I am enthusiastic about enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is like a muse, but you can synthesize it. By knowing what enthuses you toward a certain type of project, you can lead yourself to be enthusiastic about that project. You have to write an essay for school— finding a new angle or tying it to one of your hobbies, like snake wrangling or something, can raise your enthusiasm. You have to do something monotonous, like raking leaves or shoveling snow— listening to music or making a game out of it can make it seem faster. Based on your personality, you can pump yourself up.
But enthusiasm isn’t born of the void. Enthusiasm is to the mind like energy is to physics— it comes from somewhere, and it goes somewhere. It transfers itself from one project to another, or lends itself from one area into another. Your enthusiasm for music raises your enthusiasm for chores. Your enthusiasm for snake wrangling raises your enthusiasm for school essays. But it isn’t always rising. Your enthusiasm for your essay dies when you realize that, instead of writing about snake wrangling, you could actually wrangle some snakes.
Enthusiasm comes and enthusiasm goes. It never dies, but it is always running away. The only way to keep enthusiasm around, to synthesize it when it isn’t quite there, is to keep momentum.
If you work on a project every day, you can keep moving on the project even when your enthusiasm has fled to other areas. When those areas fall through, the enthusiasm flies back to your first project, which is in good shape because you kept momentum. Momentum attracts enthusiasm, allowing it to grow until you are absolutely dedicated to your project and will finish it no matter what.
But when momentum dies, enthusiasm zooms away. The instance you let your momentum fade, enthusiasm is gone, running toward the next big project. Momentum keeps enthusiasm coming back, but when it falls, it falls hard. You might still have good reason to continue the project, but your enthusiasm is not there.
Over the past month, I realized how quickly some deadlines were approaching. Feeling the rush of fear, I got a burst of enthusiasm to finish these projects on time, to avoid a real crunch. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm had to come from somewhere. It wasn’t until later that I realized I had let my German practice go— practice I had hit daily since I started the course, nearly five months ago. Before that break, I had been loving German. I had been reading, writing, and occasionally thinking in German. Then I lost my momentum.
Immediately the enthusiasm crashed. I started doubting my dedication, wondering if I should just quit, thinking I might be better at another language. Worst of all, I had extremely good reasons for missing German that day. I had spent nearly the whole day making friends, organizing people, and trying to lead by example. I had achieved unparalleled success in all of these things, while moving forward on all my deadline projects— and completely failed German at the same time. How could so much success cost so much failure?
Momentum, once you lose it, is difficult to get back. You can’t just jump back on the train and act like nothing happened. Mentally, regaining momentum means slowly building it back up to its former level. Without a starting jolt of enthusiasm, it’s a monumental task. How can you hate this task so much, when a week ago it was easy as breathing? It destroys you and everything you took for granted. But once you get your momentum back to its former level, enthusiasm starts trickling back. You start to feel better about everything. But if you let the momentum die completely, it sticks with you.
You know this happens with writing. You know it happens with reading. It happens with anything you’re enthusiastic about, because enthusiasm is worse than the muse. A muse might show up only rarely, but enthusiasm flickers in and out, so you begin to take it for granted just before it’s ripped away again. At least the muse is predictably absent.
But with momentum, enthusiasm can stay at a constant level. Your joy in sticking with something can carry over into the project itself, just like snake wrangling can brighten up an essay. When the momentum dies, however, you have to get right back into the fight. Realize what momentum does with your emotion and bend it to your own purposes. Don’t be a slave to its impulses.