Tackling the Problem of Motivation

February 27, 2010 at 6:49 am | Posted in Goal Progress, Wellness | Leave a comment

Rock Climber

Would I dangle from a precipice to bring about world peace? Perhaps. Would I do it to develp ripped arms and maintain my six-pack? Oh, absolutely.

It’s easy to come up with good reasons to make major life changes such as starting an exercise program, improving your diet, or sticking to a rigorous prayer schedule. Here’s the problem: Having reasons and being motivated are not the same thing. If your reasons don’t much motivate you, virtue doesn’t stand a chance in the face of inertia.

I’m not the first person to have noticed this, but it hit me with particular force yesterday morning while I was flossing my teeth. Up until recently I’ve slacked a little on the flossing bit (repulsive, I know). I’ve been flossing swiftly and sheepishly before dates and dentist appointments, but that’s about it. Of course, I’ve lied about this to every dentist who has peered into my mouth. However, several weeks ago I became anxious about my breath, perhaps because I’ve been weirdly preoccupied with the act of swallowing. Suddenly flossing seemed less wearisome, and I took it up enthusiastically. I still feel the urge to skip it when I’m in a hurry. All I have to do, though, is think, “Do you really want to feel self-conscious about your breath every day? I didn’t think so. So floss already.” That makes me floss with gusto.

So yesterday it struck me: Vanity is one of my chief motives. If I think that developing a habit will make me more charming and beautiful, I’m more likely to stick with it than I would if I just lectured myself primly about, say, increasing my bone density.

The key to change, then, is not to generate a list of excellent reasons; it is to discover my chief motives and connect them to a change I’d like to make. Here’s a list, then, of my strong motivations:

1. Vanity. Pimples, wrinkle, and sun damage are all unattractive, so my skin has long been my work of art. Ditto manicured feet and hands. Oh, and I will probably go to my death dressed with flair.

2. Feeling productive, and therefore virtuous. This is the only reason that I don’t procrastinate chronically.

3. Avoiding physical or psychic pain. For instance, I will work out to avoid backaches.

4. Consistently feeling better in the short term by, say, chasing a yoga high.

5. Dreading coming across as a blowhard or a name-dropper. When I catch myself thoughtlessly bragging about money, I cringe at my own vulgarity.

There are probably several more, but those leap to mind. You may have noticed that they’re not especially noble. They work nonetheless, and I’m all about doing what works. So I plan to spend time today recording even my most base motives and plotting to apply them to important goals. It’s sad that I don’t respond well to more noble incentives, but I’ll take it.

Love to all.


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