Following on from my earlier posts about Enthusiasm v Confidence, Ludivine’s question about How to Maintain Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough and Ways to Stop Worrying When You’re Under Pressure, I’ll finish off this mini-series with a few tips for tapping into your natural enthusiasm.
You’ll be pleased to know that you don’t need to be stressed out to use these tips – they work equally well if you’re just looking for a boost of enthusiasm to get you started (or restarted) on a project that matters to you.
The key to enthusiasm is not to try to force it – I like the phrase ‘tapping into enthusiasm’ as it suggests a natural spring that rises up of its own accord, especially if we don’t block it.
1. Start with curiosity
I once went to a writing class with the poet Craig Raine where he said writing poetry is a bit like stripping wallpaper. Once you’ve started, you end up with little ‘tags’ of wallpaper sticking out, which you start to pull slowly – sometimes the tag breaks off in your hand and you’re left with practically nothing. Other times, you pull on the tag and it gets bigger and bigger, till you’ve got a long strip of wallpaper coming away in your hands. Sometimes the strip goes on and on until you’ve pulled away the paper from a whole section of the wall. If you hadn’t been curious enough to pull the little tag, you’d never have managed such a spectacular achievement (in wallpaper-stripping terms).
Where are the ‘tags’ that are piquing your curiosity? A book you meant to read? A film you meant to watch? Someone you’ve been meaning to call for a while? Something you’ve always wanted to learn? An idea you never got around to trying out? Follow your curiosity wherever it leads you – lots of times it will trickle out, but if you keep trying, sooner or later you’ll feel it swell to a rushing torrent of enthusiasm.
2. Ask yourself ‘What got me interested in this in the first place?’
If I get stuck while trying to write a poem – when it feels flat, boring and uninspired – I sometimes think back to the first time I discovered the magic of writing poetry. My English teacher set us the homework task of writing a ballad. I’d started writing in the English class, and there was something about the ballad meter and the fun of rhyming that wouldn’t let me go. It was like a little goblin in the words that followed me around all day, tugging at my sleeve and urging me to take out the draft and scribble a bit more – during chemistry, history, maths… My fingers tapped, my lips moved silently. The words danced in my head. One teacher threatened to confiscate my notebook. But there was something mischievous and entrancing about the poem that made it worth the risk.
So I remember that experience whenever I get stuck and remind myself that that’s what I’m after – it’s not a chore, more like an escape from chores. And I usually realise I’ve been trying too hard – I need to relax and enjoy myself.
Whatever you’re doing, stop and ask yourself ‘What got me into this in the first place?’ ‘What was fascinating/inspiring/fun about this?’ ‘What was I doing that made it easy to tap into my enthusiasm?’ Why not do more of that now?
3. Get your body moving
Procrastination lives in your head, but enthusiasm courses through your whole body.
Stand up, balance on the balls of feet, let your body relax. Adopt a boxer’s stance, bouncing up and down slightly. Or choose your favourite sport and adopt the ‘ready for action’ stance.
Notice anything? When you signal to your body that you’re ready for action, it’s hard not to feel a surge of energy and excitement.
If you really want to, have a workout before getting down to the task in hand – otherwise direct your body’s energy into getting on with the task immediately.
4. Explain it to a friend
Enthusiasm comes from sharing…
Imagine sitting down with a friend and explaining your idea or project to them. What do you say? How do you say it? What questions do they ask? How do you respond? How does your voice sound as you warm to your explanation? Notice how it feels as your enthusiasm bubbles up. Now take that feeling (and maybe some of the words in your explanation) and apply it to the task itself.
You can always go one better and explain it to your friend for real. Just make sure you pick a sympathetic listener!
5. Remember your goal
If you’re getting bogged down in difficulties or distracted by other concerns – take a step back and remember your goal:
What do you want to achieve? What will the finished outcome look like? What difference will it make to you? How will you feel about it? How will it affect others? How will they feel about that? And how will you feel when you see the impact on them?
Usually this stirs up the familiar tingle of enthusiasm and you start itching to get on with things. If it doesn’t, then stop and ask yourself why:
Is this something you really want to achieve? Is there something missing? What do you need to add to the goal so that it inspires you to action? Or is it better to forget it and focus on a different goal?
6. Focus on the next step
Sometimes the big picture can be inspiring, but if you look at it too long it can get daunting, and start to sap your enthusiasm. The more you think, the less you do, and the less energy you have.
Break the project down into smaller tasks. Then focus on the very next step you need to take – and get on with it!
Even completing a mundane task like posting a letter, clearing your desk or making a ‘to do’ list can give you a sense of momentum. Once you get a few of the smaller things out of the way, it clears your mind and lifts your energy, and helps you muster some enthusiasm for the bigger tasks.
7. Find the fun
Just about any task can be enjoyable if you approach it with the right mindset. Even filling out a tax return or washing the dishes, you can take satisfaction in finishing another section of the form or clearing another pile of dirty dishes. On more meaningful projects, there are usually more opportunities to find fun tasks that can boost your enthusiasm. If I’m finding it hard to get on with a piece of writing, I might focus on the easy, enjoyable bits – finding an image for a blog post, typing out a funny quote that I’m going to use, or writing the easiest passages first.
What’s the most enjoyable part of the project? Start with that, feel your enthusiasm start to flow and there should be plenty left over to keep you going with the rest.
Over to you…
These are some of the things that work for me and my clients – how about you? How do you tap into your enthusiasm when you need it?