If you’re breathing, it’s likely you’re confused by motivation. That’s because we’ve all been taught that it’s one thing when it’s two very different things. I’ve never heard anyone else other than the dictionary point out the critical difference between this one word’s two meanings.
One is reliable. The other is not.
One is constant. The other fluctuates constantly.
One is the “real you.” The other is an unpredictable version of you.
For too long, I thought they were the same thing.
They’re the two types of motivation.
Motivation’s First Definition: Long-Term Desire (True North)
Motivation Definition #1: The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. (Google Dictionary) Synonyms: motive, reason, incentive
Let’s say that you want to become a world-class archer. It’s a desire that you’ve had for a long time and you would be thrilled to develop this skill.
Now, to become a world-class archer, you must practice. And here’s the important part: if you want to become a world-class archer, and that requires practice, then you want to practice. The reason this is true is because you can’t become world-class without practicing. And if you’re not willing to practice, you’re not that interested in archery.
If you’re following this logic, then you’ll see that wanting to become a world-class archer means that you always want to practice archery when you can. This is your long-term desire. (Feel free to replace archery with any desire more relevant to you.)
Long-term desire is True North because it’s removed from circumstances that may otherwise influence you (as we’ll see next). This kind of motivation is your underlying reason for doing things. Your motivation to practice archery comes from your desire to become a world class archer.
When someone says you need motivation to do something, they hopefully mean this definition of the word. Of course you need to have a reason for doing something. If you don’t, you won’t do it for long. But I think when people say you need motivation, they often confuse it and perhaps merge it with this next definition of the word, which is the one that stops people from doing things they are motivated (i.e. have a reason) to do.
Motivation’s Second Definition: Short-Term Feelings (Magnetic Interference)
Motivation Definition #2: The general desire or willingness of someone to do something. (Google Dictionary) Synonyms: enthusiasm, drive, ambition, initiative, determination
Because compasses use the magnetic field of the earth to determine direction, having other magnets situated near a compass will distort the reading and make it unreliable. In this way, short-term feelings are magnets that disrupt our True North.
Life is easiest when you’re writing down your goals. It gets more complicated in the short term.
Despite your desire to become a great archer, there will actually be more times that you don’t want to practice archery than you do. If you question that, imagine me waking you up at 3:45 AM and asking if you want to shoot some arrows at the range. Add to this things like work, eating food, cleaning, and other chores that need to be done. On top of that, think about being tired, frustrated, angry, or being in the mood for a game of cards instead.
All this means is that you end up having to choose when to practice archery if you’re going to do it.
If you’re lucky, you’ll feel like doing it sometimes and have time to do it. If you’re like most, you’ll rarely prefer it to doing something easier, and never find an ideal time to do it.
This is precisely how, why, and where the brain gets deceived and confused. It’s amazing, too. We’ve already established that you WANT to practice archery. But then you have these short-term responsibilities and desires that run contrary to that, and the brain gets confused by mixing these two up. The brain thinks, I feel like going to the movie theater, so I must not want to practice archery.
But you do want to practice archery. It’s your True North. This is why we need willpower to override these short-term feelings.
Why Language Can Be Problematic
We don’t catch this mistake because of language. We use the same word—motivation—for short-term feelings and long-term desires. So when you (short-term) are motivated to play video games, you might erroneously think that you (long-term) are motivated to play video games, even though you’ve already decided that you’d rather practice archery in your free time.
You want to practice archery. You want to do it every spare minute, even when you don’t feel like it. So, don’t confuse this mostly unchanging desire with short-term desires. Know that when you’re going to the mall instead of practicing archery, you’re not doing what you really want to do—you’re doing what you feel like doing.
It’s possible to not feel like doing something, and yet, want to do it. It’s like when your body is saying no, but you struggle through one more rep at the gym. This is what self-mastery is all about—where your feelings are no longer in control, and don’t have the final say in what you choose to do. This is true freedom!
As long as you require motivation to take action, you are a slave to yourself. You are a slave to your emotions and whims.
In this article, I wanted to show you one thing: these two definitions of motivation are NOT tied together. As discussed in the beginning of the article, their attributes are more opposite than they are similar. This is why I can completely reject motivation and love motivation. Stupid English language. I love having a reason for what I do, but I hate the idea of having to feel like doing it in order to do it, because I can’t always control how I feel.
The fact is that you can be motivated (have a reason to do it) without being motivated (have enthusiasm/willingness to do it). Sometimes, they will coincide, and the reason for doing something will come with a willingness to do it, but “sometimes” isn’t enough to marry the two. Just because I have a great reason to exercise doesn’t mean I won’t feel like watching TV instead.
If you’ve read Mini Habits or this blog lately, this post should clarify what I mean when I talk about motivation. The feelings-based definition of motivation is the one that holds people back from achieving their goals.
The subscriber-only message on 3/11/14 expands upon this post! Join Deep Existence to read the rest.