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Motivation is a big deal. And rightly so. Without motivation, we wouldn’t do the things we need to do. And that’s what motivation, at its core, is: the incorporeal force that pushes you to do the thing you need to do, but may not want to do.
This is an important distinction: the need to do something is vastly different than wanting to do something.
If you want to do something: you’re already motivated and will do it without requiring further convincing or motivation.
Like going out with your boys this weekend and partying your face off.
If you need to do something: more likely than not, this is something you don’t want to do, but have to do out of necessity. And it’s here that motivation is needed.
To draw on the previous partying example: as tempting as going out may be; the fact you have an exam on Monday acts as the motivation for you to forego an evening of debauchery to stay home and study instead.
So then this begs the inevitable question: why is it that some people are more motivated than others to make a change or achieve a goal?
Good question. You see, motivation is grossly misunderstood. And I’m going to explain why.
But, we’re jumping ahead. So, let’s dial things back a bit and firstly better understand motivation.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow was an American Psychologist who had a fetish with trying to better understand what motivated people. This led him to create the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
The Hierarchy of needs, often depicted as a pyramid, represents the five needs that Maslow posited every person seeks to fulfill.
These needs are:
Physiological – food, water, sleep etc.
Safety – a place to live, law, security, order etc.
Love/belonging -friendship, love, intimacy etc.
Esteem – achievement, mastery, respect etc.
Self-actualisation – realising personal potential, self-fulfillment etc.
Now, I’m going to go ahead and presume that if you’re reading this, then you’ve already met the two foundational needs, meaning, you have a roof over your head, food to eat, and water to drink, and are living in a country where there’s some semblance of law and order.
Which leaves us with the remaining three – social, esteem, and self-actualisation.
The remaining three needs can be categorised into two groups:
- Intrinsic Motivation: This type of motivation is driven internally. Example – self-development, mastering a skill or furthering your position in life.
- Extrinsic Motivation: This type of motivation is driven externally. Example – wanting to lose weight to gain the respect and admiration of others – like the hot girl you’re crushing on.
Intrinsic motivation is what you’ll hear everyone preach about – you know, the whole: ‘do it for you, don’t do it for others’ spiel. While I appreciate the sentiment; it’s this mentality towards motivation that’s screwing with your progress.
While intrinsic motivation is most definitely an important part of habit change and long-term success with any goal, it lacks a fundamental aspect of the change equation: pain.
And to illustrate this, I’m going to tell you a story.
Before we begin, though.
The story that follows is about me. More specifically: the 14-year-old me, a crush, and how extrinsic motivation fuelled by pain led me to make a change for the better.
See, growing up I was an extremely awkward, shy, chubby nerd. Which was only exacerbated by my excessive junk eating, video game playing, and Anime watching habits.
By the time puberty kicked in and hormones began to rage – I, like any other boy that age, went from ew–girls- have- cooties to wow-girls-are-hot-I-want-one.
And, this is where our story begins.
14-year-old Aadam is currently in high school. He’s also currently crushin’ hard on a girl in his class. It’s his first real crush so, you know, it’s kind of a big deal.
But, alas! Like any great story, there’s a problem: the girl Adam has a crush on has a crush on another dude.
One day during gym class, the teacher decides: Hey! I have a great idea! It’s an awfully hot day, how about I get all of you to run laps. Because fuck you’.
By the end of the class, all the boys are tired and sweaty – as you’d expect one to be after running an iniquitous number of, god only knows, how many laps in the searing heat.
As Aadam’s class -the boys -makes its way back into the gymnasium; the girls class is already here, as their teacher finishes up the session.
The guy that Aadam’s crush has a crush on decides to take his top off. Because, you know, totally not a dick move.
Pandemonium ensues. The girls start looking over; whispering to each other; giggling and doing all the other things a group of excited 14-year-old girls do in that situation.
Yeah, yeah the guys built like a ‘greek god’ – whatever. He’s a dick, Aadam thinks to himself.
As our hero begins to make his way to the changing rooms, he notices the – still topless – guy talking to his crush as she gushes over him.
Now, this is the part of the story that’s a bit hazy – and by hazy, I mean – I’m not exactly sure what happened, but there were definitely emotions involved. A lot of emotions. Basically, some of my emotions had sex with some of my other emotions and gave birth to a whole new level of emotions.
Anger, self-pity, self-loathing, hate, sadness. All coalescing into a black hole of deep, visceral rage.
‘Fuck this guy, fuck the girl, fuck everything – I’m done’ Aadam says.
For the next few weeks, our distraught hero spends his days wallowing in his woes.
