Motivation and willpower can only take you so far.
They’re fleeting and fickle. They’re abundant at times and non-existent at others. Both motivation and willpower are more dependent on what you ate for breakfast than what matters most to you, and as a result cannot be relied on to make meaningful change.
The past year has been a particularly draining one for many people. I read an article about the dominant emotion of the past year being languishing, the absence of well being.
My favorite piece from the article was this line:
We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress.
This is a key piece that I focus on in my life, in my business, and with my clients. It’s also why I think so many people are experiencing such a severe lack of motivation right now.
Motivation is more about momentum than internal drive.
It’s much easier to be motivated when you can see that the effort you’re exerting is actually doing something positive. When the work you put in moves you closer to achieving something you’ve set out to achieve, it’s much easier to convince yourself to do more work.
In order to be motivated, you need to have something to focus on, as only once we’ve determined a focus can we experience a sense of progress.
So, let’s talk about conspiracy theories, confusion, a lack of focus, and eventually motivation.
STORIES AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES- DIVIDED ATTENTION
People are meaning-making machines. We like a well thought out and cohesive plot with defined good and bad characters, cause-effect relationships and to be able to plot the points that led from one event to another. In short, we like stories.
We use stories to convey concepts, to pass on important knowledge and information to other people, and to rally people to our causes and ideas.
This skill of storytelling can be used benevolently or maliciously, and it’s often challenging to know at the time which is which.
“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” -Oscar Wilde
Stories help us make sense of the world. They help us orient our behaviour, and they create a sense of stability in times of uncertainty. People are traditionally terrible at dealing with uncertainty. A prime example: For thousands of years we’ve more or less collectively agreed that an invisible man in the sky controls everything we can’t explain. And that is more convincing than the idea that shit happens sometimes.
It’s particularly challenging to focus right now because we’re experiencing real time updates of conflicting stories that are both able to produce examples and supporting points, expert or “expert” witnesses and testimonies, and gain a significant amount of support.
On the one hand you’ve got a mainstream narrative that’s difficult to follow, full of ambiguity and “grey area” and generally pretty disheartening.
On the other hand you’ve got an alternative narrative that’s rooted in emotionally triggering ideas like restricted freedoms, population control, euthenasia or chemical castration and a host of other things.
If we take into account that people are notoriously terrible at accepting “shit happens” as a reason for why things are the way they are, it’s pretty easy to see why the idea that a government is trying to microchip your blood to mind control you is a more enticing story than 225 years of vaccine study, advancement and a global effort with near unlimited funding culminated in the fastest vaccine ever.
One of those stories is exciting, with a good guy and a villain. One is also REALLY interesting, but there’s no bad guy. It’s not as good a story. And since people love stories, and get immersed in stories and connect with the protagonist and despise the antagonist, many will gravitate towards the better story, even if it is kind of nuts.
BIG PROBLEMS MUST HAVE BIG CAUSES, RIGHT?
These alternative narratives (conspiracy theories) are basically built on the idea that a big problem must have a big cause behind it. The idea that the actions of one person could shake the world to the extent that this has is a challenging thing to comprehend, but it’s important to acknowledge that most earth shaking events are usually caused by a bunch of underlying issues that never get the attention they deserve, and the one “cause” shoulders the blame.
World War 1 is a perfect example. History class tells us the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was what started the war. But without the years of escalating tensions in the region, alliances being formed, military powers being reinforced and a rise in nationalist sentiments, this assassination would likely not have happened at all, and if it did would not have plunged the majority of Europe into conflict as a result.
It’s easier to explain what’s happening in the world as the result of decisions being made today, but the reality is, the decisions being made today are often one of only a few options available to us at this point in time. In many scenarios, the die was cast long ago, and we now have the ability to change the path we’re on only slightly. Change takes place on a societal level over generations, not overnight, and as a result it can be quite difficult to understand why we are where we are.
It’s this idea that makes conspiracy theories so enticing, because you can shorten the timeline and create cause-effect relationships that make compelling stories; but the reality is that most of the things that dictate how your life is right now, are pretty far outside your control.
And since most of the messaging you’ve heard your entire life has you at the command center of your own life and has you in total control of your decisions, that doesn’t really mesh well with the reality of the world:
You get to choose what to do now, but it’s likely only going to be able to influence your future, not your present. Your present is the result of your decisions up to this point, and you can make all of the “right decisions” and still come out on the wrong side of the coin toss.
The world is confusing right now, because chances are if you’re doing well, you worked really hard, made a lot of good decisions, AND got lucky, and if you're not doing well, there’s an equally good chance that you worked really hard, made a lot of good decisions, and got unlucky.
So, how do you focus when everything sucks and nothing you do matters?
Well friend, here’s the beauty of the world we live in:
Nothing matters (aw) or nothing matters (yay)
Everything matters (aw) or Everything Matters (yay)
You get to decide whether you want to let your world and your life matter, or not, and either is totally fine. I like to decide that my life matters, and that my spending the time to write this article matters, because that makes me feel good about getting out of bed, and doing things that likely in the grand scheme of the world won’t matter much. But it makes it fun for me.
I personally believe that what you do matters, and things can matter that aren’t acknowledged or celebrated. I think every piece of work brought into the world that makes an effort to make the world a better place is a valuable thing, and that spending your time making things that help other people is always a worthwhile endeavor.
COLLABORATION IS THE KEY
Part of what makes something like prolonged lockdowns or time apart so challenging is the lack of collaboration. Even if you’re collaborating to take down several pitchers of beer with your friends, the act of doing something, even something silly and useless with your friends is a really powerful thing to create a sense of purpose and community.
It’s really hard to stay motivated when you’re isolated. I think people are hardwired to problem solve and collaborate, and when you take the collaboration away, the problem solving slows down, and the lack of problems solved and progress made creates apathy and “languishing”.
So, there’s a huge opportunity right now for the people that want to create things to be able to do it. People are hungry for something meaningful to work on, and if you’ve got an idea you’ve been thinking about doing for a while, now is an excellent time to collaborate with the people around you to make something interesting.
Don’t just do it for you. Do it for everyone in your circle.
Once you start moving, you’ll find your focus and motivation come back.
So, yea. Thanks for reading! If you have any thoughts please share them with me, and of course, if you want to make fitness and health a part of your routine going forward and want an expert coach on your team, fill out our contact form and let’s talk!