Staying motivated when things go wrong.
I am currently in the middle of a family crisis/emergency which involved my being at the hospital all day with my son (and my ex) yesterday and will entail nightly visits during visiting hours and occasional meetings with the hospital team. While I don’t want to go into detail because I don’t have permission my son’s permission to do so, I will say that he is fine for the moment and not in any danger. He will, however, be in for a few days or possibly a week. My older daughter, H., is concerned of course. My younger daughter is unaware that anything is going on at all because S. lives with his dad except during our visits, so his not being here is not unusual to her.
With all of this going on, it does not change my responsibilities at home. Beyond the normal household chores, I have a review to work on for a client, a review to work on for the blog, other posts to get up to speed, editing to do and the usual amount of social media upkeep. Since visiting hours during the week are only two hours at night, and I’ll be splitting those with my ex, time isn’t an issue.
Motivation, however, is another thing entirely. With all of this going on, and with my mind and heart clearly elsewhere, how do I keep up with my other responsibilities? When things go wrong, how do we stay motivated?
All of us have had times like this when life hands us too much, and the creative parts of our life just seem to vanish. If we’re serious about writing as a job, not just a hobby, we can’t let that happen. For many of us, there is no “taking a break” in writing. Taking a break will become “remember when I used to write?” and we’re left wondering what happened. So how do we keep it up?
Keep it up! For me, keeping my schedule as full as possible has always been better for my mental health than not keeping it. Too much down time makes me feel even worse. Keeping busy allows me to get my mind off things by doing things that require me to focus, and gives me time to think, without wallowing, while I do less mentally taxing tasks (like laundry). So for me, the first way to keep up is just to stay on schedule. If it’s writing time, write. If you have research to do, get it done. It may take some adjustment to what time you do things, but keeping things as normal as possible is important.
Be positive. The second thing I do is avoid negativity as much as possible. For me, this can mean not watching/reading the news for a while. I put aside books that I’m reading for pleasure (as opposed to for an assignment) that are more depressing than uplifting. I keep music I’m listening to upbeat. I do everything I can to surround myself with the positive and the uplifting. While this isn’t always possible, if I make a concerted effort to do it, it does keep me from coming to a standstill that affects my work.
Sleep. How many times have we heard it? Getting enough sleep is critical to remaining sharp. It is especially true during times of stress. Both our minds and our bodies need time to rest and restore. It can be even more difficult to sleep at these times than it normally is. Using relaxation techniques, reading until your mind is quiet enough for you to sleep, or even a sleeping aid as a last resort can help with this.
Eat well. It may not seem to have much to do with writing and work directly, but keeping your body well fed is just as important as sleeping. The tendency during times of stress can be to not eat, or to grab whatever junk food is handy. This is not a good idea at the best of times. When you’re stressed, it is even worse. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is always important, but in times of stress it is especially easy to become run down and get sick. Eating healthy food helps keep your body fit to fight against the stress it’s under, and helps your brain work!
Keep writing. I know I mentioned this above in passing, but I wanted to elaborate a little. Whether you have projects in the works or not, whether you do morning pages as a general rule or not, as writers one of the things necessary to keeping us going is writing. It can help clear your mind, give you a place to work things out, put things on paper you want to remember or just escape from reality for a short time. This is another thing that can be very good for your own mental health and make it easier for you to deal with the rest of your life.
Move! No, I don’t mean to a cabin in Alaska where you can just avoid the whole mess, as tempting as that may sound. And believe me, I’ve considered it during some of my less pleasant months. Although it was to the Caymans because I hate the cold. I’m talking about the “E” word. You know the one. With gyms and running shoes and *shudder* sweating. While now is not the time to take up a whole new fitness program (unless that makes you feel better), remember to move around–preferably outside–at least once a day. Spending all your time inside sitting, whether it’s at home, in court or in a hospital, is not good for you. Getting a bit of head-clearing movement, no matter how small, helps. For me, it’s taking a walk in the neighborhood when I can, or at least in the yard for 15-20 minutes. I know that’s not the recommended amount or type for meeting the “official” guidelines, but my opinion is that anything you can do is better than doing nothing.
Make the most of online time. When I’m online I can, like many people, get caught up in surfing. Reading Reddit, clicking links on Twitter and reading my favorite blogs can take up a whole day if I let it. I try not to do that, limiting myself to a little of it throughout the day but not the whole day. When you’re online during hard times, you can do a number of things to help yourself stay motivated. I go on Twitter and update (of course) but then I head to places I know can motivate me to get off the computer (or at least the internet) and do something. I like the GetMotivated section of Reddit, as well as a few blogs that can get me off my butt and on my feet. There are podcasts I listen to that can motivate me, both in my writing and in my regular household duties, so I make sure those are up-to-date. I contact friends, or update them en masse through email and Facebook so I don’t have to keep telling the same stories over and over. And yes, sometimes I allow myself a (rare) game online to just have an escape for 10 or 15 minutes. Please note that I said minutes, not hours. WoW is a bad choice, much as I love it.
Those are just a few ideas to keep you going when you just want to stop. How do you stay motivated when things are out of control?