This question is marked "community wiki".

This started as a "Note to Self," so please excuse me if the frustration is all too evident and the writing is less than stellar...

Three major subjects I've had at the forefront of my mind lately:

  1. Motivation
  2. Learning (Curiosity)
  3. Doing (Making)

I've been studying motivation and incentives for months now. It seems there are an infinite number of different motivations that people might have for doing things (I realize that sounds trite but bear with me). I've been really drawn to it because I'm desperate to find out why I do the things I do and why I don't do the things that I want to do but don't do.

I'm in the midst of reading Paul Graham's excellent Hackers and Painters book. In it, he makes the case that hackers and painters are very similar because they are both "makers." Painters make paintings. Hackers make software. Painters don't necessarily need to understand the chemical composition of paint to make beautiful paintings. And hackers don't necessarily need to know 1's and 0's to make beautiful software.

Graham then draws the distinction between disparate computer science fields:

  1. some people seem to be studying mathematics
  2. some people seem to be studying the computers themselves
  3. the hackers are making software.

The difference is incredibly important. It seems the motivation for some is to make beautiful things. And the motivation for the others is to learn out of curiosity. Certain motivations seem obvious to me, but curiosity seems a bit less obvious. I would certainly consider myself as a curious person with a seemingly unquenchable thirst to learn just about everything I can. But this is exactly where the problem comes up.

The thing that scares me so much is that I desperately want to make things. I desperately want to do things. I want to write a book. I want to paint a painting. I want to compose a song. I want to do things like travel. But the strangeness is that I also want to learn things. I want to learn to play guitar. I want to learn about art history. I want to learn more about philosophy and literature.

The key seems to be the balance between learning and doing... between studying and making.

While I'm not sure how much one should learn about a given thing before doing it, I know for certain that I find myself constantly on one side rather than the other. As it stands now (and as far as I can tell I've always been this way), I am a learner and not a doer. I've read great books. I've practiced guitar for years. I've spent countless hours studying programming.

But I've written 0 books. I've composed 0 songs. I've coded 0 beautiful programs. I've painted 0 beautiful paintings. I've started 0 viable businesses.

The scary part of all this is that there are probably countless unfinished works of art in the world. Is this my misanthropic revenge against society and culture to never produce or finish any of the works of art that I start? Perhaps the worst part (aside from this being my natural inclination), is the fact that I f***ing know better. I just finished books like "Getting Things Done" and "Making Ideas Happen." I've aggregated and synthesized countless words of wisdom on how to do things and how to make things.

Imagine the horror of going through life without being able to do the things you want to do. If this is something you've struggled with (and hopefully overcome), please share. If not... perhaps some delicious pity would make me feel better.

-- Bijan

asked 18 Nov '10, 20:43

Vesuvius's gravatar image


edited 18 Nov '10, 21:06

This was originally posted at It's getting close votes over there because it is considered off-topic, but I thought it was very appropriate for this forum, so I have reposted it here.

(18 Nov '10, 20:56) Vesuvius

Let me think about this one for a while. I am also in the CS field but in the past I was always doing doing, now I am trying to do less and "be" more. Anyways, there are infinite number of possible solutions for this but let me try to think what would be the best based on what I have gotten from you on this site...

(18 Nov '10, 21:03) Back2Basics

Note that I am not the original author. I have reposted it here in accordance with the Creative Commons license:

(18 Nov '10, 21:08) Vesuvius

I will get with my attorney on that license and get back to you, haha

(18 Nov '10, 21:10) Back2Basics

@Vesuvius ... Motivation; the hidden motivation behind everything you want, you do, you say, you wish for always boils down to feeling happiness ... the ultimate is to experience a constant flow of enjoyment of life to the full all the time.

(19 Jun '15, 02:37) jaz
showing 1 of 5 show 4 more comments

The point that is missed by all of this is the fact that you "learn by doing". I am sorry to say that all the books about how to do things are quite nice but meaningless without their practical aspects. Another reason why a lot of people don't get it is because they've been schooled to "study" rather than "do". So just pick up that guitar and start strumming.

Thank you, namaste


answered 18 Nov '10, 21:49

daniele's gravatar image


Vesuvius, This is hard as you stated this s not your original question so i do not know exactly what YOU want to do.

I will answer with examples based on the question:

Would your perspective change on these things you want to do if you were the only one who would ever see/use them? If you were the only one, do they still count as doing?

Let's take:

"I want to paint a painting."

OK, so get some cheap painting tools, sit down at the park and just paint the darn tree! What could possibly stop one from painting? Kids in pre-school paint 20 painting each day! Does that count as doing...yeah why not? Does it have to be award winning?

Is what your asking how do I do things that impact others?

As far as practical approaches to doing this is where goal setting and discipline comes into place, in my opinion.

You can do as much as you want and it is much easier when you have a plan.

For example, writing a book: why not set a timer for only 20 minutes only 3 times a week where you sit down and just write a small piece of a chapter of your book. By the end of the year, think how much you will have of your book! Just sit down and do it, doesn't matter if junk comes out, just write and edit later. Later on set out to find a publisher, etc.

Sit down with your guitar, pick 3 chords from the same key, put them together in order that sounds nice, find another chord for a bridge and there you go you have your first song.

Small incremental steps are considered doing when you have a goal and outcome in mind.

I think you are doing even when you are studying.

But if there is something specific you want to DO .....

alt text


answered 19 Nov '10, 00:37

Back2Basics's gravatar image


I have painted many paintings and learned a lot at the same time. Just seeing a great painting make me want to paint. I make my loving as a carpet cleaner, go figure. I feel you are a very creative person with a lot of creative juice flowing through you. I can only say it would be difficult; but, not impossible to do all the things you want to do. For me I turn the whole business over to my Higher Power and do the next indicated step. At first you come up with all kinds of weird ideas, but soon the right direction will be revealed. Blessings


answered 18 Nov '10, 23:37

Tom's gravatar image


By-the-way They sometimes call a sketch or portrait a study

(18 Nov '10, 23:40) Tom

The reason that we have a body of government is the fact that one person cannot do everything, but together we can succeed. Given, that one person cannot do everything, and we will need others to help out along the way, what is it that you want to do, and who can you ask to help you to get these jobs done successfully!

You have to remember we only have twenty-four hours in a day, and we also have to have our sleep time etc; therefore, there is not enough time in the day to get everything done. So you will have to set goals, and work towards your goals, and you will have to get others to help you along the way, if needed. Also keep in mind everything takes time, so you will have to be able to manage your time effectively, and to understand that Rome was not build in a day!

One last word: The Ball is your court, and you can bounce it! Hope this helps.


answered 21 Nov '10, 02:25

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Asked: 18 Nov '10, 20:43

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Last updated: 19 Jun '15, 02:39

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