An Argument Against Seeking Motivation

Author: John Magnusson

A couple years ago, I found myself stuck in a rut.  I wasn’t necessarily less productive or in a bad place, I just didn’t have the same upbeat and driven attitude that I felt defined me typically.  Getting a task started just felt more difficult and like a bigger challenge than it had before.  To cope, I found myself turning to subreddits on motivation or Facebook groups and YouTube channels about happiness, all in the hopes that I’d be divinely uplifted, inspired, and back to my old self. 

The reality though was that these short bursts of motivation functioned more like a candy bar satisfying a sugar craving when trying to eat healthier, and the positive endorphins were far too brief.  In no time, I needed more.  Looking for such a quick fix, I had essentially put myself on a motivation yo-yo diet.

Ironically enough though, the solution came in a post within the “GetMotivated” subreddit (source: https://www.reddit.com/r/GetMotivated/comments/4x4nho/image_motivation_vs_discipline/).  The post was aggressively candid in its approach and language, but the message was clear:  count on discipline, not on motivation.

The line that really stuck with me stated, “the question isn’t how to keep yourself motivated, it’s how to train yourself to work without it.”  Personally, this was a huge wakeup call to realize that I was seeking external motivation to drive internal feelings.  Even further, I was actually relying on others to push me to progress my own life.  Such an epiphany left me lost in a chaos of thoughts and emotions.  While typically I would be inspired by such an epiphany, I instead felt captive to my dependence on motivation from others.  At the same time, such an understanding about my situation left me feeling empowered as I could do something about it. 

Since then, I decided that every time I would hear myself thinking, “I could use some motivation,” an internal alarm would sound signaling I need to reframe the issue.  In its place, I do two things:

  1. First, I ask, “What is my real issue?” and deeply reflect to find the issue as to why I’m seeking motivation rather than just doing what I need to do.  From “I’m being selfish” to “I genuinely do need to lose some weight,” when I’m being candidly honest with myself, these reflections are more insightful than I ever anticipated.  Each feels inspiring in its own right and the sensations that come from naming the underlying problems make this a wonderful replacement for the need to be motivated.  
  2. Second, I reaffirm that discipline is a talent that needs to be practiced to be improved and mastered.  This is underscored with the fact that the only person I can ever count on with 100% certainty to work on my own discipline is myself.  While potentially cliché, I’ve felt increased confidence in my self, my actions, and my impact on the world around me. 

Ultimately, what this all came down to was figuring out would could reliability get me to start work that I might not want to do, but knew I needed to do.  I was sick of procrastinating online, browsing motivational resources for longer and longer, feeling uplifted briefly by each of the stories or posts, but then needing increasingly more motivation to spark inspiration.  It was as if my body has a motivation need tolerance that is ever growing and requiring more to prompt action.  Discipline though, seems to function more like a talent as it is able to increase in proficiency through routine use and training. 

In today’s world, each day seems to be unknown.  It feels near impossible to tell if the motivations and values of a few powerful individuals will have catastrophic implications before tomorrow comes.  With time feeling so limited, I choose to put my energy and hope into things that I can control.  I implore you all to do the same and develop the reliable skill of discipline, so that we can all one day work without the need of motivation.

About the author: John Magnusson serves as a Residence Hall Coordinator at Central Washington University. He can be reached at John.Magnusson@cwu.edu.