We’ve all been there before: sitting at our desks, staring at an empty screen, waiting for our creative muse to tap on our shoulder and guide us to the land of genius.
But that tap never comes.
And the longer we wait for our muse to arrive, the harder it is to find the motivation to do just about anything, let alone anything of real consequence. Rather than kick off the next great brainstorming session, or conjure up the world’s next groundbreaking invention, all we can do is stand frozen in a fog of inability.
So, what can you do to fight against your natural urges toward apathy and conjure up the motivation needed be your best creative self? It turns out, the military might hold the answer.
In a video from the Tech Insider YouTube channel, Charles Duhigg (author of Smarter Faster Better) shares a classic trick used by the U.S. Marines to motivate recruits during boot camp. In order to self-motivate recruits, the Marines redesigned boot camp to force recruits to make more choices than they’d traditionally have to make.
For example, following lunch in the mess hall, recruits would be told to clean the kitchen, but weren’t given any further instructions. They had to decide for themselves where the cleaning supplies were, what to do with the leftover food, and how to turn on the industrial dishwasher.
In other words, they had to make choices to get the job done.
According to Duhigg, the practice of making choices cultivates an interior locus of control, or the belief that we have control over our own destinies.
People with a strong internal locus of control believe events in their life occur primarily from their own actions (whereas people with strong external locus of control tend to blame/praise outside forces when something happens to them). The innovative mind struggling to gather the energy to tackle a project knows he has only himself to blame for his lack of production (not family members, not phone calls, not the internet).
So, he knows it’s up to him – and him alone – to remedy the situation.
Making choices, even as mundane as cleaning up a mess hall, could be enough stimulation to strengthen our internal locus of control, which in turn can help us rediscover the motivation that resides deep within all of us.
Chances are you don’t live a life like most boot camp recruits, and you certainly don’t have drill sergeants barking orders at you.
Short-tempered bosses maybe. But drill sergeants? Nope.
So how can this Marine tactic of learning how to make choices work in your day-to-day life?
Next time you’re sitting at your desk, struggling to motivate yourself, find a choice that you can make. Choose to check your emails from bottom to top rather than how you usually check it. Choose what you’ll have for lunch later in the day.
No matter how big or small, start consciously making choices that help you feel like you’re in control, even just for a short while. These small choices will give you the confidence to take on larger tasks, and can remind you that the motivation you seek to take on your projects doesn’t come from a muse; it doesn’t come from the ether.
It comes solely from within yourself.