The Motivation Hacker

Nick Winter

“To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.” - Walter Pater,

You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers,

I felt a moment of panic, as if I had let my protagonist license expire and now I would have to retake the test.

• Goal: Hang out with 100 people. Requirements: Have significant conversations with 100 different people.

I would consume one of these books, maybe create a To-Do to reorganize my To-Dos, and go back to exactly what I was doing while feeling great about how great I would be someday.

I wrote this book as a way of forcing myself to live excellently, and to give good ideas on how to do the same to those who hunger, who can’t subsist on wishful thinking alone.

More motivation doesn’t just mean that we’re more likely to succeed at a task, but also that we’ll have more fun doing it. This is what we want; this is why we hack motivation.

Hack like this: first pick your goals, then figure out which motivation hacks to use on the subtasks that lead to those goals—and then use far more of them than you need, so that you not only succeed, but that you do so with excitement, with joy, with extra verve and a hunger for the next goal.

if you get good at it, you might find yourself gleefully penning your opus in the morning, bike-touring Nepal during the day, rocking on guitar at night, checking up on your steam-powered skateboard business on the weekends, and scaring the locals with your laughter at the thought of how you used to drown out thoughts of the dreadful five-page paper with television shows about fascinating characters doing things only slightly more fantastic than what you’re doing.

I used to have no ambitions, and as I slowly fixed myself, they appeared.

Maybe there are no people without big dreams, just people with their eyes shut.

She could use the techniques in this book to pursue either goal, and she would likely succeed even if she picked the wrong one , perhaps never realizing that she’d found the lesser fulfillment. Motivation hackers are in danger of achieving the wrong goals.

Low Impulsiveness • At any time, there’s only one clear thing that you want to do, so you have no problems focusing on it.

Junk food? Sure—it’s not going to kill you tomorrow or anything.

Willpower seems to be needed in one scenario: when deciding to begin. In order to commit to a goal, you need to deny yourself room to weasel out. Instead, you must design a sufficiently powerful motivational structure in advance. For some reason, this part is hard.

Motivation increases with Expectancy—confidence that you will win. When you know you’re going to succeed, motivation abounds. When you think you might not be able to accomplish a goal, then motivation suffers.

The important part is to never weasel out of doing what you said you’d do.

If the day comes where you can’t do the goal, do it anyway.

If it’s just frustratingly inconvenient and hard that day, then when you persevere, your Expectancy will grow—and you’ll learn to plan better next time. Try to anticipate any obstacles that could come up, and then either make the goal easy enough that you’d still be able to deal with them, or include them as explicit excuses.

a goal defined like this: “I will run 57 out of the next 60 days, even if it’s just for two minutes, although I’ll aim to run for twenty minutes. I will set a recurring reminder to run at 5:30pm. I will place a run-tracking notebook by my bed to mark whether I ran that day, and to remind me to do it before bed if I still haven’t. If I become sick enough to call off work, or if I am injured to the point where running would be unhealthy, then I don’t have to run.” A

When I first set out to use success spirals, the only thing I could reliably do was work.

No To-Dos older than 3 days - make sure no miscellaneous tasks have remained undone longer than three days

Anki [29] - do some spaced repetition learning system flashcard reviews

Gaze into Chloe's eyes - I read that this is a good relationship hack, and she has pretty eyes anyway

With a long history of realizing that I always feel better after I get up or work out or study or accomplish something, no matter how tired or sore I think I am beforehand, the generalized cue of “I don’t feel like it” has been largely rewired from the “Quit” response to the “Do it so I can feel better” response.

I took the Sword with me when I went to college, knowing that if I couldn’t pull my life together then, I would never be able to do it. My friend Cathy remembers me telling her, “In a week, I’ll either be happy or dead.”

If the thought of losing $100 can motivate you to go to the gym three times a week for a month, then bind yourself with $1000 and watch yourself run cheerfully to the gym through the cold rain that you hadn’t planned for.

Precommitting is simple when there’s a single moment of success or failure. You turn it into do-or-die moment, and then you don’t die.

If Cortés were around today, he’d probably be one of us who turn our internet off. Apart from getting rid of your TV, that’s usually what this technique comes down to, so maybe it should be called “Disconnecting the Internet.”

I didn’t think my focus was too great that week (so many emails checked and rechecked), but they were surprised by how good it was, and I was surprised by how low their standards were. Here I was, an internet addict, being praised because I was functioning. How bad are other people’s addictions?

“I need to finish <Transparent Excuse> before I can focus on reducing my drinking,” or “I could probably start dating any time, but I can wait until after this work project is done.” I find that journaling helps with this. It’s much easier for me to tell when I’m lying to myself when I write things down, or especially when I hesitate to write about something. If it’s not a problem, then why am I so reluctant to engage it and prove that?

