• Ivna Lins

Understanding Motivation - Not Satisfied With my Art - Part 3

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

Part 3 - Understanding Motivation

Wait up, "Art" activities could go from Chopin's symphonies to creating memes, so let me make it clear that this is a series focused on drawing and painting. If you missed part 1, the introduction, click here!

This might be my favorite subject ever, since it's the most life-changing work related thing I've ever been through. Learning about motivation has helped me from being more compassionate with myself to producing a looot more work. It's learning about our own human condition, embracing it, and going beyond whatever we've been doing for centuries, at the same time. It sounds super magical, and it is! I promise!


By the definition, motivation is a strength, it's the desire for something. Not only the "I wanna draw", but the "I super feel like drawing. Like.. right now!". We've all been there, it's hard to explain with words, but it's like everything else can wait BUT that one thing you really wanna do. It's ironic-funny that we easily remember the bad-type of motivation, like the urge to eat strawberry glazed donuts or watch 5 episodes of Naruto. These are motivations too! And so is to open up your sketchbook, to paint a canvas, to study anatomy. It all comes down to the same firm feeling to "start" this or that, even if the results might vary (the results of eating multiple cookies is indeed very different from the result of making multiple gesture sketches, obviously). Isn't it funny how the same feeling can branch out so evil or heavenly? Let's start with a common misconception.


I feel like inspiration is a bit easier to remember. It's when you watch a good movie, when you read a good passage in a book or a great dialogue, when you go to a museum. Inspiration is like being mentally stimulated (I stole this definition from Google cause it's just so beautiful!), while motivation is getting down to business. You can have one without the other. In fact, most of the times they are not together. How many times have we watched something, seen something, deeply felt a connection.. but then did nothing with that feeling? It's all good, they are different aspects, and the first step is recognizing the two as separate forces!


The million dollar question! I'm not wasting any time today, going straaaight to the point, huh? Inspiration comes and goes as we see things that touch us in a new, fresh way we've never realized before, but motivation is actually what gets the business going. It should be steady, come and stay. That's what we all want. Aaaand.. sadly, we're never gonna get. I had to get this out of the way, so we can continue to why this is not the end of the world. It's actually when things start making sense. We are constantly hearing people talk about how productive they are, or that you HAVE to be productive all the time, or that "doing nothing" is dumb and "doing things" is what makes you a good person. In conclusion, if you're not motivated to do your things, you're... a loser. That's the meanest bullshit we unconsciously keep in our heads. I hate this! The world makes us feel as if being motivated and doing things "happily" all the time is the normal state of being. It is not. And it will never be.


And most importantly, why is that the worst thing we can believe in?

Because we are humans! Which means we are animals! Our primal goals in life is not to build a multi millionaire company, nor to be famous, nor to make more money than last year. Our main things are, and will always gonna be, the instinct to be alive. To remain alive. And for that, we need food and shelter. Then we need sex to keep our beautiful genes going, but that's it. Everything else we developed as humans (socialization, helping others, agriculture, industrialization..) serve as a way to strengthen our possibilities and to try to make sure we end up doing the biological things. As long as we got that, our brains are ok. They're accomplished their mission in their life span. It's the motive behind any life form. And that's why we're never gonna naturally feel motivated if it doesn't involve staying alive. If they're not "getting food", "having a roof over your head" or "finding a decent mate", it's kinda not that important. This is our brain talking, and he has been doing his business for 300,000 years. Exactly like that, for the past hundreds of thousands of years. How much repetition is that? It's crazy! But he knows best. Then comes the obvious problem... in 300,000 years... things kinda changed a lot. Actually in the past 300 years alone things have shifted like never! Can we all take a moment to remember that 30 years ago we barely had internet? It's a lot to sink in for a mechanism that is so ingrained in our insides. At his day and age, if you're not in war zones or in really poor countries, you're way past "only-surviving" for a living. Which is our case, because if you're reading this, you have an internet connection and time to read about creativity. Creativity comes when our basic needs are covered. Creativity is the mind having fun with possibilities beyond survival. So why can't we feel motivated all the time? First of all, we do. But not for the things we want to do. Why? Because our brains is not capable of changing his engines in a short period of time. It only happens slowly through evolution, through generations, so we cannot expect changes anytime soon. If we want to be motivated, we have to do that on our own. Nobody is going to help us, and our brains are most likely to be our first enemy.

