What fires up your passion for action—makes you want to write, to paint, to get up in the morning and work or play? What motivates you? And what do you do when you believe you need to do something you’re not already motivated to do?
A motive is something that moves us to action—a reason for doing. Motives such as getting something we want (money or possessions), achieving goals, and feeling strong positive emotions like joy, euphoria, and happiness can move us to act in creative, constructive ways. That’s also true in reverse, where loss, failure, and negative emotions may move us to act in destructive ways. In either situation, we are motivated by some reason to act one way or another, even if that action isn’t healthy.
Most of the time, we think of motivation as positive. As a society, we value action, doing, achieving and becoming over inaction, not doing, failing, and being. So when we’re not motivated to do something we think we should be doing, we feel badly about ourselves. We think we should be motivated to get good grades, earn that degree, work a particular job, lose that weight, write a certain number of words per day, or be a particular kind of person.
But is that true? If we’re not motivated should we find a way to become motivated? Or maybe it’s time we take a deeper look.
This week’s journaling prompts are offered to help you dive deeply into the murky waters of your own motivations (or lack thereof) and to better understand why you behave the way you do.
- Make a list of things you are so highly motivated to do that doing them comes easily. Include even the small, daily things, like flossing (if you do it), painting, writing, working, taking care of your children—whatever is true for you. Don’t include the things you have to push yourself to do. Review your list. What do these items have in common? How do you feel and where do you feel it in your body when you review and think about this list? When was the first time you remember feeling like this?
- Make a list of things you do regularly, but have to force yourself to do on some level. What do these items have in common? Again, notice how you feel and where you feel it in your body as you review and think about this list. When was the first time you remember feeling like this?
- Finally, make a list of things you feel you should do or want to do but seem unable to motivate yourself to do. Review this list carefully. What do these items have in common? As with the first two lists, notice how you feel and where you feel it in your body as you review and think about this list. When was the first time you remember feeling like this?
- Freewrite for ten to fifteen minutes on what you notice about your three lists, including the feelings and memories associated about them. As you write, notice how your feelings fluctuate depending upon what you’re writing about.
- Choose the item from your 3rd list that you feel the most conflicted about. Perhaps you feel strongly that you want to accomplish this item but for some reason, you never seem to do it. Or you believe you really should do it for your health and wellbeing, but don’t want to. Complete each of the following sentence starters times, filling in the blank with the item you’ve selected.
- I should ___________ because …
- I don’t want to ____________ because …
- When I think about not having to ______________ I feel …
- The underlying motivation for NOT ___________ is …
(Figure out what’s motivating your resistance. In what ways does it serve you or your lifestyle or your feelings about yourself to not accomplishing this behavior?)
- What I really want to do is …
- Review the items your first list (prompt #1) have in common. Select the quality or commonality that energizes you the most. Select the least difficult item from list #2, then write about how you could infuse the item you selected with the energizing quality. What would you choose to do that could make a difference for you?
- Try an experiment. Each day for one week, do one thing from each list. On the first day, do them from most difficult to easiest. On the second day, do them from easiest to most difficult. Alternate the order of the activities each day, for the remainder of the week. For example, let’s say on day 1 that you choose “exercise” from list #3, “floss” from list #2, and “garden” from list #1. Do them in that order, saving your favorite activity for last. The next day, select 3 new items and reverse the order, doing your favorite activity first. On the 3rd day, select new items and do them in the order of least to most favorite, and so on. Pay attention to how you feel as you’re doing the items and at the end of the day. Write about what you observe.
Digging deeply into our own behaviors and the reasons for them isn’t easy, but it’s wonderfully rewarding in terms of insight and understanding. What have you discovered about what motivates you?