I have always wondered why I don’t do what I want to do even though I know that is what I want. What motivates me to do anything, anyway?
I have always wanted to be able to say something in public, something meaningful and eloquent. But, even in the company of my friends, I have always been shy and speechless. When it was time for me to say a toast among my friends I would close up and freeze, trying to find the right words that just seemed to evaporate completely out of my head.
When my friend offered me to come to Toastmasters I was very hesitant.
“I just don’t know about it, I don’t think I need it now, I don’t have a lot of time to spend on it, I am too busy”
And while all those words seemed true and valid for me I did not bother to question them further to discover whether they are true reasons or there is something else there. When I say I want to learn to speak in public, do I just say that and do not really want it? And if I do, then why do I not do anything about it?
What motivated me to say “no” other than say “yes”? What is motivation anyway and how does it work?
It seems like motivation should be pretty simple. I do this because it makes me feel good, makes me happier, more fulfilled, and brings me pleasure.
It is easy, right? The emotional guidance will tell me that what I am doing is right because I am positively rewarded, feel good, feel powerful, and feel grateful.
I do my work in sugar craft because it brings me pleasure, I love being able to create something delicate and beautiful from a piece of sugar clay.
I love to cook dinner for my family, it gives me a sense of satisfaction, I enjoy the smells and flavors and my family’s gratitude and good appetite. This kind of motivation reinforces itself as long as you receive pleasure out of it.
In case I do not want to do something it should be pretty simple as well “ I do not do it because it does not bring me pleasure or satisfaction”
I don’t go running in the morning because I don’t like it, it doesn’t bring me joy.
Pretty straightforward, right? So why should it be so complicated? Why do we do what we do not want to do and do not do what we want to do?
What is this driving force behind all actions, the force that moves us to act this way other than the other?
I found this motivational mechanism in the speech of one spiritual teacher and it completely resonated with me. The motivational mechanism is very simple and it works undoubtedly in every single case. It goes like this:
We will always move in the direction from what we perceive to be more painful to what we perceive to be less painful or more pleasurable.
When I said that I wanted to learn to speak in public but did not have time, what was I motivated by? My arguments against it were all valid and true for me but there was something there. Digging into it deeper I discovered that I perceived me learning public speaking as more painful than not doing it at all.
Why? What was my reward for it and what was my discomfort?
My reward would be the pleasure of being able to speak without discomfort or anxiety. Sounds pretty good, and sounds like a nice goal to pursue. What would my discomfort be? I would feel stupid, anxious, inadequate, silly, incapable. The discomfort of feeling stupid was more painful to me than eventually taking pleasure in speaking with confidence and no anxiety. And I would find dozens of reasons like “I do not need it or don’t have time” and they would be very compelling to me.
How does one discover the true motivation behind the action? Here, one has to be really honest with oneself and ask oneself two very important but simple questions.
- Why do I want to do it?
- Why do I not want to do it?
You might say “What a silly question to ask myself, why do I not want what I want? if I want something, I want it” But it is not that simple.
I want to be able to speak beautifully but I also do not want to start Toastmasters because it will make me feel uncomfortable.
Some people might want to quit drinking or smoking or other addictive behavior and yet they do not want to because it might make them face their problems and discover that they are inadequate or unable to deal with them and they will make up reasons like “ I do not have a will power or my life is too stressful and I need to cope, or I have an addictive personality”
People might want to change a job that they hate but also do not want to because they are afraid to discover that they might not be capable of doing anything else and they will make up reasons like “I have no choice, times are tough and I will not find anything anyway”.
Some people might want to earn more money but don’t seem to do much about it because they might unconsciously believe that money is evil, or they don’t deserve it or they would have to work very hard for it. Read more on beliefs here
Some might want to be more social and connect with people more but will avoid social interactions because they are afraid that if people get to know them they will not like them and will make up reasons like “nobody will ever understand me because I am different”.
Are all those reasons valid? Of course, they are.
But the truth is that while they are valid for us, they are based on our perception, perception of ourselves, the environment, the world, and other people.
These are all perceptions, they have nothing to do with reality. My perception of the same event or a person may be completely different from my friend’s or husband’s or colleague’s perception of the same things.
We pick up perceptions along the way and stick to them because at one time or another, they worked for us and we think that they will keep working for us without looking at them twice.
The good news is that perception is not solid and is not based on truth because truth changes all the time and if it is not based on truth it can be altered.
Once we are aware of them, we can take a look at our perception of the world, people around us, ourselves, money, and see if we still agree with them and if we still need them.
Discovering what truly motivates us can truly help us in changing our perception and hence hopefully changing our attitude and circumstances. It is all within our power.