This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

 

In my last column I talked about how, in many ways, freelancers are equipped for this crisis and its requirements (such as working at home) based upon our characteristically independent natures.

The enforced social distancing/self-isolation must seem trivial to those actually struck down with illness but, for the rest of us, it remains the most challenging aspect of the pandemic.

There is, however, a qualitative difference between choosing the independence that freelancing can bring (if you so wish it) – and having social distancing and its onerous conditions imposed upon you.

It’s called having control. Or lack thereof.

For some freelancers (and others) I suspect this is key to the state of our mental health.

One of the big attractions of freelancing is the feeling (illusion?) of control — for whom you work, the nature of your work, where you work, etcetera. You don’t have to be a “control freak” to be a freelancer – but it sure doesn’t hurt.

I think the low level anxiety many of us are feeling is, fundamentally, a sense that things are out of our control.

For some freelancers, without that usual sense of control, life may have lost essential qualities of its previously understood definition and context.

So it’s important to rebuild some meaning and put it back into our lives.

For many of us this may translate into resuming (or beginning) that Great Canadian Novel/Film Script/Short Story Collection. Free of interference from any producer, your dream spec project has never had a better opportunity to become realized on your laptop or tablet screen than right now.

You have the dream. You certainly have the time. What on earth could stop you?

Motivation

Ah, you say. But I can’t get motivated.

Ah, I reply. I understand.

My notes for a collection of short stories lie beside me in a jumbled heap.

Some days I just can’t face them.

What the hell is wrong with us?

Well, it seems to me, mild depression (self-diagnosed) based upon underlying anxiety (ditto) are two good guesses. We probably all have them. (If you suspect you have anything other than mild depression I recommend seeking professional counsel immediately.)

What to do?

It seems to me the first thing is to accept the situation.

There’s no point wasting time and energy making yourself even more anxious trying to exert control over that which we have no control. (Trust me, I know this one is hard. I’m a Grade A certified control freak.)

So it’s OK to feel less than motivated right now. It’s not our fault.

The times they are A-changin’.

Time definitely feels strange, doesn’t it? Without our regular routine the days and nights stretch and contract in odd and mysterious ways. Is it a Sunday? Or is it a Wednesday? Does it even matter?

And so it’s more important than ever to be kind – to each other – and to ourselves. And that means not beating ourselves up if we feel we are functioning less than optimally. Given the circumstances it would be downright unusual if we weren’t.

So treat yourself well, first and foremost, and do whatever it takes to stay healthy in mind and body.

But why do I still feel unmotivated?

Perhaps because the anticipated dream project means so much (potentially) and has been put off for so long that it still feels somehow inaccessible. Somehow still beyond our control.

Our brains need to be gently refocused to see that it is otherwise.

The first “trick” (from my freelancers’ toolbox) is to do other things, small tasks that can be completed successfully. The hope is to re-ignite the motivation flame, by showing our subconscious that it is still possible to take control of certain aspects of our lives again during a time when The Big Picture is out of our control.

Without any feeling of control there is little incentive for motivation. So every bit helps.

I believe this is why so many of us have sought out, or have made, cloth masks. The authorities may have given us mixed messages about their medical effectiveness, but as a psychological tool enabling us to feel we are exerting some control over dire circumstances, they can’t be beat.

I think this may also be underlying the resurgence of baking, sewing, house painting, garage clearing, etc. Being able to start and successfully finish a limited project entirely within our own control is a vastly enabling activity which produces positive, healthy psychological states of mind.

Creating a healthy state of mind can help overcome a lack of motivation.

Arts and krafts

Another “trick” involves what I call my macaroni and cheese analogy.

When I was at college I was always hungry. (Not much has changed.) Opening a kitchen cupboard I’d often find only boxes of delicious m&c. But no matter how hungry I was, eating more than one box at a time would result in discomfort and put me off it for months. But to have a box every week or so was perfectly feasible.

It is the same with our dream projects.

We want them so much; we are so hungry for them! But if we visualize them as one gigantic whole, we may face a lack of motivation. It’s too much to consider all at once – so we shut down.

I find it best to break down such projects into much smaller, more manageable, bite size pieces (via multiple lists and notes) and attack each at a time and pace we are most comfortable.

In other words, don’t try to eat all your mac and cheese at once!

Deadline devotion

A third “trick” is to assign arbitrary deadlines.

In the freelancing world we live and die by external deadlines.

With outside work greatly diminished, the absence of deadlines can be both liberating (nice to be free of them) and devastating (they did motivate me).

So if I am seeking self-motivation on my dream project, giving myself deadlines can make it feel more like a real job and fire up my creative energy.

It’s not enough to simply imagine deadlines. I need to see evidence to aid in the deception of my subconscious.

So I use sticky notes around my laptop, wall calendars with dates circled, and file cards with specific instructions taped to my wall. Just like I used to do with real deadlines.

If this is still not enough to break through my motivational apathy, I might enlist a fellow freelancer as a reader and have them demand to receive a draft I’m working on by a specified date.

The takeaway 

We are living through extraordinary times.

None of us are immune to the psychological distress it causes.

This can result in a lack of motivation to continue some or all creative activity.

As freelancers, a lack of motivation should ultimately be curbed in order to continue our creativity in preparation for the better days ahead. If we don’t do it for ourselves, nobody else will.

We are creative entities. By motivating ourselves to get back to doing what we love and do best we can improve our mental health. And that can improve our motivation.

It’s a kind of repeating cycle for freelancers (and others) which will also impact our ability to overcome current and future challenges.

There are many other “tricks” to help re-motivate. Please share yours in the comments.

Me? Doin’ OK, I guess, Thanks for asking. Got to get back to those short stories as soon as I send this off.

How you doin’?

 

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