Motivation + Reinforcement = Dedication

A while back, I posted an entry on Balance Point and promised I would follow up with a post on goals. I thought it would work good for a Wiley Wednesday, so here it is. I apologize in advance for its length. I’ve split it up, but it keeps getting longer. Apparently, I have a lot to say on this . . . lol.

Just a quick review on Balance Point – the main idea of that post was: know your limits. This is crucial to goal-setting, as you’ll see.

Usual disclaimer: I have no sorts of letters after my name to assure you this is right. I’m just a goal-oriented person, sharing a little about what works for me in a way I hope you can custom-tailor to help you.

When I started thinking about this more in-depth, it morphed and became larger than I expected. So, it will actually be broken up into two parts and I’ll post the second the next time I’m up for Wiley Wednesday.

I made up a neat little formula to help me keep things straight, and it goes like this:

Goals x Dedication = Positive Action,

I further define:

Dedication = (Motivation + Reinforcement)

For those of you who don’t like math, here it is restated:

Goals multiplied by dedication (motivation plus reinforcement) leads to positive action.

So, what does that mean: positive action? It’s relative; it means taking steps in the direction of your ultimate dream/aspiration. That leaves us lots of comfortable wiggle room.

A quick note on the difference between dreams and goals. Hopefully, as a writer, dreaming comes pretty naturally to you. Dreams are the stuff that fiction is made of. And if you’re a dreamer, aspiration surely follows. We all aspire to be better writers, better friends, better people. How about this one: “I want to be a NYT best-selling author.”

Sound familiar? But this is a dream, an aspiration, not a goal. Dreams are insubstantial – usually so far off in the distance that they’re misted over, the actual path to reaching them is obscured. They are literally up in the clouds.

That doesn’t mean you can’t make them a reality. Your dreams are the pinnacle of your ‘pyramid-o-happiness’, which you are hopefully always building. Your goals are the bricks that, when stacked with care, will get you to the top. Sometimes they’re gritty and heavy, sometimes they’re fun and ornate. Positive action is the act of stacking your bricks.

We’ll talk about goals more next time and I’ll show you a ‘goal pyramid’ method that I like to use, complete with exercises. But this time, I want to talk about the other part of the formula: dedication (motivation + reinforcement).

As I said in my Balance Point post, writing can be a lonely pursuit. Sometimes it feels like everything in the world is working against you becoming the writer you want to be. At times like these, only your own dedication keeps you writing. It might be continually put to the test, but if your dedication is strong enough, nothing can hold you back from stacking those bricks.

Let’s face it – writing can make us feel vulnerable, elated or extremely frustrated; fill us with hope, or with doubt. At any of those times, it is only dedication to the craft, to the muse, or to our own dreams that makes us pick up that How To book, open that document, or write those pages despite the uncertainty we may be feeling.

To me, dedication is made out of (at least) two different components: motivation and reinforcement.

Motivation can be internal or external. It can come from us, or from other sources. It can also be positive (desire), or negative (fear). I will focus on the positive kind (just cuz) but I do want to make it clear that negative in this case doesn’t necessarily mean bad. A lot of people might disagree with me, but if fear is your strongest motivator, if you’re just wired that way, don’t feel like you shouldn’t be. You don’t have to fight to re-wire yourself, just learn to use it as a tool.

Think about this:

What initially motivated you to start writing? What kept you motivated after you got your first taste? Was it internal or external, positive or negative? Which of these really works for you? Everyone is different. When you have to motivate yourself to do something – how do you do it? Through rewarding yourself? Or is it the threat of bad consequences that gets your butt in gear?

The reason it’s important to ask yourself these questions is to figure out how your internal motivator works, and if it’s not working, how to change it so that it does. Even the most powerful engine still needs a spark to ignite it. No matter what you’re packing under the hood in terms of capability, talent, or determination, you need motivation to get things running.

Try this:
Draw a square with a cross in the middle, making four stacked squares. Along the top, write positive and negative. Along one side, write internal and external. In each box, try to think of an example (real or hypothetical) of a type of motivation you’ve used or encountered for each. Now, be honest with yourself – which one works for you?

Once you’ve identified your best type of motivation, make a list of different ways you could use it. For example, if you’re internal/positive, positive self-talk and rewards might work. If you’re external/negative, then maybe you need to design consequences that would keep you motivated, or find someone to hold you accountable. It’s all very personal, and there is no right answer.

So, now that we’re motivated, we’ve started our engine and we’re rolling. But dedication is more than just that initial burst. Dedication has to keep us going even when we encounter a three-foot deep pothole. Or a cliff.

