Have you ever sabotaged yourself? Knowing exactly what you should do and yet doing something else? Wanting to lose weight and yet avoiding the gym? Wanting to look healthy and yet eating junk?
Have you ever felt unmotivated to do what you really needed to do? Exercise? Finish the assignment? Ring your auntie?
Do you believe that if you only had more motivation your life would be so much better?
Well, you are not alone. Most of us want more motivation. Most of us feel, at least sometimes, that we should be doing more of what we need to be doing (what’s good for us) and less of what we do (which is not always good for us).
So how we motivate ourselves? How do we get to do things that are good for us more often and without having to fight the inner resistance?
The word motivation covers a lot of psychological ground. It can mean anything from purpose to incentive, from fervent enthusiasm to calm rationale. However, we are most likely to talk about motivation when there is something we know we should be doing and yet we keep ignoring it or doing the opposite.
The sensation for some is like having two brains, or a mind split; one part knows the things that need and should to be done, the other doesn’t care. What’s worse, the ‘other’ is usually the one that wins and nothing gets done in the end. No matter how willful we are, how much determination we have to stick to our plan, ‘unmotivated’ part seems to win in the long run.
The advice we often hear is that we just need to stick to it until we create a new habit. Others insist that to motivate ourselves, we need to become more confident or more focused, organize ourselves better or overcome the fears that are holding us back. This is the most common advice, and there may be some truth in it, but for most of us it is not very helpful.
Unfortunately, most of the ‘experts’ on motivation has got it totally wrong! The assumption is that you are either motivated or unmotivated, and anything in between. The truth is, we are – every single one of us – always motivated. Always, every second of our lives. We are motivation generating machines, self encouraging devices, every single second of our life. The question is, not whether or not we are motivated but what motivates us? What drives us in any given moment?
We believe that wanting to achieve the goal should be enough to motivate us and the rest is just a matter of turning up the motivation button somehow. But because most people do not understand the real nature of motivation, their advice is as helpful as yelling at someone in coma. The motivation cannot be ‘awaken’, it can only be redirected.
To be able to redirect our motivation – we need to understand the mechanism of it. And the mechanism is simple, the motivation is always there; we are eternally motivated. We are motivated to avoid things we perceive as uncomfortable and, to a lesser degree, we are also motivated to do things we perceive as enjoyable.
Most of the time we are motivated to avoid what we perceive as greater discomfort. Yes, it is a matter of perception.
There are no things universally motivating or universally uncomfortable. What one person defines as fun another may define as their worst torture. Take exercise for example. For a lucky few, exercise is something they love doing. They usually don’t think about is as torture, but rather as something they do for fun. For others, exercise is just pure agony. For the rest of us it is somewhere in between.
How we perceive things is dependent on our definitions. How we define things drives our motivation. Every person is motivated to avoid unpleasant things. This is why if you associate exercise with torture and agony, you will avoid it at any cost. You are in fact motivated, every single moment of your life, to do as little of it as possible.
This is because our dominant motivation is towards wellbeing and away from anything that can potentially hurt us. So even though our conscious, rational mind knows that exercise is good for us, the subconscious – associating exercise with torture and misery – will try to keep us safe and happy.
Do you think having negative associations to do with dieting and exercise would make it difficult for us to lose weight? It certainly would and does. Most people that have difficulties losing weight have definitions about exercise and dieting that revolve around pain, discomfort and deprivation.
So they are motivated to avoid both.
And of course being overweight creates discomfort, but the other option is perceived as even more uncomfortable. That’s why many of us need to have a so called ‘health scare’ for our motivation to switch. Fear of death can be a strong motivator.
Being overweight is only one example. Each of us, including myself, has at least one area where we would benefit from examining our motivational drivers. If there is an area of your life that doesn’t seem to be working for you, where you seem to need some positive motivation to change things for the better – ask yourself what are your definitions around this subject. What kind of pain and discomfort you associate with what you avoid doing?
We often have many wacky definitions that we collected throughout our lives. Most of them we are no longer aware of consciously but they are driving our motivation nevertheless.
So what are you motivated to do? The answer is simple, everything that you actually do. Everything that you seem to be doing with ease, no matter how bad it is for you and your life.
Everything else you are motivated to avoid.
If often takes small steps to change the direction of our motivation. For example, you may start thinking of moving your body and doing things you enjoy rather than trying to do exercise that you absolutely loath.
Remember, your subconscious mind is trying to protect you from harm, it will not play with you if you are punishing yourself and your body for years of indulgence. But it will join you in your efforts if you can start enjoying it.