I don’t think motivation really exists. I’ve written a lot about this, and I’m sure I’ll keep writing more, because as far as myths go, the motivation myth is seriously entrenched. Why do I have such a problem with this concept, around which an entire industry is built? It makes me sad to think of all the people out there who are waiting to Feel Like It before they go on to do things that are decaying on their to-do lists. All this wasted human potential is swirling around the drain of I Wish I Had Your Motivation. Those of us who get things done don’t concern ourselves with motivation. What do we do?
Everyone has at least one thing that gets done, day in and day out, that feels simple and easy, yet would require massive willpower for someone else. For instance, drinking a cup of coffee every morning is something I would only do for charity. Triple dog dare? *shrug* You win, bro. On the other hand, I floss my teeth every night, because not to do so feels crawly and disgusting. Nothing would motivate me to do the one; nothing could stop me from doing the other.
I’m a Questioner, and I’m driven by curiosity. The minute I learn about something that is an improvement over something I already do, I’m hooked. My motto is: “Do things that are a good idea. Don’t do things that are a bad idea.” I used to be completely sedentary, because I thought fitness was pointless. (That would make a catchy t-shirt slogan: FITNESS = POINTLESS. Or maybe FITNESS = WITLESS). Then I started questioning my attitude, and that led to research, and that led to losing 35 pounds and running a marathon. I used to be chronically disorganized, and I thought it was simply part of my nature, but, as is my wont, I started questioning my attitude. Gradually, I learned to think and behave like an organized person, which I find significantly more efficient. I have changed my initial skepticism about all sorts of things, from cooking to making my bed to using direct deposit to reading e-books to owning a smart phone. Once I see the point of something, I just start doing it, because it makes sense. Unfortunately, there have always been a lot of obviously smart things I wouldn’t do, because I didn’t see the point yet.
My husband is an Upholder, and his kind believe there is a Right Way to Do Things. If it is on their Upholder flow chart, they do it. If not, they don’t. Upholders tend to overlap in their attitudes about many things, such as punctuality, but there is no universal Upholder handbook. They have a plan, they follow it, they appreciate it when others follow it, and that’s all they need to worry about. I lean heavily in the direction of Upholder, so much that it’s really a secondary characteristic, but I’ve never been able to stop updating the manual. I also find it fascinating when I meet people who operate out of a different manual, which can be stressful for true Upholders.
Achievers have different driving forces, most of which probably appear to resemble ‘motivation’ to outsiders. Athletes cannot bear to remain sedentary; an excruciating physical restlessness builds up, and that’s why we have to fight the tendency to play while injured. Entrepreneurs can’t stand following orders or doing pointless make-work, they don’t feel the hours passing, and work is their happy place. They run the risk of damaging personal relationships because they don’t come equipped with an off switch. Organized people feel the same pain that natural editors feel; when an object or punctuation mark is out of, place it bothers them. (BWAHAHAHA! *evil laugh*) Dancers love dancing over all other activities, and they usually don’t care whether they are dancing alone, in a group, or in front of an audience. Artists have visions that push to be born into the world. What all of these disparate groups have in common is that they know how to enter the FLOW STATE. They crave it. The more time they spend in the flow state, the better they get at inducing it, and the longer they can keep the flow going.
This is the secret behind what ordinary mortals call “motivation.” Those practitioners of whatever it is are in an altered state of consciousness. They are experiencing non-obvious, uncommon emotions. This is part of why some prodigies excel in multiple fields. They know what Doing It Right feels like. They know how to learn, they know how to structure their schedules, and they recognize when they feel the inclination that is needed to commit to a new practice. This is part of why some people who excel in a particular area will suddenly quit. Once they pass the point of mastery, the challenge is gone. They aren’t interested in showing off; they want to do whatever it is that feeds the feeling of continual improvement. This is also part of why musical geniuses persist in putting out strange, experimental albums. They’re not doing it for the attention or the critical acclaim or the awards. They’re doing it because it is what they must do. They want to do it, so they do.
I don’t think motivation exists. I think people feel natural inclinations toward certain things, and then they make those things a part of their routine. For instance, once I tried backpacking, I loved it, and I will take any opportunity to go, as long as I don’t have to go alone. The inclination to change, to adopt a new habit or skill or practice, generally comes after a mental adjustment of some kind. We become curious after watching a video or meeting someone who does something we didn’t know about. We feel in sync with others in a crowd, who naturally absorb us into their CrossFit or horseback riding or wine-drinking habits. We have an inner resonance with a state of affairs, such as an orderly home or a well-groomed appearance or a parrot on the shoulder, and we arrange our lives around maintaining that energy. It’s just a thing we do.
It would take me a lot of “motivation” to play a video game, watch network television, eat bacon, drink a beer, get a tattoo, or wear three-inch heels. That’s motivation I just don’t have. I do have the “motivation” to stay fit, keep my house clean and organized, eat vegetables, go to bed at a consistent bedtime, and all sorts of other things that most people believe require motivation. This is because I’ve lived both ways, with and without the habit, and I’m fully convinced that there is a payoff involved. I know what’s in it for me. When we haven’t experienced the benefits of something such as being able to run long distances, have clean countertops, or go paperless, it’s hard to feel any kind of interest or inclination. The best way to develop that kind of inclination is to learn more about why other people do it, and then try it, in the spirit of true inquiry. The distance between “interesting” to “good idea” to “automatic part of my life” is shorter than it looks.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.