Then one day, our hero realises what he needs to do: I have to lose this weight, get ripped and win the heart of my crush.
And so, adventure calls and our hero answers accordingly.
This is starting to become 50 Shades of Lame. To cut a long story short – Aadam loses the weight, gets the girl and they live happily ever after…for a year, and then they break up.
OH, sorry. This isn’t that kinda love story.
The purpose of the story was to get you to understand that:
– Pain Is A Powerful Motivator
People underestimate how powerful a motivator pain is.
As people, we’re more motivated to move away from pain then we are to move towards pleasure.
If you had told the 14-year-old,chubster, Adam that he should exercise, eat his greens and lose the excess chub because he’ll be ‘healthy and live longer’: the 14-year-old Adam would have looked at you, scowled, and then told you to go fuck yourself while promptly returning to watching DBZ.
Because the intrinsic motivation – being healthier, living longer, and having more energy didn’t cause any pain:
‘I’m 14, dafuq I care about health?’
Here’s the thing: for 99% of dudes who’ve wanted to make a positive change to their physique have done so to pick up [more] girls, have more sex, and show other guys how awesome they are.
Sure, sure the health thing is important, too.
But, that’s never. Never. The initial motivator for a guy to start training.
The reason I was able to endure months [and years] of eating canned Tuna and vegetables and drinking nothing but water, was because the pain of my protuberant man-boobs in my white gym tee and not being noticed by the girl I had a crush on – all extrinsic motivators – far outweighed the pleasure of sitting on my couch eating crap while watching anime.
The pain point of being laughed at during gym class and having my 14-year-old heartbroken were extremely powerful motivators; powerful enough to get me to overhaul my then current habits – namely, eating crap and watching cartoons – to eating well, exercising to improve my body and resultantly my health.
For you to really start making a change, the pain of not doing something has to far outweigh the pleasure of not doing it.
This is the change equation:
Your current situation x Pain = Change
To make this a bit more palpable: If you’re currently, erm… a bit cuddly – the pain of remaining cuddly has to outweigh the pleasure of remaining cuddly.
Luckily, there’s a way to do just that.
Utilise Negative Thinking
You know all this new-age ‘think your way to riches positivity’ stuff? Well, it’s setting you up for failure.
And, yes. I’m telling you to do the exact opposite: utilise the power of negative thinking instead.
No, really. It’s #science.
In a series of studies done by John Cacioppo, participants were shown images to arouse positive feelings and then shown images to arouse negative feelings.
When the researchers analysed the recordings of the electrical activity in the brain’s cerebral cortex they found the brain reacted more strongly to stimuli it deemed negative.
Eh, wassup with that?
As a species, we’ve evolved to be more aware of things that are bad for us than the things that are good for us – because, I mean, that apple in the tree looks delicious,sure. But the tiger in the grass that wants to make you it’s dinner is a bit higher up in your brain’s priority list.
And this is where people screw up.
When you focus on the fantasy of the end goal – this magical land where everyone rides unicorns, shits out rainbows, and has their very own 70 virgins to satisfy every desire: you slowly tread into complacency.
You need a dose of reality to really get you going.
Stop thinking and fantasising about what will happen when you do achieve your goal[s], and instead, think about what will happen if you DON’T achieve your goal[s]?
To illustrate. Let’s say you want to lose fat:
List out all the things that will happen if you fail, or don’t achieve your goal.
- Will you be laughed at?
- Will you have to wear that damned T-shirt that accentuates your manly ‘curves’ ?
- What if you die because you took your health for granted? What’s gonna happen to your kids?
- What if your hot wife starts banging the fit 20-something because you can’t go a round without being out of breath – or, worse: get it up?
Sounds pretty horrible, huh? Good, that’s the point. Polarisation will bring to the fore all the emotions you’ve tucked away, and with these emotions you also hit on the pain points. Using negative thinking strategically in this way lights the metaphorical fire under your ass to get you to do the things you need to do.
When Extrinsic Becomes Intrinsic
Overtime an interesting thing happens. What started off as an extrinsic motivator – impressing others; eventually becomes an intrinsic motivator – doing things for yourself.
You may start with wanting to look better to win the heart of the girl you’re crushing on, however, as you continue to train and eat better, you begin to love the concomitant benefits that come by way of regular exercise and healthy eating; so you continue training and eventually it becomes a part of your lifestyle. It’s become less about others and more ‘for you’.
But, for change to happen you need a powerful push to get you started.
And there isn’t a better push than using the thing that’s causing you pain to start making a change for the better.