If you do a Google search on the word “motivation,” you’ll get about 127 million hits.
I’ve often thought that if we had a deep understanding of just two concepts—motivation and success—we’d be free to skim or skip most of the books on any self-help shelf.
Unfortunately, our understanding of both concepts could benefit from some determined crap detecting.
For now, let’s focus on motivation.
It’s way fuzzy
Much of our cultural conversation about motivation circles around three points:
- Motivation is a state of being that we can clearly define.
- Some people are motivated, while others are not.
- If you are low on motivation, you must go through a definite process to develop it.
In the spirit of contrarian fun, I propose that those three statements are meaningless:
- Outside of academic psychology, there is no clear and widely accepted definition of motivation.
- Because the term “motivation” makes no clear distinction, we cannot use this term to describe people in any useful way.
- For both of the above reasons, there is no way to measure motivation or develop it.
It adds nothing
When I hear people described as “motivated,” what I see is that they’re taking consistent action to achieve a goal. In this case, we can simply describe their behavior. We don’t gain anything by tossing the fuzzy concept of “motivation” into the mix.
At other times, I hear people say that they “feel motivated.” Again, there’s no need to invoke this concept. We can just talk about their basic emotional states. They feel sad, angry, afraid, or glad. And, they behave in ways that align with those states.
Let’s just lose it
The most meaningful thing we can say about motivation is that we don’t need it. In any given moment, we experience a basic emotion and move into action. Or, we don’t.
End of story.
A case in point
When I tell people that I work at home as a freelance writer and editor, they often say, “Wow, that’s amazing. If I tried that, I’d never get any work done. How do you stay motivated?”
Well, I got “motivated” 25 years ago, shortly after I started working from home.
It took about one month.
During that month, I procrastinated like crazy. I did just about everything other than work or contact potential clients.
I ran errands. I took walks. I washed dishes, did laundry, and dusted the blinds.
At the end of that month, my gross income was zero.
Then the heavens parted and I was blessed with a transcendent insight—no workey, no money.
At that point, I got straight to work. Why? Because I needed cash. Badly.
Motivation was a luxury—and has been ever since.
Photo by SweetOnVeg, Flickr Creative Commons