If you have tiny children, don’t run off on your own to the Shaolin Temple to master kung fu. (Bring them.)

Imagine your ideal day. What do you do? Whom do you talk to? Where do you go? Then pick a few goals that will bring your days closer to this ideal.

Make a list of every crazy goal you can think of. Then rate each goal on three factors: how much the goal excites you, from one to ten; your probability of success if you tried as hard as you could; and how long it would take in hours [61] . Then sort the goals by excitement times probability of success divided by time required and pick some of the most efficient goals.

Imagine that you’re another person, more competent than yourself, who was just dropped into your current life at this moment, without any of your current obligations but with all of your current predicaments. Forget everything that has come before and where you used to be going. What would you do? This is an exercise in overcoming the Sunk Cost Fallacy [62] .

“Would a protagonist keep striving desperately on his startup even after desperation gave way to prosperity?" No—he would strive to ignite all the freedom he had earned.

Paul Graham puts it best: “Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious.”

This is another source of bad goals: childhood dreams. Some childhood dreams are originally ours, and some grow on us, but most were given to us at a time when we didn’t know any better about what we liked.

Go ahead and travel the world, but pay attention to whether you enjoy it. Then

When you hit a low by yourself, it’s hard to get out of it. When your bros just keep going, you’ll stumble after them even if you’ve lost the light, only to find that it was just ahead at the next bend. Don’t strive alone if you don’t have to.

We worked from home, and our headquarters was our guest bedroom. We got to work closely together, listen to music, eat lunch on the porch, and play games and blow things up after dinner. This was so much fun that we wanted to keep the startup going just so that we could keep hanging out. Merge your goals into the lifestyle that you want to lead.

I use this technique all the time with Chloe, too: “I’ll do the laundry; what will you trade me? Dinner? Deal [78] !” Unlike with money, we all have different preferences for chores, so trade tasks with someone and you can both get great deals.

Apple cofounder Steve Jobs said that you should stay hungry [80] in order to do great things. If your life is full, you won’t have the same drive as a desperate man. This doesn’t matter for many goals, but watch out if you’re trying to compete with those hungry desperados—they want it more than you do, so you’ll have to be extra smart about structuring your motivation in order to work as hard as they will.

Collect fun-dense [83] activities, then do those instead of spending more time on wimpy leisure distractions.

So I read Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self by Robert Waggoner, skipped the precognition and shared dream chapters,

I started narrating my dreams using my phone’s dictation feature every morning after I woke up, and my dream recall increased from less than one a night to 1.9 a night,

This is a good strategy for learning many things: 1. Get excited about a skill. 2. While you’re excited, make time and hack up motivation to practice it. 3. Learn how to practice it from reading or from a teacher. 4. Start doing it right away.

The day before I started writing, I spent three hours reading a few writers’ blog posts and hitting all of the highest-rated topic threads at .

If you have a Valueless task you need to do, then make a game out of it so that it challenges you. Get into flow. In The Hobbit, Bilbo’s dinner dwarves did hundreds of dishes in no time by turning dishwashing drudgery into a dish-tossing song.

Fill in tax forms with serif handwriting. Timebox laundry. Use your non-dominant hand to take out the garbage, with your other hand behind your back. Floss blindfolded. Send a pesky email on only one breath of air. Clean a room while wearing a gi and listening to Dethklok. Challenge yourself to finish every overdue task today so you can go out and set something on fire tonight. Do some dwarf dishes.

A fourth strategy is the Fool’s Defense: you signal your inability to perform a task in the hopes that someone else will then take care of it for you. An example defender is the professor Randy Pausch, who refused to learn to use the copy machine so his secretary would never expect him to make his own copies.

We tend to pick a destination, arrive somewhere else, and then be thankful we ended up precisely where we did, unaware of all the other places we could have gone, and more importantly, the other paths we could have traveled.

Such optimism is human and must be fought.

Set up more motivation hacks than you can ever imagine needing.

Neither can I count all the times that I’ve heard other people object to committing to a goal, reasoning that they shouldn’t have to force themselves to do something that they want to do.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to face a zombie, especially one that ate me last time I played, I’m going to want more than one bullet, and I’m going to want to fire them from range instead of waiting until he’s within brain-smelling distance.

I’m going to hack motivation way more than I expect I’ll need to, and I’m going to do it up front when I’m feeling most excited about my goal. I’ll precommit, I’ll burn ships, I’ll create a motivation-only environment, I’ll start self-tracking to keep myself honest, I’ll find ways to make it more fun, and I’ll precommit some more.

Surround yourself with motivated people (and avoid unmotivated people) to have their motivation rub off on you. If you can’t change your friends, reading biographies of inspirational people is an easier example of this.