The seasons displayed in nature can be a powerful motivational force on our lives. I have developed some habits that are based on the seasons to do just that.
The transition from autumn into winter is strangely one of my most motivating times. As someone who loves to spend time thinking about the future, I have developed a system of using the cooler temperatures, changing colors and the coming new year to signal to my inner self that it’s time to get out some blank canvas and dream some new dreams.
As a kid my favorite color was blue. Over the years a new favorite color has taken over; I call it marsh-grass green. On a sunny summer day the light seems to shine through the marsh and give the impression that it’s actually emanating from the grass. I am inspired to take photos of the marsh all summer long. As the grass begins to fade and turn to a tired grey-brown, I am tempted to become melancholy. My eyes will not see my favorite color until next year. When I have tried to artificially hold off the changing mood, I have found it frustrating and unsuccessful. What seems to work better is to embrace the change in season, welcome the mild blues for a bit and use it as a time to reflect.
That reflection is a healthy part of the motivation cycle. Attempting to always stay “up” is exhausting. As in nature, we need that down cycle of dormancy. I spend those weeks making lists of things that are working well and not so well. I make lists of things that have accumulated around me—be they material possessions, responsibilities, routinely scheduled meetings and the like. I lay all that stuff out and just ruminate on it for a period. In time I feel a sense of calm and begin to whittle away at the lists. I donate things that I don’t use any more, I cull my schedule, I communicate with community organizations that I am involved with and remove myself from formal standing meetings. Like a seed falling to the ground and going under the layer of snow, I go quiet and let the outer shell begin to naturally break off.
Somewhere in that process I feel the weight lifting and I get a true sense of what is essential. One of my favorite books on this process is “The Power of Less” by Leo Babuta. In a society characterized by excess, minimalising routinely is very healthy and refreshing. About this time of year the marsh grass is brown, dormant and cold. My instinct is to walk past my camera, to let the moment slip by. Yet I have learned that this is perhaps the most productive time of the year for me. While everyone else is fighting the winter blues, not using them to nurture a seed for the future, I am silently thinning my lists and getting to that one big thing I want to focus on in the new year.
As the stories of holiday stress and winter moods pile up, I begin to see through the cold and fix my attention on a bright and warm point on the horizon. I’ve had enough years filled with goal lists too long to all be achieved to make that foolish mistake again. My goals now are much fewer but much bigger. In recent years, I have just one or two professional goals, no more than three. My lists have evolved from line after line of goals into a framework that helps me catalogue ideas in order to accomplish my one goal. The outcome is powerful, exciting, and most importantly motivational.
I have learned to love that grey-brown color of marsh grass. It is not my favorite color, yet I know how important it is in the cycle of my personal motivation. Building a business, creating a nonprofit, keeping fit, raising a family, learning to master an instrument and any number of other noble endeavors require that you motivate yourself over a long period of time. Learning to love the change in seasons and embracing even the somber, reflective period of winter can be a huge boost to your life and unlock some hidden seeds of greatness inside of you. While everyone else is complaining about the weather, quietly withdraw to your lists and your blank canvas. In them is your beautiful marsh-grass green of the future.