anyway. But I’ve tried painting a ‘dream resume’ or ‘skill set’ that I’d like to have after college, to get jobs that might involve energy market analysis, systems optimization, climate change models, policy-making, and computer game design. (As you can see I’ve really narrowed down my career choices here.)

      So those are just so I could provide these examples of skills – statistical analysis, modeling, programming in python, java, or C++, energy experience/classes, optimization/algorithms… (I’m not even sure exactly what’s required to do ‘optimization…’ O_O) … anyway, those are skills that I’d love to leave MIT with. (And skills that aren’t really all covered in my major, so some prioritization might still be in order… =P)

      Maybe reading the classes you’re interested on OCW a bit would help in getting a head start on classes, and seeing what you like?

      It would be great to discuss this further. I’ll probably try doing a few more of these kinds of posts (if I tell myself I’m learning something), but it would be really cool to be able to discuss these kinds of questions in a more tangible community. Like in a club where students share their MIT success/failure stories openly, and each meeting focuses on finding solid ways to meet certain goals – whether it’s going to office hours (finding office hour buddies?), going to the gym (exercise buddies?), or maybe arranging study times in a room with tea and cookies? I can’t think of any group or service right now that helps students just, you know, get things done – professors don’t really check on you, S^3 gives you advice and a calendar – people mostly do these things with friends, in their majors or sports or whatnot. But that method isn’t always as effective as it could be.

      Ahhhhh the land of pipe dreams…

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