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Caféman's Blog - Blog of the endless tinkerer: motivation and willpow

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Working on a homebrew project, as with any personal goal, takes desire, motivation, and willpower. At first, a project is exciting and fun; you are more easily motivated to dedicate time and concentration to keep making progress, to see how good it can get and what you will be able to accomplish. You imagine a fun game and much positive feedback. But eventually motivation and desire to work on a project collectively evaporate like the morning dew. "I am getting tired of working on this. Why does it take so long? Why so many unexpected things which burn time?" At that point, willpower is needed to keep plugging away at it. You might start to hate your own project. Time goes by, details are forgotten, and you wait for something to provide more motivation. If you find motivation, then you just might finish your project as motivation wanes , yet willpower is found again.

Myself, I've avoided even thinking about Adventure II XE for many months , since 2013 when the first real effort was done in porting it as a 64k bank-switched A8 game. Why? Well, I didn't lose my desire to port it and improve it, but I did run out of motivation and especially the willpower to get back to it. Thankfully I've been enjoying wrapping up the project for the past two months and it appears the last delay is behind me. Time to finally work more on other homebrew projects (like Detective Powers!)

But to be honest, I have other projects that I leave in unfinished limbo for far too long, and find it difficult to complete. For example, I have played the guitar for over 30 years, and I've written pieces and songs. I have an album's worth of not-100%-done songs that I have been playing and refining for 15 years. Why can't I seem to figure out why some songs seem to need something to improve them, and why don't I use my song recording hardware and software to finish them and create my first "album" ? Well, I don't have the motivation and willpower. Perhaps I'm an endless tinkerer.

I did the same thing by procrastination of home maintenance. Our bathroom fan got louder and louder and then was unusable. We didn't have a bathroom fan for months. But I did finish installing the new fan over the past summer. Something clicked, and I said to myself, "SELF!", get up in that hot attic and Git R Dun. So I did! And I am so happy that is over with.

Does it sound strange to admit feeling guilt about projects were never finished? But its a mistake to let people (or yourself) to get you feeling guilty that you haven't done what they wish you'd have done. You can't motivate somebody for long using guilt because guilt is a negative feeling; your project will no longer bring joy and satisfaction, and you might grow to avoid even thinking about it anymore. Guilt may play an important role in life's motivations and ethics, but not in recreation and hobbies!

For me, the only long-term motivating method that works is something I suppose could be called the Motivation-Willpower-Cycle. Simply put, I need to take breaks. I just can't keep at it week after week month after month. Eventually, I do come to realize I have achieved the mysterious and undefined equation of (X = time needed) to recharge my mental batteries, and I start to aggressively code away at my project. And for a while, I do enjoy it.

There is a theory about willpower, called Ego Depletion, which suggests we have a limited amount of willpower, and we can deplete it. Articles mention various common-sense suggestions for this -- define a plan of action for your project, get good sleep, eat well, yada yada yada. But it seems silly to apply these psychological theories to the question of why I put aside projects for months at a time.

But perhaps the Ego Depletion theory does have a point. After I've ended a Motivation-Willpower-Cycle, some amount of time is always needed. There are no shortcuts. When I lose the motivation, then lose the willpower to continue, only time can recharge the batteries. I wish it took less time. You may delay, but time will not, so said Mr. Ben Franklin. Maybe the true meaning is I've worked on a project too long and should learn to call it finished. Being an endless tinkerer can drive one crazy. But I haven't implemented all my wonderful subtle ideas yet, my Ego cries out! Maybe quicker designs and smaller games are the solution.

Well, my desire, motivation, and willpower to write anything else is depleted. THE END!


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