Now this is where we find our gold-mine, waiting to be excavated. Our brains are pretty much grumpy to spend their beloved energy on anything. They're only gonna do it once they know they're gonna have beautiful guaranteed short-term results with it. It's a lot of constant work to keep your body going, to fight microorganisms and potential invaders, to balance out everything on the inside, and, on top of that, to transform food into energy and stock it for the bad days.

"If I'm gonna give away my ready-made energy, you better give me something in return right now, huh? That's my deal"

Fair enough. And pretty much explains why we love fatty/sugary food and entertainment. One keeps our energy levels high, the other makes sure we're not spending any of it. Smarty little brain! He is also only preoccupied with living up until he reproduces. We're gonna die anyways, so once we pass our genes along and make sure it survives the first few years until autonomous, the job is done! So eating shit and keeping some energy around until we're 20 something doesn't seem unfair, does it? Pretty doable! He doesn't care about life expectancy or a well-lived-successful life. Pff, he doesn't cherish that!

But we do.

And we live with that brain.

Any person you know that lived between 297,980 B.C. and today has the same brain as you do. Not exactly the same brain, of course, but roughly the same decision-making priority. Because that's the reason we're alive. That's how it managed to make it this far. It's because of his brilliant whatever solutions, refined over all this time, that we were able to evolve up until this point. A few lines ago I wanted to throw my brain away and get a new model, now I wanna kiss him and tell him he is one of a kind, special little creature! Which sounds very disgusting... he is an organ... and all squishy! Eeek!

Anyways, now we get it, we won't naturally feel motivated all the time. And you know what? That's ok, because that's also the reason we are very much alive. Sounds like a fair trade. So first step: don't hate yourself or your poor brain. Done!

We tend to think that, because we're talking about artsy things, it's gonna be flowy, smooth and easy to do. Easy to get yourself motivated. Art is beautiful, so the process should be, too. Well, it doesn't really work like that. Anything that is not essential to maintain yourself alive is gonna require more motivation for your brain. So yes, even if it's something you're very interested in; even if it's something that you love, you're still gonna face hardship to sit down and do what you have to do. It's hard to believe that at first, when we're not used to seeing the other side of making things. The day to day practices. Long term commitment with a skill. it feels like it just comes easy and that's it, from an outside perspective. But to prove that wrong, here is a very specific example of this resistance getting in the way of your passion:


"Ok Ivna, I know how easy it is to eat cheetos with coca cola while binging harry potter movies, but I know people who do so much more, and so much easier. They MUST be different. They're maybe not geniuses, but they must have some sort of different connections in their brains."

No. And Yes.

Picasso, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Hemingway, Jane Austen, J K Rowling, Stephen King, Beethoven, Chopin, Steven Spielberd, Stanley Kubric, David Lynch, Wes Anderson.

All these people did so much more than eating cheetos with coca cola while adding their next series to "My List" on Netflix. Exactly, because for most of them, cheetos wasn't a thing, and they didn't even have screens. But they had their own version of entertainment. And doing nothing was always an option. Or wandering around. Or.. I don't know, mopping the floor. Does anybody clean the house instead of doing work? Yes, of course we're not alone! So let's not blame technology or demean our friends' determination. They did a lot of work. But it was not easier than whatever we think. Definitely not! Well, first of all.. we don't even think of the process, we just imagine it as woopsie, sit down > flow flow flow > done!

Let's stop for a minute and think about Beethoven. We factually know very little about him. I personally didn't even know much, other than the fact that he wrote very fancy and famous pieces of music, up until my twenties. But what is curious is that, other than his music, we all have very very little information on his personal and professional life.

If you spend good minutes reading about what we think we know about Beethoven, you're gonna get good facial expressions of surprise (he was forced to play in a very young age, by extremely toxic parents), and also a nice insight. We don't know much about people's habits, in general. We see what they make and choose to show, but other than that, specially if they're not close to us, we don't know much. We don't know what goes on in our mom's mind, in our brother's, our boyfriend's mind. So it's safe to say we don't know what goes on in an artist's mind, when they're creating. And when we do, it's life-changing. There are books dedicated to showing you facts and the personal life of famous people (without the whole "do it like I do", just "innocent" storytelling). I could never recommend these enough, in fact I'll leave you my favorite ones:

Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image

"Daily Rituals" is such a impacftul book. It's a compilation of specific habits and rituals of famous artists, writers and composers, on how they go about their days and how they proceed to work. Behind a big name, we discover some crazy shit and so many meticulous activities we would never have imagined. It reminds me of this video Bobby Chiu did, saying he once got a pinball machine for his birthday, then to stop himself from playing it all the time he would lock it up, put the keys in a box, inside another box, inside a third box... and put it in a drawer in his night stand:

