Motivation, momentum, and two Sarahs

June 7, 2010

During a recent class, we discussed how important it is to celebrate your accomplishments (big and small) before moving onto the next task. Celebration creates energy. A fun discussion about energy, fuel, cars and organizing ensued. I invited two of the participants, both named Sarah, to write about their perspective on the topic. Enjoy!

Part 1:

Sarah Tieck, guest blogger

My Toyota Corolla’s fuel gauge says there is a quarter tank of gas left. Noticing that, I added a stop at the gas station to my list of errands. Simple as that. There was no agonizing about if I should stop for gas or where. No cursing that I have to monitor my car’s fuel and maintenance needs. No weeping because my tank has gotten low. There is no question. I will stop and refuel — if I don’t, in time the car won’t work.

Lately I’ve been running on fumes. No, I don’t have a magical gauge, but I knew. All I needed to do was look around. There were pizza and take-out boxes in the garbage can, dishes in the sink, four timesheets where I’d logged into work well after my official start time, and a general feeling of being stuck with no clear steps forward on several projects.

As a creative person who has been steadily working and meeting deadlines, but rarely taking time to replenish and refuel after these journeys, my tank is low low low. And, I’m having to stop more often to refuel — sort of like those times when you only fill up partially at the gas station. In order to create, to do good work, and to savor my life, I’m having to learn how to fuel up. Interesting that the theme I’ve chosen for this year is nourish.

Celebration is a form of nourishment. Many people wait for completion to do this — and even then, barely stop to acknowledge what has been completed and put away supplies and papers. Little do we realize that little celebrations — nourishment — along the way are important fuel to keeping moving with big goals … sort of like fueling your car on a long trip.

To refuel by celebrating, you don’t need to do anything huge. You simply need to find a way to pause and take some time for an experience that will strengthen and energize you. That gives you ideas and images to draw from and fuel your work. It honors what you’ve done. Those important baby steps.

So, when you feel like you could keep going … stopping to play, to workout, to connect, to savor can all be forms of nourishment that will add  fuel to your tank. Things like workouts and fun offer a big boost for a goal — they create movement, energy, and excitement. And, that transfers. That candy bar and diet soda? As temporary as a jump for a dead battery.

Last week, I nourished a writing deadline with a bike ride and some geocaching with my husband. We played in the woods and the next day, I finished the book I was writing. When I take time to fill myself up like this — even when it seems counterintuitive — the things I want (and need) to do are easier! That weekend, I spent some time relaxing on the couch, saw Letters to Juliet, had an evening out with some friends who make me smile. You know what? Even though I rested and filled up first, the dishes and vacuuming and errands got done. And, that Monday morning, I returned to work with a tank full of fuel — as well as the fuel of my vision of what I want to create — to help me move forward.

Part 2:

Sarah DeWeerdt, Guest blogger

When Sarah likened needing to stop and replenish one’s energy to filling up the gas tank of a car, my immediate impulse was to wish I were a Prius. Imagine: speeding down the road in productive, virtuous near-silence, able to travel twice as far between fill-ups as all those other jalopies.

But the truth is, if I were a Prius, I’d just wish I were a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. And if I were a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, I’d wish I were…some kind of zero-emissions flying car thingy that hasn’t even been invented yet.

I’m hardly ever satisfied with the distance I’ve traveled. But maybe slowing down and refueling is actually part of the excitement. I mean, if I didn’t have to stop for a fill-up, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to notice the precise latitude where gas station convenience stores stop selling Dr. Pepper and start selling Mr. Pibb. I wouldn’t get to chuckle over those crazy souvenir snow globes filled with dinosaur teeth. I’d miss seeing, while paying for my gas, that family walk into the store straight from the pages of a Flannery O’Connor short story.

For me, this need to go faster and farther without stopping, ignoring the lurid red “E” on the dashboard, doesn’t just pose a problem when I’m trying to clear clutter and organize—it’s actually the source of my clutter. That is, there are so many interesting and amazing things in the world that I’m tempted to hold on to every interesting newspaper clipping, each scrap of vintage lace, out of the conviction that I’ll do something with it someday.

