Three psychological tricks for staying motivated*

in Articles from our Newsletter

*See if you can find the hints in this article about 3 new Writing Club features soon to be revealed.


“Ugghhh!  I’m so sick of this!”

Does this sound like you when sit down to write?

It’s difficult to stay motivated when working on a long-term writing project, such as a dissertation, book, or article. 

It can be such a thankless and seemingly never-ending task that you end up wishing you never had to think about your project again.  By the time you’re half way through the first draft, you have much more exciting ideas for your next project.  Sticking with your current project can feel like pulling teeth.

Here are three psychological tricks that will help you get motivated and stay motivated.


Create Small Successes

Keep your eyes on the prize - complete your project It’s hard to keep your eye on the big prize of completing your project, when the “prize” is nebulous and far away. 

Furthermore, the tedium and difficulty of writing is only rewarded with self doubts and external critiques.

You need to create little prizes: something daily, immediate and positive that you associate with working on your writing.  But how can you reward yourself if you feel that you’ve failed?

A simple change in mind set can reverse that process.  All you have to do is to decide that your daily success will be measured in time spent writing and not in quantity or quality of writing produced

This change in mindset isn’t as easy as it sounds, for psychological reasons.  In order for it to work, you must believe that it is possible to achieve productive, publishable work with daily, reasonably-short (15-45 minute) writing (or revising) sessions.  For some reason, most academics fight this idea, having heard of the amazingly prolific professor who writes for 5 hours every day before 10 A.M., and has published 19 books. This professor, whoever he/she is, has discouraged many an academic.

There is not enough space here for me to convince you that:
a.)  You don’t need to publish 19 books
b.)  Daily, reasonably short writing sessions lead to writing productivity

Just take my word for it that it’s intrinsically motivating to actually accomplish what you set out to do on a daily basis.  The Academic Writing Club is based on this premise and the continued success of its members is a testament to its effectiveness.

Once you do accomplish your short stint of writing, even if it is 15 minutes, you can reward yourself.  This reward might be something as simple as checking email, taking a walk, or eating a bowl of strawberries.  What has struck me repeatedly, though, is how often people comment that the good feeling that comes with having done the amount of writing that they set out to do has been a reward in itself.


Create Visual Cues

Map your progress - you'll see resultsIt might seem silly, but we are motivated by the visual.  Your brain is filled up with words and analytical thoughts, so looking at anything visual can be not only a reward, but a motivator.

This is why we are urged not to fill up our PowerPoint slides with words alone.  People also need to see charts, diagrams, pictures or even cartoons to help them connect with the material.

The simple act of changing up your writing format can visually stimulate you.  For example, using bulleted lists or outlines can help recruit the neurons from your more visual hemisphere.  Try creating more beautiful bullets – I’m not kidding – it feels good to see them!

Mind maps or concept maps can refresh and clarify your thinking.  Here is an excellent example of a concept map that was sent to me recently by a Writing Club member.

Another idea is to hang up a calendar, with stickers to mark important dates or deadlines.  Tell the clerk at the store that you’re buying the stickers for your child.  Or that you’re doing important research on visual cues.

Graphs that show your writing progress are motivating, especially when you’re actually making progress.  (See “Create Small Successes” above.)  Track the number of minutes you write daily, and create a daily or a cumulative graph.  Make a pie chart that shows how much you write on each day of the week.  Or have all 3 charted for you automatically – this is a new feature that will show up in the Writing Club very soon!

So get creative and don’t be bashful.  Visual stimulation is a balm to the overloaded mind.


Go to a “Café” or “Gym”

Get together - going it alone won't help.How many people buy exercise bicycles or treadmills because they use them at the gym, but then don’t use them at home?  Lots.

Why is this?  I think we don’t like to sweat alone.  We are motivated when we see others working and suffering along with us.  When the guy on the next treadmill goes a little longer, so can you.

The same is true of writing.  I’m astounded by how many people write better in coffee shops, despite the noise and distractions.  Seeing others stick with it makes you want to stick with it just a little bit longer.

Online communities, especially those that allow both asynchronous and same-time communications, (e.g. message boards, progress comments, chat rooms and wikis), can provide the same kind of “I’m not alone in my suffering” camaraderie that maintains motivation.  Such as (ahem) the Writing Club.

I hope I’ve convinced you that these psychological techniques, particularly joining the Writing Club, are valuable and worth trying!


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