Motivating yourself

I took this photo in 2015, at the Fairmont Hotel in Jaipur.

I was there for my first WPP Stream event (more on it, here – I have written briefly about this photo then as well).

He seemed like a boy/young man and was playing the Santoor. The location was the Fairmont Hotel lobby. From this place (where you observe him), you turn left to go to the reception area.

When I took this photo, I was the only person anywhere near him! He did not see me and was immersed in his art, producing beautiful music.

As I took the photo and walked away to the reception area, the scene remained in my mind for a very long time… enough to blog about it even back then.

Just imagine – here’s a human being producing beautiful music, manually, through an incredible instrument. Who is he producing this music for? There was no ‘audience’ in front of him. His so-called audience keeps moving constantly. There are many points in time when there is no one in front of him, or anywhere near him. Yet, he kept playing.

If his audience doesn’t really care for his art, couldn’t this music be produced by a high-end Bose speaker hidden in that area? Of course, it could be and that device could produce a lot more kinds of music than his Santoor.

I started to wonder: what makes him continue playing when he knows there’s no one near him to even bother?

[As an aside, think of the people similar to him: a piano player in a restaurant, or a nadaswaram player in a Tamil wedding, or even a singer in an orchestra performing in a wedding reception. They have a largely uninterested ‘audience’ too, but they could at least see their audience in front of them, doing something other than listening or enjoying the music, but at least they are visible.]

Does he consider it a chore that pays his salary? That alone couldn’t explain why he keeps playing even there’s no one around – surely, he’d be tempted to stop when there’s one around and perhaps start when people start streaming in and around? But he didn’t stop (yes, I noticed from the reception area too) and completed his designated timing fully before getting up for a break.

The only explanation of why he continues to play diligently is that he enjoys the music he is producing. That inner motivation to keep at it is the only way you can continue, beyond extraneous motivations like salary and audience availability and appreciation.

Bhagavad Gita’s (most commonly understood/associated) crux says this too, in another way – “do your duty, don’t expect results”. Let me build on that – to motivate yourself to continue doing your duty, merely thinking of it as duty wouldn’t help. You need to enjoy performing that duty. Else, you’d look for shortcuts and external validations to continue. And flounder because those are not predictable and definitely not in your control. The only thing in your control is you telling your brain that you are enjoying it and that immersion is your internal motivator.

This is something I seem to have internalized long ago. And it helps me enormously.

For instance, I started a music review blog, called Milliblog, in 2005. For the next 15+ years, I have reviewed the soundtracks of thousands of films across languages. In 2019, I switched tracks to review singles, instead of soundtracks, since the industry had also moved away from the album format for films. And I continue to review music on the blog.

The only reason why I have been at it for 15+ years is that my blog’s first audience is me. I enjoy the process of listening to the music, framing opinions about it in my mind, researching on the kinds of music I listen to, connecting the dots of what it evokes in me, what kind of influences does it remind me of and so on… and writing about it.

You may argue – right, so you enjoy all this, why not just write it in a personal space, like a diary online? Why bother sharing it with the world if you are doing it only for you?

Good question, and that’s my segue for why this post in the first place!

Consider the Santoor player – his internal motivation was to enjoy the music he produces and to keep at it. But is he aware that anyone who walks by also forms an opinion about him as a good Santoor player? That awareness… that realization could do wonders too.

In my music blog example, I was acutely aware of the opinion I’m seeding in people’s minds about my interest in music. Not about me being an ‘expert music reviewer’ – far from it. Just the view that here’s someone who is very, very, very interested in Indian film music from all languages.

Why would I want to seed that opinion? Simple – I have always, right from my school days, wanted to be associated with music. Life took a very different turn and I moved completely away from music. This association is my way of joining that world I left long ago, at least in the fringes.

This blog you are reading this post on – this too has an objective. To project me as someone deeply interested in the world of communication (including marketing, advertising, public relations and social media). Not as an ‘expert’, but just as someone very, very passionate about the topic. Why would I want to seed that opinion? Simple – communication is my profession and having spent 20+ years in this field, I wanted to leave my stamp on it, and this blog’s expression is my way of doing it. Plus, since I have become an independent communications professional, it helps as a funnel to get leads on new work.

But, to continue writing every single day in this blog, the audience numbers or appreciation (as Likes, Shares, Comments etc. on social platforms where I share/cross-post my writing) alone won’t help. If I pegged my continuing to write to those external factors, then I’d probably try to game those vanity metrics and muddle the kind of focus that I have. It is very easy to discover a very funny meme or a viral video and share it, and get lots of Likes. But what does that say about me? Nothing. Just that I shared something funny. And there are millions of people who share something funny online – I’m one of those millions.

I thoroughly enjoy the process of thinking of what to write, read every day to broaden my world-view, research on the topics that interest me, make notes, write drafts of blog posts, and finally sharing it online. It’s a very stimulating process first for me – it makes me think and I love that high that comes from exploring your own thought process.

So, why do I also share it with the public? Because, while I enjoy it, and learn from it, it could also inform, educate or entertain others. And while they are informed, educated or entertained, they also form an opinion about my interest in the select set of topics I choose to write on. In essence, this is a personal branding effort for me, where I thoroughly enjoy the effort more than the outcome of who is reading it and how many people are sharing it/Liking it on what kinds of platforms online.

Just like the Santoor player.

I hope you would find your inner motivation too – to start/continue on your personal branding journey, without letting external validation alone being a guide.

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