The Case Against Motivation

“Extrinsic goals such as financial success, appearance, and popularity/fame have been specifically contrasted with intrinsic goals such as community, close relationships, and personal growth, with the former more likely associated with lower wellness and greater ill-being.” – Self Determination Theory researchers E.L. Deci and R.M. Ryan 

Are you SO motivated right now?

Motivation has become a hot button word in the commercial fitness market. We are bombarded left and right by images on social media of people who are more muscular, tan, and seemingly more “happy” than we are. To top it off these people somehow seem to be on vacation 24/7 because they’ve “made it” by “hustling harder.”

When we consume motivational images, watch inspirational social media videos, or listen to motivational speeches from famous folks, we are on the surface being “motivated.” However, below the surface we are buying a world view and value set that someone else is selling which places our reasoning behind training (or really whatever it is we’re after) outside of us and into someone else’s hands. In a sense, we hang our ideological hat on someone else’s world vision rather than our own. This purchase of ideology can be very dangerous to our psychological and physical well-being if it goes unchecked, and we may involve ourselves in behavior that violates our personal ethic in order to appeal to someone else’s notion of success. If we do the aforementioned and we don’t achieve what we set out to do, we are left feeling violated and disappointed with ourselves over the ways we betrayed our sense of self and our value set. This path ultimately winds up destroying our confidence in our own abilities and gets in the way of us actually achieving goals we set for ourselves in the future.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “OK…I get it…”fitspo” can be messy, but what else am I supposed to do? Where do I look to for motivation if not at the folks who seem to have what I want?”

Let me be clear; I don’t think that motivational images are inherently bad. There are so many amazing folks in the world and I understand and applaud them for wanting to inspire others and for wanting to celebrate their successes. What I do think is that too much reliance on digital and social media for motivation can be dangerous if we don’t monitor ourselves and how we feel in response to said media.

In the words of Daniel Pink, author of Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us;

 “The problem with making extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road.

“Contrast that approach with behavior sparked by intrinsic motivation. When the reward is the activity itself – deepening learning, delighting customers, doing one’s best – there are no shortcuts. The only route to the destination is the high road. In some sense, it’s impossible to act unethically because the person who’s disadvantaged isn’t a competitor but yourself.”I

Intrinsic Motivation

According to Self Determination Theory, Intrinsic Motivation of an individual depends on three things:

  1. Autonomy
    1. We need to feel that we have control over ourselves and our actions. If we don’t, we may feel controlled by others, by life, our job, etc. (of course we can’t control everything all the time, but controlling the things we can control like our actions and attitudes towards a circumstance or activity helps us succeed.)
  2. Competence
    1. We need to feel skillful, capable, and believe in ourselves to do what we set out to do. This competence is built, in part, by learning step by step and mastering the individual components of a task. (ie. if you have never exercised before, try to work out one day a week for a few weeks, then two days, three days, etc…by taking it step by step builds competence from the ground up.)
  3. Relatedness
    1. We need community that sees us, supports, and understands us in our endeavors. (If we like the folks we see at the gym regularly and we build a sense of community there, it helps us feel more comfortable and helps us show up day to day. This community could also be online via social media, a forum, etc, )

SO, how can we take potentially toxic kinds of motivation and transform them into something positive and beneficial for us?

First and foremost, understand what’s real and whats not. SO much of our world is airbrushed and touched up that it is difficult do discern what is humanly possible and what’s digital.

Second, find a community of folks with a parallel value set and mission to your own (not the SAME necessarily, but in alignment, or at least not in contradiction). These people might be in person in the form of other gym goers interested in the same kind of training you are, it might be in an online forum, a facebook group of folks all collaborating in their field of interest, or maybe it’s just a friend or family member who you can confide in and who believes in you.

Third, start with bite sized pieces. If you’re really inspired by someone doing something outa-this-world difficult, realize that you can get there but that you’re not going to deadlift 3x your bodyweight or run a marathon in a day of practice. Skills take time to acquire, being a beginner is a gift, you are a clean slate and there is no where to go but up. Learn a small handful of useful skills from an expert to gain competence, then practice those skills in your own time. This “learn, acquire, practice, repeat” pattern helps you build autonomy as you start your journey.

Lastly, if you find inspirational instagram pages/videos/etc truly helpful and motivational to you – go for it! But, check in with yourself on how that makes you think and feel about your journey. Journaling can be a great tool for keeping on pace, and checking in with yourself regularly can help you stay on top of your thoughts and keep you in line with your goals this article focuses on journaling for depression, the ideas apply more broadly to self management on the whole.

In summation, find a community, enjoy the process, build your skill set, keep checking in with yourself, and don’t let other people’s dreams or the world’s noise get in your way.

Questions? Comments? Send me an email via the contacts page!

In the meantime, stay Unbreakable, friends!


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