How to set yourself on fire

What keeps you going?

Is it the vision? The dream you’ve created for yourself? Is it the material rewards?

Is it the fulfilment you find in the process, within the act itself? Is it the impact it allows you to have? Is it how it flatters you ego? Is it because you don’t see any other way?

Motivation is a personal, private thing. We all have a unique mixture that we feed ourselves with.

But I know one thing. I know what the best source of motivation is, no matter who you are. It’s this:

Visible progress.

We are at our most energetic when we are obviously getting better and moving towards our ambition.

We are at our most downtrodden when it feels like we are going nowhere.

Which raises a few questions.

Firstly, if progress is the best motivator, how can I make progress everyday?

I don’t know if we can. Yes, we can show up everyday. Yes, we can do our best everyday. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to make progress. It tilts the odds in our favour. But life will always interrupt.

But then thinking about it, if the only way to make progress is to show up, then not showing up means we definitely won’t get better.

The second question is, how can I make progress visible to myself?

Two ways come to mind.

1) Imagine two graphs. One is what our progress over several decades will look like.

The second is how we feel about our progress each day.
Everyday we experience the second graph. We only see the first after a decade or so of work.

2) Track or log it.

How do you track progress?

I’ve published everyday since the 27th of August. I re-read the old and compare it to the new. The difference is my progress.

Another way to track it everyday is to do as Austin Kleon recommends in Steal Like an Artist and keep a log book.

At the end of each day, sit down and write (or draw as Austin does) what you’ve done that day.

The peculiar effect of this is that if you do too much, you start to realise you can do less, better. And if you do very little, you endeavour to do more tomorrow.

If visible evidence of progress is the most effective motivator, but we can never guarantee this visual support, what are we supposed to do?

Here’s the alternative. Take motivation out of the equation. Don’t rely on it.

There’s a word for people who do the work only when they’re motivated, when they’re feeling on top of their game, when the inspiration strikes.


Professionals do not rely on motivation. Instead, they build filters, boundaries, systems, habits and networks of support that allow them to do what they must, no matter the opposition.

To them, no motivation is not an issue.

It’s a paradox. If you want to motivate yourself, look for signs of progress. But if you want to make progress, you have to become accustomed to working without motivation.