Motivation is a slippery little bugger. The evidence of Planet Earth’s motivation can be found in geysers. I mean how does the earth produce a large spit of water every 5 minutes through a random hole in the southwest quadrant of Iceland? Let’s all take a moment to appreciate Planet Earth and hope it continues to exist for generations to come (hope but also act). If a geyser can do this at regular intervals, then whatever you’re pondering doing right now (unless it’s violent or destructive)…yes, you can.
People seek motivation from YouTube videos, uplifting quotes, page-a-day calendars, classroom posters, emojis, New Year’s Resolutions, and in some cases, drugs. For my book club this month (What up, ladies!?) I am reading How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell. In the memoir, Marnell becomes addicted to prescription pills and describes this experience in clever ways, with way too many exclamation points. Also, as the reader, you really grow to hate her vehemently.
She says, “Here’s a life lesson for you kids: it’s much easier to go through something upsetting when you’re on drugs. The more intense the drug, the more you forget your problems! It’s basic science, really.”
For Marnell, school was not easy–the drudgery, the work, the expectations, the deadlines–but with Ritalin and then Adderall, she transforms into a straight A student, and eventually becomes addicted, strung out, pregnant by accident, and so on.
Motivation is something that just escapes some people. For many, it is the cause of the way they are raised or the environment they are born into. Maybe those around them are unmotivated, no one tells them they can do more, or they are raised–in all likelihood by accident–to believe stagnation or laziness are the only way. This is part of the job of a teacher–to foster motivation. We must get kids hooked on motivation and its results. Much easier said than done.
Comedian John Mulaney says, “Percentage wise, it is 100% easier not to do things than to do them, and so much fun not to do them—especially when you were supposed to do them. In terms of instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin.” He goes on to compliment the audience for making it to his show, saying that he’s surprised they even made it there tonight. I feel this too, many times. But, when I push myself to say yes and to do things, I hardly ever regret it. Doing is almost always better than not doing–even when you require several naps a week like I do.
Every weekend Chas and I go back and forth about his “Meter.” The Chas Meter is a measurement of how much motivation Chas has to complete tasks. He builds his meter by doing things like playing Call of Duty or watching his “stories.” I am often beholden to the Chas Meter because if I want him to do something he perceives as a chore, I need to wait until he has built up the Meter. I think Chas is actually pretty typical in this way, although I don’t think most people have a name for their meters or maybe even recognize that they need to do something they view as relaxing before doing something they view as a chore. Chas has an incredible aptitude for travel planning, saving our state from disasters, cooking, and even the occasional run; it’s the things he perceives as chores that I, given enough time, actually enjoy.
With a few exceptions due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, obsessive teenage relationships, the tumultuous ends of those obsessive teenage relationships, and a couple miscellaneous events, I’ve pretty much always been a motivated person. I love completing tasks.
My Saturdays are like my masterpieces. While getting ready for whatever is going on Saturday night, I can gaze at a spotless kitchen, Comet-lined toilets, drawers full of fresh-smelling and neatly folded clothes, a sweaty yoga outfit in the hamper, a baked good on the stove, freshly waxed armpits, and maybe a few envelopes ready to go out with the mail and I feel fulfilled. I have usually plowed through several podcast eps all the while and trust, I am ready to tell you all about the stories. I was #blessed with parents who gave me a sense of “You can do whatever you put your mind to” but also, I think I was born this way. I’m just kind of lucky. My mom told a story at my wedding that when I was 5, I marched around at the start of a kindergarten presentation telling all of my classmates where to stand and demanded their compliance. I didn’t say motivation always wins you friends.
A lack of motivation can result in a lot of destructive behaviors: wasting hours watching trash TV or worse, Molly Ringwald movies you’ve seen too many times, eating junk food you don’t need or even really want, and idle wandering that gets you no where. That’s where we get the posters.
Last month at jury duty, I saw the following poster. If jail time were not a legitimate threat I would have taken a photo of the poster in the jury duty waiting room. Since when should we be motivated to work together by a giant construction partially created by forced labor?
The thing about motivational posters and word art in general is that we see these messages all the time but we probably never really see them. Do you ever see “Live Laugh Love” on your wall and say, “Ohhhh great! I was going to Die, Cry, and Hate but now….!” Maybe I sound like a cynic but I do think motivation should be more intrinsic than a canvas from Marshall’s (not hating on Marshall’s). So to flip my cynicism on it’s cynical head, I would be in favor of the following poster.
Have you ever heard of someone reading a motivational poster and changing his/her life? I’m about to nearly disprove my own theory with an example not from a poster but from a motivational video. In 1977, Rick Hoyt was in a wheelchair and told his father, Rick Hoyt, that he wanted to do a 5-mile race to benefit a lacrosse player. Dick agreed to push Rick in his chair in the race. They were instantly hooked. Together they completed over 1,000 races.
When Dave Slomkowski saw a video of Rick and Dick, he caught their motivation. Out of this, he created Athletes Serving Athletes with the goal of getting kids with disabilities from Baltimore City out in races. I know of ASA because my mom and my friends Diana and Pilar were among the very first WingWomen in 2007 when Dave launched the nonprofit. Dave has grown this group to huge proportions since the days of Mom and Diana trying to help a kid into a non-ADA-port-a-potty 10 years ago. Dave did a full Iron Man in Boulder, Colorado with James, one of my mom’s former students from William S. Baer School. The last time I saw James one of the first things he said was, “We crushed Boulder!” If you’ve ever seen an ASA pair or group during a race, you too may have caught some motivation from them.
Another strange, albeit common, source of motivation is New Year’s Day. When I used to be very YMCA-loyal, Mr. Jerry and I used to chuckle at what he calls the RPs. The Resolution People. After three weeks of January, the RPs are an endangered species, though. So in terms of motivation, it seems like their follow-through in my tiny sampling is quite weak. In addition to unrealistic resolutions, there are lots of reasons people can be unmotivated.
I wish I knew the secret for how to motivate people. It’s simply not a one fits all situation. But if we can convince people that the juice is worth the squeeze, if I can show kids that efforts really do pay off, if people can just see that it feels good to accomplish something as a result of hard work, I think motivation would be more popular. For now, maybe encouragement is the best we can do. That, and a bombardment of word art signs, little notes, videos, quotes, hugs, posters of the Great Wall of China, and all the rest. When you don’t know what motivates someone, I guess you have to try it all. This stuff too! And stop and smell the geysers. Actually, don’t. They smell like poopy feet.