It can be helpful to think of motivation is as a zero-sum game. That is to say that we are always 100% motivated, no matter what we are doing. The guy that is getting good grades in math is no more motivated than the guy living in his pajamas and playing video games all day. They both have strong reasons for doing what they are doing. We know this simply because that’s what’s happening.
Tipping the Scale
Think of motivation as a balance scale. One side of the scale could be entitled “motivation for change” and the other side of the scale is called “motivation to stay the same.” The “stay the same” side is heavier.
Imagine an “unmotivated” person, perhaps your crazy cousin ‘Steve’ who lounges around all the time. At least 51% of his motivation is geared towards the action “sit on the couch”. His motivation could change for a variety of reasons: a new girlfriend, an eviction notice, a backache, an ad about a potential career on TV, etc. Whatever it is, it’s got to be enough to tip the scale. If he’s 90% motivated to “sit on the couch” then maybe all four would have to happen at once to cause him to change.
What About Passion?
What about those those things that make us feel “motivated”? Can the right music pump up my workout? Yep. Can jumping up and down at a Tony Robbins event change my life? Very possibly. Enthusiasm and drive are important. But they are only a nibble in the big apple pie of change.
A person who doesn’t understand the whole balance of motivation might be drawn in to the “passion” of it all. Their enthusiastic friend will tell them about some grand new plan. And it doesn’t happen. They might have a heartfelt conversation with someone who is tearful and penitent about “changing their ways”. They will expect it to happen and be surprised when it doesn’t. When they want to make their own personal change, they do all sorts of things to get themselves hyped up and motivated–then become critical of themselves when it doesn’t stick.
To create change, we have to work on all the parts of motivation, on both sides of the “scale”.
Don’t Try Harder, Try Smarter
So the reader asks, “How can this cockeyed view of motivation help me?”
Instead of just pushing ourselves or someone else to make a change, we also should look at what’s making things stay the same.
It’s tempting to work on the “push” approach to motivation. We can make long lists of ‘reasons’ for someone to change–or threats about what will happen if they don’t. But seriously, who DOESN’T know why they shouldn’t smoke, lose their temper, drink too much, fall in love with losers, etc? It’s just as important (maybe more so) to find out what barriers are keeping things the same. A plane will never take off if its tied to the ground. Neither will a plan for that matter.
Change isn’t about trying harder, it’s about making the change easier, even inevitable. Nobody can feel “super-motivated” forever – the change you want to make eventually has to feel natural. At that point it becomes the new “stay the same” side of the scale. And that’s a good thing.