Motivation

I enjoy lifting weights and I get a lot out if doing it. I feel better, look better, have more energy and can get more done. Still, there is always the issue of motivation. I don’t always feel like doing it and if I miss a couple of workouts I find that I quit lifting for 2 or 3 months and then need to get back into it which means that I have lost some of the gains I was making. I found that to minimise this I need to design a system that minimises barriers to training. I bought a home gym set so that I don’t need to go to the trouble of going to a gym. I invested in equipment that is of adequate quality to make sure that I enjoy training on it and that I have everything at hand. It’s right there at hand and the steps needed to start training are minimal.

There is also the mental game. I find that if I focus on some distant goal of lifting some really heavy weight that is at the moment out of reach this is too distant. It does not make me feel so good about my current workout. On the other hand, if I focus on having a good workout, eg., getting through the workout, having good form on most of my worksets, and improving the amount I lift at each workout by a small amount, I find that I feel more satisfied and feel better at the end of the workout. This helps me to keep motivated to get back into it at my next scheduled workout day. I also find that imagining myself having a great beach-ready body, or if I don’t feel like lifting a heavy weight that I had to work in a laboring job I’d have not choice but to lift stuff and that’s a normal thing, these help me get through any motivational blocks.

Motivation is a function of what is immediately in front of you or present in your consciousness at a given moment in time. If the completion of an action or set of actions mentally appears too distant, requires the completion of too many complex or indeterminate steps to getting a satisfaction, then this is bad for motivation. We lose interest and look for distractions or excuses not to do it. We want to learn a language but it seems such a distant goal. Yet we find that we have sudden onsets of high motivation, eg., there’s an image that inspires me to try to learn Chinese. There are other images or situations that kill that excitement. Certain language-learning apps are fun to do and I can use them when i’m bored but moving along the learning path increases my motivation. Other times I try something else like do language exchange or take a course and I find that it’s all too complicated and my initial energy is dampened.

Psychologists usually talk about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. They find that some people are motivated by the results of learning: they want to learn English to get a better job, or to learn dancing to meet people. They are not really interested in the subject matter itself but rather what it can provide for them, the effects of the learning. Others are intrinsically interested in the subject itself. They love learning the language and meeting people in that culture, or they love dancing, etc. But this distinction is really to say that if you start rewarding a person for doing something that they would do anyway, then their motivation will tend to shift so that they lose the initial intrinsic interest and become instrumentally motivated. If you take away the reward they are no longer interested in the activity. This is often a problem in studying for the test and presents teachers with an apparently insoluble dilemma.

Its not clear whether this is a really useful way of looking at the matter because motivation seems to be quite fluid. What seems to affect motivation appears to be whatever is the most immediate to the consciousness, eg., whatever is right in front of me, or whatever is on my mind at the time for whatever reason. Recently I decided to go on holiday to Vietnam and so I had to book a flight and accommodation. I was busy with other exciting projects at the time so doing the decision-making and booking seemed like a chore which had to be done otherwise if I delayed further the prices would go up. So initially I’d say I had a purely instrumental motivation to do the booking.

So I wrote the task in my To Do list that I have on a whiteboard so that it’s clearly visible when I sit at my desk. This put this undesirable chore in front of me so that when I felt the least resistance to doing it I would put in the necessary time and effort. However, when I started searching accommodation and looking at images of my destination I got really excited about my trip and my motivation shifted. I now had a visual image that was exciting and motivating and this image kept my mind on planning the holiday throughout the next few days. This is because I could clearly visualise and anticipate the satisfaction of enjoying the culture, the food, the architecture, the people, the street markets, etc. The satisfaction of my holiday went from something that felt abstract and complicated to something immediate and exciting.

So motivation is very fluid but also responsive to specific sorts of stimuli. We might start with a purely instrumental reason to do or learn something: I need to go on holiday, I need a hobby, I want to meet people, I want to get fit, I want to participate in a cultural activity. As we take action in that direction, we can then shift and build that motivation by making the satisfactions associated with it immediate and palpable.

What we don’t want is to set goals that are distant and involve many complicated steps. I try not to overplan my holidays because that would require me to make all the decisions before going which would be a mental drain and I would lose interest. I try to spread the decision-making leaving options open as I go along. This might not work for others. But I feel that it’s good to have some flexibility so that things are available for you to follow an impulse. I feel that it’s good for motivation to have a fairly linear progress, but that within that you will find that there are moments when you come across obstacles, unforeseen opportunities and bursts of progress or energy. That means that you may need to rewind or de-load on some things, fastforward on others, and exploit unexpected opportunities.

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