I love making video games. I used to do so on nights and weekends after my daily 9-to-5 job. I dreamed of having more time to explore game development. Three weeks ago, I left my job to take a break from corporate life, travel, and of course, make games. Now I have too much time.
This abundance of time may seem like a blessing, but as Parkinson’s Law states: work expands to fill the time available for its completion. And I have tons of time available.
Since walking out of that office, I have been trying to establish a sense of urgency in my day to day life. I plan my schedule, set goals, and create deadlines all to keep myself moving forward. Without any urgency, our goals get pushed back further and further until they never happen.
This is very common with personal goals. The only person you are held accountable to is yourself. There is also likely not a deadline that puts any time pressure on you.
If you have trouble motivating yourself to fulfill your personal goals, then hopefully you can learn something from my struggles in game development. I have adapted these techniques so that they can apply generically to anyone in any situation.
Here are 4 ways to keep yourself moving forward towards achieving your goals.
1. Clarify Your Goals using SMART Goals
First, think about a goal you have in life. It’s not enough to have some vague idea of what you want to achieve. You have to really iron out the details and write it down. If you don’t know what you are striving for, then you will have no reason to go and make it happen.
An easy way to do this is with the SMART goal method.
SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Specific. What needs to get done? Who is involved? Where can it be completed?
Measurable. Can this goal be tracked with a numeric value? Is there an objective way to know when it is done?
Achievable. The goal should push the limits of your capabilities but be reasonable enough to get done. The scope of your goal should be based on prior experience.
Relevant. Does this goal contribute towards your larger plan? Are you the right person for this task? Is this the right time for this task? Is it worthwhile compared to other activities you could be doing?
Time-bound. When does it need to be finished by?
For example, one of my goals is “build a video game company that can support my life before I have to get a job”.
This goal says a lot:
I need to make high quality video games
The games need to be marketed well
I need to finish the games before the end of my runway
Many of you may question how achievable this goal is. Maybe you are right.
I also use SMART goals at a more granular level. For example, a weekly goal of mine was to: “create the first boss battle sequence by Friday”.
For weekly goals, I write them down in a ticket tracking application called Trello. Each week, I create a list of goals to accomplish. Each one will (hopefully) make its way through 3 categories: To do, in progress, and completed. I keep this tab open on one of my monitors at all times for visibility.
This step has to be completed first. We haven’t really touched on motivation yet. You simply need to know exactly what you want to achieve before you go about motivating yourself for it.
2. Positive Motivation — Understand Why You Want To Complete Your Goal
You have defined what your goal is but now you need to understand why you want to achieve that goal. If you fully understand the benefits of achieving the goal, you will be more motivated to get there.
The reasons why you want to achieve your goal, are known as positive motivation.
Phrased another way: think about how your life would be better if this goal was achieved. The more significant the benefits, the more likely you are to tackle day to day activities required to achieve the goal.
Some common reasons people want to achieve goals are because of health, money, lifestyle, relationships, family, pride, success. These are just general categories; the more detailed your reasons, the deeper sense of motivation you can get.
Once you have written down why you want to achieve your goal, imagine what it would be like if all those things came true. Seriously, feel how awesome it would be to reach that state.
For me, imagining those outcomes makes me get that same pumped feeling as when I’m listening to a motivational speaker. The key is to be able to get this feeling on a daily basis to keep you motivated.
Here are several reasons why I want to become a successful video game developer:
I want thousands of people to enjoy my personal creative projects (Pride, Success)
I want to spend 100% of my time on things that matter to me (Lifestyle)
I don’t want to be tied to a company’s location or schedule, especially when I start raising a family (Lifestyle)
I want to be well known within the game development community (Success, Pride)
I want to run a business that can support me and my family’s life (Money, Success)
As you can see, it would be pretty sweet to have all of those things happen. It is the thought of those coming true that keeps me going through all the tough times.
I put my immediate goals, like finishing the boss battle by Friday, in this frame of reference, too. Achieving this small step gets me one step closer to my ultimate goal.
It feels good to think about these reasons. However, sometimes that’s not enough.
3. Negative Motivation — Clarify the Consequences
This is where you define what happens if you don’t complete your goals. Also known as negative motivation.
Clarifying what will happen if you don’t meet your goals gives you motivation to avoid those dreaded consequences. You have already created the positive outcome to strive for, now you should establish the negative outcome to run away from.
Write down some negative consequences of what will happen if you fail to meet your goal. Remember these things should scare you. They should punish you enough that you want to avoid it at all costs.
For me, I literally have a piece of paper above my whiteboard that says “If you FAIL, you have to get a JOB”. I sort of chuckle every time I read it, but it does remind me of the consequences.
If I fail, I have to get a job, which means:
I have to study for programming interviews
I have to go through the programming interview process
I don’t have freedom of location to work
I have to spend time on my employer’s goals, not mine
My games were not a commercial success
My initial investment was not profitable
Not only am I striving to be a financially successful game developer, but I’m running away from the alternative.
What happens if I don’t finish that boss battle by this Friday? Well, it pushes development back which means I have to postpone working on other parts of the game. This means the entire game is delayed because of failing this one task.
This can create a never-ending cycle of failed milestones that push your goal back indefinitely. If this keeps happening, then maybe it’s finally time to shift the accountability outside of just yourself.
4. Create External Pressure
So you’ve defined your goals and clarified the consequences, but maybe this isn’t enough.
“When the only person we are held accountable to is ourselves, we commonly fail to meet our goals.”
A lot of people need some sort of outside pressure to get things done. This is why you meet milestones at your job but not in your personal life. There is positive motivation like a paycheck and negative motivation like getting fired.
None of that exists in the world of personal goals. What we have defined so far are internal motivators, but sometimes we need to create external motivators.
As a side note, if you are interested in learning about how people respond differently to internal versus external expectations, I highly recommend the book The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. She identifies how you handle expectations and then explains how to use that information to get things done.
For example, the process of making games takes many months. Sometimes I am able to set external deadlines through the use of video game conferences. I sign up months in advance and pay an entrance fee. This gives me an immovable deadline where I have to provide a playable demo to the public.
This is an external motivator that encompasses a SMART goal and both positive and negative motivation.
It is a SMART goal because I know exactly what I have to have ready by the time of the conference.
I have clear benefits of why I want to do this. I will get invaluable player feedback and time to network within the industry.
There are clear consequences. If I don’t go or am underprepared, then I waste the money I spent on the trip and it makes me look bad within the industry.
So there you have it. A look at how I stay motivated to keep pursuing my goals. Hopefully this brings you some insight about yourself!
As a quick wrap up:
You first must understand what your goal is.
Then you must understand why you want to achieve this goal.
Then you must understand the consequences for not achieving this goal.
For extra help, create external pressure by having other people hold you accountable.
Now go, like, achieve your goals or something.