Motivation: Why You Don’t Need It.

Motivation: that’s one of those words that seem to crop up over and over in the online fitness world. Your friendly neighbourhood insta-lifter (such as yours truly) loves to be seen as a ‘motivated person’, who in fact has so much relentless and unwavering motivation that there’s some spare, so you can have some too! After all, once his morning cardio is done, any residual motivation is wasted because what else is there to do in life? (Not srs). So @insertgenericfitnessname-brah, keen to motivate others, will find some Socrates quote and spend 5 minutes choosing the most dramatic font on his free photo editing app before producing an over-filtered unimpressive picture of his physique that would have Socrates turning in his grave (if he was buried; my historical knowledge fails me). When said image is ready to go out and change the world it is uploaded and takes its rightful place in the abyss of worthless media floating around for the rest of eternity making fuck all difference to anybody – except its creator. You see, like any supposedly selfless deed, this is not selfless at all. Sure some people will like the picture, and it might even go as far as helping somebody through his/her workout (which I suppose is justification enough), but the primary benefactor is the motivator not the ‘motivated’. Now @insertgenericfitnessname-brah feels good about himself because in his reality – the only one that matters – he’s making a difference. He’s empowered because he has displayed the alpha trait of leadership that we all deeply yearn for. Much like the viral videos of people helping out the homeless, a good thing done for the wrong reasons is still a good thing. If the total net impact on the world of any action is positive, it’s worth doing, so I’m certainly not complaining about every Tom, Dick and Harry taking on role of Mr Motivator.
Aside from the ghost of Socrates being deeply insulted that his eloquent wisdom has ended up next to the hashtag #aesthetics nobody is directly harmed by this act. The only consequence is that the sheer frequency of the ‘fitness motivation’-type post seems to put emphasis on the need for motivation – at least as it is currently understood, or misunderstood rather. We’re all now looking for that inspiration, waiting for the moment that something clicks in our heads and makes it easier to get up and do what we know we should. But that’s not what motivation really is. I think it’s got to the point where the meaning of motivation has become somewhat lost. Google says motivation is defined as ‘a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way’. Nowadays we take being motivated to do something to mean we feel like doing it. If somebody says “I’m really motivated to go and hit the gym” what they really mean is that they’re in the mood for it. If the original definition still held then it would mean the statement “I know that I should do this and I know why I should do it, but I’m feeling really de-motivated” would be nonsensical, but you wouldn’t pull somebody up if you overheard them saying that would you?
Gradually I am getting to my point. In short we have created a culture that places an unwarranted level of importance on the need to be ‘motivated’ do to things. That is, how we define it these days as being fired up and ‘in the mood’ to take on the tasks we know are important to our life’s progression. I’m not saying we shouldn’t look to others for inspiration, because we can certainly draw inspiration from those who set a good example and display characteristics we’d like to possess, and that is invaluable. Real motivation though is internal. No individual, quote or YouTube video will provide you with ‘a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way’ in the long term. Indeed you don’t need to be provided with reasons, because deep down we all know what we need to do and why we need to do it. I know how I can become a better, more successful online PT and how I can rid myself of my chronic boredom and restlessness. The reason I haven’t done it yet is because I, like most of us, am in a constant tussle with resistance in the form of laziness/procrastination, success barriers and uncertainty about whether this is the right path to choose. Being uncertain about the path you’ve chosen though is no reason to attack it with any less conviction; in fact all the more reason to go all out because you’re likely to discover that this isn’t how you want to spend your time and energy sooner than if you had devoted less of yourself to it. So even if we’re not sure if this is the perfect career for us, we still all know unequivocally how we can be better and it while we’re here. In the same sense we know how we can get closer to our fitness goals or how we can improve our social circumstances and relationships with friends, family and partners – we’re just sat waiting for the moment when we feel like doing it, watching our favourite YouTube videos to put us in the mood to go to the gym or do whatever it is we know we should.
Person A feels like going to the gym so he goes. Person B doesn’t feel like going to the gym but goes anyway. Person C doesn’t feel like going so stays home. Who benefits most? The answer is obviously person B, because they not only benefit from the workout as person A did, but also from reinforcing the notion in their heads that what they feel like doing doesn’t have to impact what they actually do. After all, the important thing is taking action, not feeling like taking action. In fact, it’s good to feel unmotivated, because that’s your chance to get ahead. Everybody will practice the piano when they feel like practicing or do that extra bit of work when they’re fired up for it. That is ‘normal behaviour’. It’s completely within the realms of ordinary and acting this way will just about keep you on the ‘average’ playing field with all the other mediocre people. It is only doing things when you experience strong resistance to doing them that you begin to pull away from the pack. That’s when the competition begins to drop off as all the people at the whim of their immediate impulses fall behind.
I don’t believe we need to devote energy to manipulating ourselves into a state of wanting to do things, and I don’t believe that’s even possible a lot of the time. Rather, we should be able to recognise our lack of ‘motivation’ as a good thing; a chance to pull ahead, recognise our tendency to rationalise and forgive our own shit behaviour and make a positive association with feeling unmotivated, because every time we do feel this way and we overcome it, there’s a personal and a very real world victory to be had.

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