But I won’t. Because the body is a vehicle that craves rest, and one that can only travel so far. That’s been one of the most surprising and unsettling lessons of Jen’s class so far: confronting my clutter is, in effect, confronting my own mortality.

That epiphany isn’t a wholly gloomy one, though. With practice, I’m starting to recognize the difference between things that are merely interesting and things that make my brain light up with neurons firing in a thousand directions. (I swear it’s a literal scalp-tingling sensation.) I’m letting go of the former category so that I’ll have more attention for the latter. So that next time I pull off the highway into that gas station, I’ll be able to chuckle at that snow globe and leave it on the shelf, and fix the precise image of that Southern gothic family in my mind, because they are going to make one hell of a poem or painting later. Just you wait and see.

Sarah Tieck has authored more than 36 nonfiction books for children and teaches writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her articles and essays appear regularly in home and garden magazines, lifestyle magazines, and major daily newspapers such as the Star Tribune and the Chicago Tribune. Contact her at her Web site,

Sarah DeWeerdt is a freelance writer and editor in Seattle, Washington. Read her science writing via and her recipes at

Can you relate? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


  1. you fill up your tank at 1/4??? are you nuts? When the light comes on and the needle is at E you can still go another 50km (probably) before you are really running on fumes.

    ::muttering to herself::
    .-= JoVE´s last blog ..Are you really motivated by external rewards? =-.

  2. Bravo to both of the Sarahs! And yes, I can relate. I will keep this metaphor in mind next time I need to refuel, esp. the idea that I can do it without the wailing and gnashing of teeth at my totally understandable (no, it is not weak! pipe down in there, mean voices!) human need to stop and rest.
    .-= Darcy´s last blog ..Demolition diva =-.

  3. LOL JoVE!! You’re SO right!! Haha 🙂 And heck .. even if you DO run out of gas there is always AAA!

  4. You’re very sweet Darcy! Although … I gotta confess, I did gnash my teeth a bit this week when I inadvertantly filled my car’s tank JUST to 3/4 (seriously??) … and within 2 days, I was back to 1/4. Ugh!! So, that added a new layer to my metaphor!!
    .-= Sarah Tieck´s last blog ..Introducing Writer’s Inspiration Boost Teleclass! =-.

  5. My car has a read-out that shows the gas mileage I’m getting. I know my car holds about 10 gallons of gas, so with the mpg number right there in front of me, I know exactly how many miles I can travel before I have to refuel.

    I wish my body and my mind had that kind of readout. Or, maybe it does, and I don’t pay attention?

    Thanks for these posts, ladies! Gives me a lot to think about!

  6. brilliant posts; thank you so much. I especially love the idea of ‘filling’ ourselves up just like our car tanks – excellent; I can really relate.

    I also had a great lightbulb moment when your second Sarah wrote about facing mortality when facing clutter. I too have lots of ‘one day’ things that are taking up space. That was so thought provoking and now I feel inspired to go and sort through a few folders, giving everything in them a reality check as I do.

    Thanks so much ladies 🙂

  7. Yay for the two Sarahs!

    A couple of months ago I was about mid-point through my 3.5 hour drive and the gas gauge needle was nearing the “E”. As I pulled into a mom-and-pop place somewhere around nowhere, I realized my wallet was quietly hanging out in the pocket of my *other* spring jacket. Ugh.

    Many calls and much deliberation later, I sat waiting for my husband to bring me some money. Crying. Thinking about my nearly-empty gas tank (in car and in my energy). Feeling stupid every which way I looked at it.

    A man cautiously approached my car and pulled out a $10 bill. I stepped out. He handed it to me and said, “I heard you needed some gas money. Will $10 be enough to get you where you’re going?”

    I gulped. Cried some more. Thanked him profusely.

    Though it’s not a situation I’d wish on anyone, it turned out to be for me a moment to receive and refuel on levels beyond just my gas tank.

    Thanks for reminding me of this story, Sarah and Sarah!

  8. Oh, wow, Trish. That’s a powerful story!
    .-= Sherron´s last blog ..This is what I was born to do =-.

  9. Trish – Wow.

    Can I just say? I love my blog readers and commenters! What a fabulous discussion!

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