How I stay motivated, even when times are tough: the Greatness in the Moment mindset

One of my favorite productivity books is “The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months” by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington. I have a well-worn version of their “field guide”, which is essentially a workbook with the best parts of the book version (no fluff), which I actually prefer over the original book.

I went through how the 12 Week Year system works for me, and how I used it to complete the remaining credit for my master’s degree, while working full time. This article focuses less on the tactics, but rather, on motivation and one important way of thinking that was introduced to me by the 12 Week Year book. This concept is “Greatness In the Moment”.

Links to books:

What Greatness in The Moment means to me

Here is the quote from the 12 Week Year book about Greatness in the Moment:

Like many people around the world, every couple of years I tune into the Olympic Games to watch amazing athletes do incredible things. A few years back, as I watched the events, the following thought crossed my mind: When does a champion become great? The obvious answer seemed to be when the individual achieves a high level of performance, such as winning a gold medal, but as I considered my own question further, I came to the conclusion that greatness is not achieved when the result is reached, but rather long before that, when an individual chooses to do the things that he knows he needs to do.

Let’s stick with the Olympic athlete as an example. The athlete becomes great not when she breaks a world record and wins a medal. That’s when the world recognizes her, but in reality the event is just the evidence of her greatness. The athlete achieved greatness months, perhaps years, earlier when she decided to run the extra mile, swim the extra laps, or to perform just one jump more.

Results are not the attainment of greatness, but simply confirmation of it. You become great long before the results show it. It happens in an instant, the moment you choose to do the things you need to do to be great.

When I read this passage a few years ago, it completely changed my way of thinking. It is easy to become unmotivated when putting in hard work, but not seeing results. However, waiting for results to assure one that their hard work is worth it, is precisely not how most great results are achieved.

I didn’t really feel like studying macroeconomic models, especially after a full day of work. But in the moment, doing what was necessary for me to complete my master’s degree, would require gritting my teeth and doing it regardless of what I felt like doing. The graduation wouldn’t even happen until months later, but if not for hard work prior to when the external results were shown, there would be no results in the first place.

On a related note, I would argue that examples that come from schooling are the easiest to accomplish. If you pass your courses and follow the rules, you know you will get a degree. In one’s career, and especially entrepreneurship, there are many times where you do not even know if you will get that eventual payoff. It is then, in the moment one chooses to do the hard work, regardless of certainty of results, that makes one great. It is not the moment one graduates, or when one gets hired at the company of their dreams - these are simply lagging indicators.

Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness. - Yousuf Karsh

Escape the instant gratification feedback loop

One major project I took on, simply out of interest, and with no promise of financial return at all, was developing a video game. I spent hours and hours outside of full-time study, and subsequently, full-time work, pouring in sweat equity. It was thousands of hours unpaid labor.

There were many many times I fell into a very dark place, lacking motivation to go back to writing or coding the game at all. I’d rather just focus on my full time work, which was actually helping me pay rent!

For almost a full year after release, I did not even make back what I had paid out of pocket to hire artists. But many things happened in the meantime that made me feel on cloud nine. For example:

It’s often so rewarding when getting social media attention, and it could be the boost to rejuvenate one’s motivation. Salary is another example of instant gratification. The feedback loop is short: 2 weeks, or whenever the project is done (if on contract).

However, I started to notice that a few days after those amazing events (mostly revolving around the game receiving media attention), the euphoria would disappear, and everything went back to normal. It was then I had another realization - attention as positive feedback is fleeting; it is merely a lagging indicator.

I had achieved the true greatness when I spent those weekends coding, and fighting past the despair of dark moments of losing motivation.

I share this personal story, because it took me a lot of hardships and learning, to get to the point where now I can actually say I am applying the “Greatness in the Moment” mindset to my work, despite having known about it for longer. I hope that when you encounter difficult moments, that this mindset can help you push through. I know you can!

Here I’ll leave you with one last quote from the 12 Week Year book:

What makes a champion is the discipline to do the extra things even when — especially when — you don’t feel like it. The encouraging news is that, regardless of how you’ve performed in the past or how you are performing currently, you can be great, beginning today, simply by choosing to do the things you know you need to do. It really is no more complicated than that. In the end, you are either great in the moment or not at all.

[Update] Over the period of approximately one year, the video game has made gross around $40k CAD. Net is barely 10% of that, since the platform (e.g. Nintendo) takes a hefty cut, and there are publisher portions, development expenses, as I hired and managed a variety of contractors, and other costs of operations. So I’m just going to put this back into my next project, and all will be back to zero. The learning experience is invaluable, however.

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