Don’t Rely on Motivation

Dad: My blood circulation is getting worse, seems like I’m getting old haha.

Me: Do you know how to fix it?

Dad: Yeah, I need to start exercising.

Me: So why aren’t you exercising?

Dad: I have no motivation.

One thing I’ve been beginning to realize is how much of an unhealthy emphasis we put on motivation, this internal force we believe we need in order to start doing anything. However, this mindset is burdensome because it requires us to be in a certain mental state before we can actually get anything done. Our moods and emotions are always changing too. You can have a newfound motivation to start going to the gym after making your New Year’s resolution in front of all your friends, but this resolution hype will only last you so long. So instead of the usual mental over physical mentality most people talk about, here’s a new theory I’ll go along with in this post.

Be physically present

That’ll get you halfway. Back in my junior and senior year of high school, I was commuting to San Francisco from the Peninsula almost every day to work. Everyday, I would leave the office at around 9:30pm and be pretty tired, definitely not in the right mentality to hit the gym to workout. My brain was tired, I just wanted to go back home and watch YouTube or talk to my friends before heading off to bed. So my mindset became sort of a pair of mental crutches I was trying to support myself on, and they sure as hell wouldn’t be able to bring me to the gym. After a couple weeks of going back in forth in my head, debating whether I should push off the gym or not (ultimately with nothing actually happening), one thing I started to do was just taking the BART (public transportation) directly to the gym, not stopping at home. I was tired as hell, but I walked into the gym. Bright lights shining at me, everybody else was working out. Well, I’m already here right? Being physically present is half the battle. Just being there was more than I could have ever done wasting time debating in my head whether or not I should just go home and rest. Just showing up there took away the “motivation prerequisite” that was holding me back so much. I thought I needed some form of motivation to get pumped and work out, but all I need to do was just show up.

Make rituals

Before walking into the gym, I would drink a cup of black coffee or a pre-workout juice to let my body know that for the next hour, I would be focused on working out. Having a ritual like this made working out into a sort of daily habit that I would do, sort of how many people in the military make their beds every  morning as a way to feel organized and start their day. To post in this blog more frequently, I’ve started a ritual where I would take a shower before writing a post. Writing this now, I’ll try making my bed every morning starting tomorrow to start getting in the habit of meditating every morning I wake up. You should think of a good habit you want to get into too, and start to make your bed as a ritual to get into it together with me!

Setting a physical place is to do accomplish other things that don’t necessarily have a designated place (like a gym) also helps a lot. I know for doing work, I go to the common area in our Science Center on campus to get homework done. For writing blog posts at home, I sit on the couch in the living room.

Motivation doesn’t have to be a prerequisite for us to achieve our goals. In fact, thinking that motivation fuels action can be harmful because we can’t always rely on our mental states – they are always changing. The most reliable way to achieve a goal is through good habits, and the first step many of us forget to take in developing those habits is just being there.

Psychological Inertia

How can always doing random shit keep you young and lucky?

I thought of this theory about a year ago, and I got inspiration for this idea during my practice for discipline, which I describe in detail here in my Quora answer. Tl;dr: I put myself through small challenges for about 3 weeks each, like waking up early everyday without snoozing, doing 20 pushups a day, meditating at least 10 minutes a day, etc.

The hardest part about these challenges was getting used to changeif I wanted to adopt a new habit, I would have to change my daily routine. Waking up before 8AM everyday at the first ring of my phone’s alarm was annoying, it was uncomfortable. To be honest, I didn’t even have to wake up before 8. I could’ve easily woken up at 8:30 every day and still arrived to class on time, no problem. It’s so cold too, waking up so early in the morning. I could list an infinite amount of excuses, but at the end of the day I was determined to follow through on this challenge. So for the next 40 days, I kicked off my blankets at the first ring of my alarm.

My main blocker in this challenge was moving past the thoughts of discomfort and putting it into action. So the way I went about solving that blocker was to tackle on that discomfort head on. The idea of cold is really interesting because that’s usually where people are most uncomfortable. Ice cold showers suck, so I needed to start there. For one day, I wanted to try something completely new. I was going to get up exactly at 7:30, take off my clothes, and jump into a cold shower.

To be honest, it sucked, a lot. I had this glorified view that after doing this, I was going to be super disciplined, but in the shower I was just a kid shivering his ass off. But what drove me to continue was my desire to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. From then on, I became more impulsive with random things. I started doing random challenges that sometimes made no sense at all. I thought wow it must suck to not eat meat anymore, so fuck it . I’ll be vegetarian for 40 days.

What I started to notice that this mentality started to permeate into my decision making. It made me open to change, hell, it became a habit for me to seek change. Do you know the weird feeling you get when you skip brushing your teeth for a day? I had that weird feeling whenever everything was the same.

At this point in my life, the most important decision that I’ve made so far was coming to Swarthmore. And that was one of the luckiest, and most impulsive decisions I’ve made to date. I was thinking about how much I would succeed if I followed the conventional path of going to a technical school to study Computer Science, then chucked it all out the window when I decided to commit to a liberal arts college with a flip of a coin. This is where the second part comes in: getting lucky. When you decide to do something completely out of your ordinary, you might discover something that you really like. And if you don’t, you will have grown from it and now know what not to do.

If you are evaluating a set of options (people, food, etc) don’t just go with the one that seems to align best with you. Occasionally take a chance on an interesting “bad” option just because it strikes your fancy. Come up with quirky ways to make decisions and use them.

Think of all the possible outcomes you wouldn’t want, say fuck it, and then do it.

Go do random things, get comfortable with the uncomfortable, always keep your mind in motion so that you will never grow old.

References used, you should check these out!
1) Telegraph article on being lucky

2) Yishan Wong’s answer on luck