What works better: motivation or routine?
As humans, there's an innate urge inside us that gets us motivated to learn new skills and take on meaningful challenges. In fact, a part of our brains is designated as the "seeking system," so we're biologically inclined to do so. Every time we follow this urge, we receive a jolt of dopamine, which in turn makes us happy and makes us seek the same feeling again.
A lot of things come into play when trying to learn something new, the initial spark of motivation, the strict "no pain, no gain" routine, the zestful early days, the seeping reluctance, the cheat days, the cheat weeks, the guilt, the denial, and suddenly you find yourself wondering, "Wait, how has it been two months already?!"
It's easy to lose the zeal that got us started in the beginning midway through the journey. Is the solution then to wait for the same motivation strike again? Or is it to adhere to a routine regardless of how you feel throughout, to reach the end goal?
I wanted to test this out myself. And in a span of three weeks, I attempted to learn to play the guitar.
Here's what happened.
Unlike Will Byers from Stranger Things, my will to learn to play this instrument was easily found. The possibility of covering songs by my favourite artists gave me an abundance of motivation to start the process.
I made a routine with about an hour of practice every day from 7.30 PM to 8.30 PM to learn new chords. I also allotted a weekly goal of trying to learn the chords of a song I wanted to play, and that was it.
The first week went by smoothly. However, during the second week, something I'm all too familiar with kicked in: procrastination. Each time I missed a day of practice, the guilt would pile over and make me feel horrible about myself, giving way to more escapism and procrastination.
Soon enough, I changed my routine a bit. Keeping the time at which I would start practicing unchanged, I reduced my expectations of practice to about 30 minutes and left the rest as free time. I could simply not do anything in particular for that extra time which gave me leeway to not feel as bad if I ended up wasting some time.
At the end of three weeks, I can proudly say that I can play ONE song. It's not much, but it's honest work. It did prove to be harder than I anticipated it to be, but I'm still happy I was able to follow through and learn to play one of my favourite songs, "Zombie" by The Cranberries.
This experiment led me to the conclusion that if I have a goal that is worth pursuing, then a good routine with managed expectations and some breathing room is what I can rely on to reach it.
Send Tanmoy suggestions for a new hobby at fb.com/tanmoy.tanzim