I was speaking to a guy one time who wanted to create some inspiring workshops. I asked him what his plan was and he said, “First, I’m going to spend two weeks in a retreat re-reading all the books I have about how to build my motivation.”
That answer surprised me. He seemed inspired enough and last time I checked, reading books didn’t create workshops. It actually sounded like a procrastination strategy. It sounded like, let’s keep putting things off in the name of the myth of motivation.
The thing about motivation is that motivation is not a thing. We just fall for the illusion that it is, because of the way we speak. By the way we speak, it becomes something we can gain, lose, find and, as in this case, something we think we need to stockpile.
It’s funny how we fall for the illusions of language.
An inside-out understanding of motivation
How do you build up enough motivation to go and buy a bottle of milk?
If that sounds like a daft question, it’s probably because you don’t need to go through any kind of motivational ritual to go and get a bottle of milk. The chances are you just go.
The misunderstanding is that demotivated is our default state. It isn’t.
Think of it like this:
There is you at your true default state. That’s a pure you: a you before any thinking comes along to change how you feel. It’s you at peace, in flow, unhindered by thinking. That’s the you who tends to go get the milk.
In your true default state, you just do what comes up for you to do.
But, we do think. We think about how much we have to do. We think about how much effort things will take. We think about the responsibility, what people might think of us, what will happen if it goes pear shaped and what might happen if we get stuck half way through.
Suddenly we’re not at our default state and that’s where demotivated feelings come from. Then our thoughts can go on to ways of distracting ourselves from the uncomfortable feeling.
Since thinking is habitual, it’s easy to fall for the illusion that this hesitant, uncomfortable feeling and the resulting yen for distraction is our default setting. It’s not, but it seems like that.
Enter the motivational technique
The essence of most motivation techniques I’ve seen is to overwhelm the uncomfortable feelings with a huge force of positive feelings: to force your uncomfortable feelings in to submission, or at least drown them out.
It’s not that it doesn’t work. It’s that it’s inner civil war. How tiring.
It’s also a bit like using chocolate and burgers to medicate low feelings. It works, but only temporarily and only seems necessary because you haven’t noticed the low feelings had to be created in the first place.
An alternative approach
Let me re-cap this idea of the default state: the state you’re in before you’re feelings are skewed by thinking; the state you tend to go and buy a bottle of milk from. It’s shown below, with what motivational techniques look like in this context.
Default = Things just flow as they come up
Default + Low thinking = Demotivated
Default + Low thinking + Overwhelming high thinking = Motivated
When you see it this way, the motivational technique becomes what one of my coach Michael Neill calls the “nail varnishing the shit that’s covered the diamond” strategy. It’s like taking your hand, dipping it in something smelly and thinking the best thing to do is spray scent on it.
It’s easier to just let the low thinking pass away, which is what happens when you see how it is just thinking and you resign from fighting it. It’s easier, less tiresome and clears the mind rather than double-muddying it.
Let me put it like this. Rather than try to create motivation, let go of the thinking that creates demotivation. Return to the default state and then everything is easier again.
This is why I don’t want to teach kids how to use motivational techniques to overwhelm uncomfortable feelings. I’d rather teach them why its not necessary and how to return to their true default state.
A thought experiment
If you tend to “struggle with motivation”, instead of going to war with your thinking, just recognize the thinking that you’re feeling. See it for what it is: as thinking. See it the same way you’d see a movie if you could see the cameras, microphones and lighting rigs and realize it was something being created rather than something that’s real. Perhaps with the aid of practices, let go; let yourself return to the default state.
Then you can act from the same place getting a bottle or milk comes from.
Wishing you health and happiness,