Sometimes, you just don’t have the motivation to compose. Why? Deep down, you know you want to compose, but you can’t pull yourself away from the latest binge on Netflix.
In this article, I’ll dig into intrinsic motivation, what it is, what it isn’t, and what you can actually do to improve your motivation for sitting down and actually composing.
Motivation To Compose Music
You would think, with something that is your passion, it would be easy to sit down and just compose. It would be as easy as sitting down and watching TV. But it’s not the case.
Many times, I’ve known I should be composing – that it would be the best use of my time, but instead I decided to watch The Walking Dead (which is a great show by the way, I highly recommend it… unless you actually need to get some work done. In that case I don’t recommend it).
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
According to wikipedia, “motivation is a psychological feature that arouses an organism to act towards a desired goal and elicits, controls, and sustains certain goal directed behaviors. It can be considered a driving force; a psychological one that compels or reinforces an action toward a desired goal.”
Arouses an organism to act towards a desired goal? If thats the case, there are many times where I am not “aroused” towards composing or finish a piece I’ve already started. But this is definitely a desired goal for me. So it should elicit, control and sustain my goal directed behaviors… right?
The popular thing nowadays is to say it is the intrinsic motivation that really drives us to pursue our goals for longer periods; to push through the tough times; in a way, to do the things that now, because in the long run they will pay off.
Extrinsic motivation, things like money, awards, and praise from others – as studies have shown (you should always be suspicious of that phrase) – can actually hinder your desired outcome.
If you want a little more depth on that, check out this Ted Talk by Dan Pink.
But when I think about the dichotomy of intrinsic versus extrinsic, it seems to be somewhat arbitrary. For instance, who is to say that my desire for praise is not, in fact, intrinsic? I may be composing for praise. Or maybe money. Sometimes I do love to compose just for the sake of it, but there is real value in hearing your finished piece. Is hearing your piece at the end a “reward”? Is that extrinsic or intrinsic?
Another researcher, Steven Reiss, from Ohio State University says that its much more complicated, and based on sixteen different desires that we all have.
- Acceptance, the need for approval
- Curiosity, the need to learn
- Eating, the need for food
- Family, the need to raise children
- Honor, the need to be loyal to the traditional values of one’s clan/ethnic group
- Idealism, the need for social justice
- Independence, the need for individuality
- Order, the need for organized, stable, predictable environments
- Physical activity, the need for exercise
- Power, the need for influence of will
- Romance, the need for sex and for beauty
- Saving, the need to collect
- Social contact, the need for friends (peer relationships)
- Social status, the need for social standing/importance
- Tranquility, the need to be safe
- Vengeance, the need to strike back and to compete
I am not sure I quite buy off on this list of needs. In fact, I think the list is probably far more extensive and complicated. But the point I am trying to make is that the subject of motivation goes beyond extrinsic and intrinsic.
Ego Exhaustion and Will Power
So with the line between intrinsic and extrinsic being so blurry, what else could be causing our lack of ability to move towards our objective.
In walks Will Power. No, not some guy named Will Power, but the the power over your own will. There have been some interesting studies that show, telling people no one liked them or no one wanted to work with them caused a distinct drop in their ability to withstand eating cookies, when they were asked not to.
This is because something like not being chosen by peers, or being told you are not liked, can cause ego exhaustion. This ego exhaustion has a direct impact on your desire to do something mentally taxing, or to complete something mentally taxing.
Let’s say that you have a very mentally tiring job, or you have to watch a child that is difficult, your desire to compose (something that can be very, very mentally tiring) will be greatly diminished before you even start, because of the drain those things can have. But even something as little as someone making a poorly worded comment about your music, or anything about you for that matter can gnaw away at that ego. This seems especially true if you invest a lot of emotional energy in that person, such as a spouse, a good friend, a parent, or a child.
Don’t Quit Your Job
But wait, there is hope. It may be as simple as low glucose. In fact, people given a kool-aid with sugar versus a kool-aid with splenda actually did better on complex tasks after a similar type experiment. I don’t recommend getting up and having a coke, instead, I like to work with my environment and body to create the best solution.
So my recommendation – compose first thing in the morning. This is the time when you are freshest. The key to this is being aware of the importance of sleep. Recently, I’ve been really working on improving my sleep, which hasn’t been easy. Because I go to school three nights a week, usually spread out, my schedule is constantly shifting from being up late (for me, 11:30 pm is late) to being up early, usually around 4:00 am. This means constant flux for my body. Doing things like creating a sleep sanctuary with no gadgets, blackout curtains, and a comfortable bed with good sheets has been a great step towards improving that.
I also wear blue light blocking glasses for about two hours before bed. These are the ones I use:
I know – a little nerdy… but hey, you spend half-your life asleep, shouldn’t it be worth the effort?
Once you start to feel a little ego exhaustion in the morning, you can grab yourself a cup of coffee, or my favorite… go on a run. You’ll probably have some breakthroughs on the run anyway, and then when you get back, you can have a cup of coffee, with a little sugar. You’ll feel like new.
Connecting With Others and Your Motivation to Compose Music
Beyond a little glucose in your veins, your motivation to compose music is probably different from mine, and more complicated than you would expect. The last piece of advice is to just connect with others. While it seems extrinsic on the surface, like getting praise, what is more intrinsically satisfying than being social with people who share your interests.
If you are unfamiliar with the Art of Composing Academy, it is a place to learn and master the traditional classical composition. One of the best features of the Academy, is the weekly online hangout, called the Composer Symposium.
The Composer Symposium
The Composer Symposium is an online weekly meeting, in which you get the chance to talk to me, as well as other members of the Academy. You can talk about composition, or any other musical topics that may be troubling you.
Sometimes we have Academy wide challenges, where we go over everyone’s pieces. Other times, we talk philosophy and theory. Occasionally, we just shoot the breeze. The talks are always fun and informative though.