What we need is reinforcement. And I will venture to say that whether negative or positive motivators work for you, we all need positive reinforcement, so let’s focus on that.

Just like motivation, reinforcement can be internal or external, or hopefully both.

First things first: Eliminate outside influences that drain your energy or have the opposite effect – quashing your motivation and dwindling your dedication down to nothing.

These can be abstract things (fear, doubt, exhaustion) or very specific (a person who brings you down, or something on your to-do list that won’t leave you alone). I could write a whole post on how to recognize and purge these negative influences. I’m only touching on the idea here, but still want to underscore its importance.

Surrounding yourself with people, things and circumstances that reinforce your dedication will yield the best results. The internal component of that positive reinforcement cannot be over-emphasized.

If motivation is the spark that starts our engine, positive affirmation is the fuel that keeps it running.

Our sub-conscious is a tricky little bugger. Sometimes it can set us up for failure before we’ve ever begun. It can stall our engine in multiple ways and for multiple reasons. Using positive affirmation, you’re telling your sub-conscious that you are in charge, you know what you want, and you are not going to get in your own way.

We all have dreams and aspirations (which we will translate into concrete goal-bricks next time) that we want accomplish. We have the motivation to go after them, and we’ve eliminated the obvious road blocks. Now we just need steady fuel – affirmation. For me, it’s probably the largest thing that keeps me on track, and I’ve developed a few different habits and tools to keep the fuel pumping.

To an extent, this sort of thing is very personal, but here are several ideas:

1. Find a positive environment, surrounded by people who feed into your dedication.
2. Keep a file, written or computer, that holds all of your favorite positive feedback from others. When you’re feeling down, re-read them.
3. Learn to hone in on your own doubts and fears. Don’t ignore them. Listen to them, and then reason them out. Face them, and then disengage them. Once they’re not a threat any more, you can move on to the positive.
4. Find someone inspirational to follow – a blog to read, a person to study, someone you know – anything. Emulate what you like about how they operate, or make a note of the traits you admire and those you have in common – they are probably very similar.
5. Write a review of your WIP, or a story you haven’t yet written. Type it up, print it out, and paste it somewhere visible.
6. Surround yourself with inspirational quotes, pictures, etc.
7. Interview yourself – either alone in your car, in the tub, or on paper. Tell the story of how you became a writer, what writing is to you, how you got that amazing idea and what your plans are for the future. (Yes, I really do this. Unorthodox, but hey – my dedication hasn’t faltered yet!)

One more quick thing – going back to the subconscious. There is power in every thought you have, and every word you speak. When you think about your dream, or when you mention it. Don’t say “If I ever get published . . .” In the words of Yoda – “Do, or do not. There is no try.” There is no IF. It’s a WHEN. “When I sell my first novel . . .” You have to believe that to be true. And you have to get your subconscious on board.

Never underestimate the power of constant positive affirmation – written, spoken and thought. Maybe you want to repeat the same set of affirmations before you go to bed each night, or first thing when you wake up, or several times a day. Say them in your head like a mantra, like a prayer. Each time you do, you are reinforcing your own dedication. Once you have your goals in order, you’ll be on the road to positive action.

Courtesy of author Robyn Amos, here are some great affirmations for writers:

I am a talented writer.

Creativity flows through me easily and effortlessly.

I am my own expert, and I am not affected by the negative attitudes and opinions of others.

I easily balance the needs of my family with my own need to write.

I have a positive expectancy of big success, and I take temporary setbacks easily.

I am a creative person and develop my plots with confidence and imagination.

Images and words come easily when I sit down to write.

I write daily with excitement, enthusiasm, and confidence.

I don’t wait for inspiration. Work inspires inspiration.

If I succeed, I keep working. If I fail, I keep working. Whether I feel interested or bored, energized or tired, encouraged or discouraged, I keep working.

Everyday, in every way, I’m getting better and better.

I have the craftsmanship and creativity to successfully finish this book.


We’ve got half of the formula covered! Next time I’m up for Wiley Wednesday, I’ll talk about turning those faraway dreams into solid, stackable goals using a ‘pyramid’ method. Hope you take something worthwhile away from this, and I’ll be happy to answer questions, via email, or in the comments.


5 Replies to “Motivation + Reinforcement = Dedication”

  1. Gwen, just so you KNOW…this is one of those posts I will have to refer to when I can’t get the ding-danged tack out of my butt.

    (Which means I’m starring it on Google, dang it.)

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