Motives matter. Behind every action a person takes there is a motivation, a mental reasoning, a why. As a society we know this is important, because when we delegate punishments for crimes such as murder, we look at a premeditated killing orchestrated in cold blood as far more heinous than a crime of passion. Manslaughter is an even lesser charge, but in all cases one person killed another, but the why is important to us.
While we are often quick to analyze and judge what we perceive the motives of others to be, it can be easy to go through life without giving a second thought to our own motives. As long as we are doing what we think we should be doing, we’re in the clear right? Wrong. The story we tell ourselves about the actions we take can have a profound impact not only on our success in our course of action, but our overall state of wellness removed from that action.
The example I discuss in today’s video blog is about the motivation that gets us off our ass and into the gym, but these principles can be applied to anything from the way we look at our work or business to the way we search for and select romantic partners. We are always acting to meet a need, and often the need is to distance ourselves from a source of pain.
Generally humans move away from pain and toward pleasure, makes sense right? But our instinct to avoid pain often displays itself much more strongly than our drive toward pleasure. This is most obvious in situations where we try so hard to eliminate short term pain that we take actions which diminish our capacity for long term pleasure. We can’t hand our pain so we seek instant gratification.
- Over-training in the gym because we really want the endorphin rush and a more positive body image NOW, but we make it less likely we can sustain a healthy active lifestyle for the weeks and months to come.
- Staying in a relationship way too long or otherwise just sleeping with the wrong people because don’t want to face with heartbreak or loneliness in the moment.
In both cases we take action to avoid immediate pain without considering how far from what we truly desire that this path might be taking us.
I decided to break down the motive hierarchy behind exercise in today’s video, but similar work could be done for relationships, business, or any activity. This may not apply to everyone and if you have always been at stage four, well you fucking rock! But for those of us caught up on stages 1-3, knowing the progression can help us to break through.
4 Steps Hierarchy of Exercise Motivation:
1) Self loathing and/or Rock Bottom “I work out because I hate my body.” “I work out to escape depression.” “I work out to distract myself from my unacceptable career, partner or other aspect of my life situation.” “I work out because my health situation could kill me.”
2) Fear of Self loathing and/or Rock Bottom “I work out because I am scared to be that person again who was… fat/depressed/too weak to change/unconfident or literally dying.”
3) Desire for self love “I work out because I want to be… fit/sexy/happy/confident/mobile/active.”
4) Self love “I work out because I am fit/sexy/happy/confident mobile/active. I am motherfucking grateful and I respect myself!!”
Notice that none of this touches on “I work out because I enjoy it.” Everyone has physical activities they enjoy and ones they don’t enjoy. But for many people this is not the primary motivation behind an active lifestyle. Yes, some people do love a sport, and they simply engage it in for the pure joy of it. It’s very likely that the joy comes from the needs the activity meets for the person. Many activities do just have their own inherent joy, and what those activities are will vary person to person.
The issue here is if we are not aware of our motivations, it can negatively impact our prolonged success and overall happiness. This can happen when our physical transformation and our mental acclimation are not in sync. We may have changed our body, gotten out of the danger zone, but we’re still not happy with ourselves. If we were happy with ourselves, we’d lose our motivation.
If we only know how to push ourselves out of hatred and fear then our new way of living won’t be both enjoyable AND sustainable. We need to learn how to lovingly motivate ourselves. Hating yourself or living in fear is no way to go through life, and falling on and off the same horse is a really aggravating cycle.
If we want to live the life we dream, it has to be sustainable and enjoyable. Likely it’s already enjoyable or it wouldn’t be our dream, but how to we make it last? Well it can’t last out of to motivation that comes from deep dissatisfaction. How could we be both happy and deeply dissatisfied? We can’t. But if we are satisfied, how do we keep going?
It’s simple really, we understand that life is a never-ending learning and growing process. We free our self from the notion that we are going to arrive at our goal, instead we make our goal the sustainable pursuit of moving more and more into alignment with our best self. We pursue greatness, and know that we are already great for doing so.
There’s a quote that says “Always be happy, never be satisfied.” I say fuck that. I say “Be happy, be satisfied, but keep fucking going!!” If you always need to revert to dissatisfaction to get motivated to do what makes for a happy life, then surprise surprise, that’s exactly what you will do.
Break the cycle. If you’re in desperation mode, if you have serious physical or mental risks associated with staying in your present situation, it’s totally fine to use that dire motivation to improve. There is nothing wrong with stage one, most of us have been there, and more than once.
It’s that more than once that sucks. By recognizing this pattern and understanding it, by seeing how it may have prevailed in our own life, we can eliminate the need to repeat the steps that take place in an unhappy period of our lives and we can work and aspire toward living in a beautiful state every day of our lives.
Peace, love and understanding. Give it to others, but most importantly give it to yourself.