I would love to force you to read/listen to the book, but since I don't know where you live, I'm gonna leave you this website I found, with a crazy summary of artists and their days. I mean, when I thought about Van Gogh and Rembrandt I always saw them in my head with a palette and tubes of oil paint. Or going to an art supply store to buy their own powder pigments to make their own paints. That's exactly what I imagined! I never thought of them.. sleeping, or having hobbies. That's weird! I thought they slept in a dirty apron and ate non-toxic acrylics for lunch. It's funny to think some painters went to parties, took long strolls everyday and had a peculiar love life. It's like they're real people!

When we read these stories, there is some sort of breakthrough. That they're.. people. Normal people, with a normal brain. Yes, some have an ease with skills more than the average, a faster way of learning, faster way of making connections and understanding that dedication beats anything. But many also were forced to show up and develop their skills. Because we don't know much about these people, we just assume they're different, they don't go through demons and wacky tendencies. These books say that yes, they literally do. Every single day. The only difference is that instead of thinking they won't experience lack of motivation, they "made peace" with the fact that it's indeed going to happen, and instead.. hacked their way around it. Expecting it, and working around it. Knowing themselves and their own tendencies, being aware of it, and still choosing to battle. Every. Single. Day.


If there is one thing that could tell you right away to not spend your energy and help your brain convince you that having chips for dinner is the best thing you can do, that thing is called "talent". It's saying we don't have it. There, done! Now you won't have to do any work, not face any demons, and all the people that ever did any crazy shit it's cause they were meant to. It's not for you, you don't have that talent. It's an easy way of avoiding having to go against the easy, hard, repetitive, frustrating loop of.. working. We love to give meaning to things, so if that person does it so well and you're having some trouble, it's because they have talent, you don't. It's the most annoying and stupid little habit we can ever cultivate. We do and say some crazy shit not to get to work, not to do what we have to do. Talent is a quick way to state "this is gonna take too long, so let's avoid the hard things such as responsibilities, determination and commitment". Which leaves us to our next point...


Probably the word of the decade, huh?! You know why? Because now, more than any time in history, not only we have the idea of "being productive while we're awake", but the whole thing is worsened by the access of other people's lives, and what they've been doing. Comparison, comparison. When we compare, we skip the long process game, to just see final results on the other person's side and.. cobwebs, laziness and empty dreams in our side. Laziness does not exist. We are always doing something, and it's always for a reason, even if we don't like the reason. But wait, what is procrastination, then? Since it's the word of the decade, you already know that it means leaving important work for later and doing the simple, enjoyable things now, right? Oh, that reminds us of the conversation we were having up there, about our brains doing exactly this, all the time. Hmm, interesting. So procrastination is basically our brains... being brains? It is, but also a bit more than that. Let's dive a little deeper!

We understand now that we don't really neeeed to do the work we love. We can perfectly survive with the random part time or full time jobs that random places might offer, as long as we can buy food and pay rent. So why is it that we want to something we love? Well, because we have interests, aspirations, and taste. Because we wanna do more of the things we're interested in. And if we spend 40 hours a week taking away our time from that, it's easy to see we're gonna feel like wasting life away. It's not about money at all, it's about being a human that lives for about 80 years and wanting to spend most of that time with something that brings joy. Not just survival, but a pleasant survival. The big question is: why isn't this clarification enough to get you motivated?

Because your 300,000 year old brain wisdom is stronger than our generation's life span. We're trying to swap those super old and well reinforced habits with... logic. Just by thinking about new habits. If you're in your 20s, 20 years ain't nothing against 300,000. And it's not even 20 per si, because we only start thinking about what we wanna do with our lives in our 20s. So by the time you're 25, you want to beat your 300,020 year old practice within a few weeks... That's crazy. It's just not easy at all to happen.

There is a hidden truth we don't really talk about: there is pain in procrastination. Yes, we get the happiness doses from whatever we decide to do, but it comes with a pay off. We get frustrated when we don't do work. We know we should. We know it's "the right thing to do", so we feel something when we put it to the side. Sometimes, even while we're having fun, we can't help but still have our mind on the task we should be doing. Or we feel really really bad after we're bored with games or videos. It doesn't help. It's not always easier to get to work when we procrastinate. Which shows it's just never easy. If we choose to do something else, the work is still gonna have to be done. If we choose to do the work, we are still gonna face the motivation problem.

