Alternative to Motivating yourself – make Rituals

Twyla Tharp is one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the modern era. She twyla tharp ritualhas toured the globe choreographing ballets and has received a MacArthur Fellowship – often called the “Genius Grant” for her creative work.

She is a prolific chroreographer with shows all the time – so how does she do it? What message is there in it for the reluctant programmer.

In her book The Creative Habit, she discusses one of her secrets:

I begin each day of my life with a ritual; I wake up at 5:30 PM, and put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts and my hat. I walk outside my home, hail a taxi and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go, I have completed the ritual.


It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualises it – makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.

The surprising thing about motivation is: it often comes after starting a new behaviour, not before. There is quite some truth in the term “Beginning is half done”.

Your Experiences

You must’ve experienced this phenomenon. Think about going for jogging, it seems overwhelming, waking up and then pushing yourself at such an early morning time. Many a times, you don’t have the willpower to go out of bed or out of your room or just walk when you get to the road or track.

But if you can just start the actual running, you find that you become more motivated to finish as you go. It becomes easier to finish the run than it is to start in the first place.

This is in effect Newton’s 1st law of motion: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion…. corollary is … objects at rest, tend to stay at rest unless acted upon.

rituals motivateMake Rituals

To do something regularly, make rituals, it certainly beats motivating yourself everytime. It provides you a mindless way to initiate your behaviour. Mindless is important – if you have to make a decision, you may very well decide that you don’t want to do whatever there needs to be done.

So if you need to program, or practise programming on a daily basis, it’s a good idea to make a ritual where you sit at the computer and open the notepad and write some preliminary code, the same code every day. That pushes you to continue.

An alternative would be to practise your programming in a netcafe. Since they charge atleast Rs. 10 per half-hour, you pay and sit on the computer (even if you have your own laptop), then write some program. Since you have already paid the money, you can’t back out. By half-hour you would’ve completed a little of programming, upload it online and then go your own laptop and continue there.

Now it’ll cost you Rs. 300 per month, but as practise of programming, it’s a valuable ritual.

This same method can also be applied in other parts of life like exercising or talking to people. Or doing something that is out of your comfort zone viz. Public Speaking. Find a ritual and do it every day to push yourself.