The Accountability Journal

SurfingIf you’re like me, you’ve struggled to find balance between all the competing areas of your life–your work, your family, your interests, your health, that new hobby you always wanted to pick up. Every day a new priority reshifts your focus, and as soon as that task is complete, another one falls into your lap. It feels like a never ending cycle of not finding the time to cope with the stress, let alone work towards your goals or, that most illusive of tasks, pursuing your dreams.

Every year I’d make resolutions; every month I’d renew them, but nothing ever changed. I’d get organized and energized only to watch the to-do list grow exponentially, as all my motivation shrank in inverse proportion. All I wanted was a drill sergeant to get me on track and keep me in line.

But I kept trying, kept fighting,  until I realized that, without noticing it, I had stumbled across a secret.  Well it wasn’t really a stumble so much as a series of high jumps followed by low falls, and it wasn’t so much a secret as a skillset and toolbox. The truth is we do need someone to keep us in line and help us stay motivated. Studies show that people who diet or exercise with friends or groups have significantly better results than those who go it alone or can’t find a fitness buddy. They keep us accountable. And a little competition never hurts.

While it would be great if you had a friend, colleague, or partner who shared all of your aspirations and goals, the truth is that we all want different things in life, and we can’t depend on others to make sure we get out of bed early enough for a run. Your mom isn’t there to remind you to practice piano. The only person that can help you is you, and chances are…you’ve probably disappointed yourself a few times before.

I’m not saying that I’ve found some breakthrough miracle that is guaranteed to change your life forever. I’m only saying that I know how you feel. I’ve been there. But I’ve gotten through it. And then I’ve been there again. And again. I’ve learned to think of it less as a struggle of ups and downs, and more like a cycle, a tide. Sometimes you’re riding the waves; sometimes you’re crashing against the rocks. Along the way, I’ve developed a set of simple, common-sense techniques for getting through the slumps and riding the waves for as long as I can.

I’m a scholar, a grad student, an intellectual–a whole list of labels that mean that I’m not supposed to show vulnerability. What will potential employers think if they see me publicly struggle with motivation? What will colleagues and scholars whom I admire think if they see my posts that are not about theory, digital humanities, or the state of the academy? What will my friends secretly say to themselves or when I’m not around about how I’m starting to sound like a crazy person, or worse, a self-help book? I really can’t answer those questions, nor can I keep myself from asking them. But the truth is, we all struggle with motivation, and we all have knowledge to share.

So if you’re interested in sticking around, in turning the proverbial digital pages, if you will, I’ll share with you a few things I’ve learned–that I’m continuing to learn–along the way. But I need your help too. How do you stay motivated? How do you find balance? How do you pick yourself up after a couple of days when all you’ve accomplished is getting your money’s worth out of Netflix?

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