What is the solution, then?

The only thing we can do to beat our strong tendencies is to.. organize things. Think about what you wanna achieve, but set actual goals. Plan, but break things down. Imagine future you, then work backwards to find the smallest steps you can make now, to end up there. Procrastination comes from the fear and anxiety of "not knowing how to deal with something", which can mean:

  1. I don't know what I want

  2. I don't know how to get there

  3. I don't know what steps to begin with

  4. I don't know if i'm gonna be able to get there

  5. I don't wanna spend my energy on something so uncertain

These are all highly valid thoughts, but you have to remember that this is our old brain at work. He doesn't want to give away his precious energy on something he is not able to see the value right off the bat. Of course we wanna check instagram or watch youtube videos, that will leave no work for us to do. No battling, no frustration. But we actually want to work, because we want greater things. So we have to re-think those old brain thoughts and replace them with our own building blocks of self-motivation:

  1. I like x, y and z. I would like to know more about it

  2. I need to acquire knowledge. i could study this by ____ (taking a class, watching tutorials, having private lessons)

  3. I'm gonna list all the tasks I can think of, put them in a priority list, and tackle one by one, slowly

  4. I really cannot predict my success, but "not trying" is the only way 100% sure to not get me there

  5. I'd rather spend my energy on uncertain results that bring me long term joy than certain results with long term regret. "I did my best" is always better than "I could have done this and that, but I didn't"

The battles are gonna exist everyday. We already know that. The only way we can win the fight is by preparing our minds. Feel the fear and doubts, than kick them on the butt.

I'm gonna do my best. I'm gonna do my best. I'm gonna do my best.

Whatever it is, if you do your best and slap your demons on the face, it's gonna get easier. Or you're gonna find something else on the way. Or you're gonna discover new interests, new things to learn. Or you're gonna meet people that share your passion. Or you're gonna become a better version of yourself, one that is a step further than "past you", on something you value. There is no easier way around. It's getting up everyday and doing the things you need to do. We can talk about it, we can understand it better, know where it comes from, learn that other people feel it too. Those are TREMENDOUSLY important. If we're aware it's gonna come, we can prepare. But by the end of the day, only you can do your work. Gather all the swords and shields by consuming healthy information that gets you hopeful, and don't believe anything that contributes to you feeling down and drifting further from being what you truly want. Those are the real demons, and we see them everyday, too.

The best person I've ever seen talk about everyday battles is Steven Pressfield. He has a series of books that changed my perspective about motivation. I secretly bought 3 of them for my husband and forced him to read, I feel very bossy. Plus we get to talk about muses and resistance, which sounds so renaissance. I wish I could do the same thing to you. Force you to read it, so you would love me too. It's all about me. And to prove you it's all about me, I found a great interview with him to get you motivated (huh, see what I did here?) to go read it:

Born with a gift, being forced by parents, easily finding your way around or struggling every single time you sit down to paint: these are all ways to get to developing a skill. Some we can choose, some happen to us. Some we blame on luck, some we blame on bad luck. The truth is.. it doesn't really matter. You're here, you have the best tools we ever had in the whole history of mankind. Technically AND emotionally. We cannot change whatever cards we were dealt, but sure thing we can get those cards and play the game we want (Did that make sense? I love metaphors but sometimes I have too much fun with them, I think). You can be whatever you want, if you decide to put thought and effort to it. We don't know where this is gonna lead you, but we're both sure it's the best thing you can do.

And while you're doing it, while you're feeling the frustration and finding all the reasons why "it is not going that well".. remember: you'd better be doing it than not.

Thank you so much for reading, and I'll leave you here some more amazing links to help out with lack of motivation, if you feel like creating a long inspiring pack of goodies:

Learning How To Learn, Lack of Motivation, Specialize or Generalize

How to be a more confident designer



ps: I painted this butterfly for the cover of the article, then I couldn't help but sing Maroon 5 all day long, and it turns out to be a very fitting verse! Plus it looks so professional when I put it like this:

It's not always rainbows and butterflies, it's compromise that moves us along


Not Satisfied With my Art:

Part 1 - Why Can't I Draw (intro)

Part 2 - How to Study Art

Part 3 - Understanding Motivation

Part 4 - How to Practice (and Find a Style)

Part 5 - How to Generate Ideas

Part 6 - How to Develop my Projects (Managing, Organizing)

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