The Two Faces of Motivation

Yesterday evening I was enraptured by my guitar, in the midst of some tangled creative blossoming, when a faint voice snuck in and reminded me that my fiancé would be coming home in the next hour and that I had wanted to tidy up the kitchen before she got home.

I didn’t want to clean the kitchen. I didn’t feel like cleaning the kitchen. All I wanted was to stay absorbed in my magical world. But after another 10 minutes or so, I suddenly found myself setting the guitar down, standing up, and walking into the kitchen to take care of business.

This is a common experience for most of us I think, where it seems almost like the decision to take action, particularly when it’s something you’re not altogether thrilled to do, was made for you from some invisible place, and that you’re somehow more a witness to the action than its agent.

Many people I admire take motivation to be the feeling of being charged up about the task at hand. Motivation for them is the chomping at the bit to get after it. Jocko Willink (author of one of my life bibles, Extreme Ownership, as well as a frequently requested book from our 4 year old, Mikey and the Dragons), says that motivation is worthless. It’s all about discipline, he says, motivation is shifty and unreliable.

Mel Robbins (author of The Five Second Rule), also says that motivation is garbage. Her hack for stepping into action backs the person out of their thinking brain and into a short-lived place of decisive clarity from which appropriate action can take flight unhindered. Instead of waiting around for motivation to strike, she teaches, act now before the brain has a chance to kill it.

I see motivation differently. Motivation for me is not a feeling. It’s the inner force that compels you to do the thing, regardless of how you feel. I draw support from Merriam-Webster where we find the word to be rooted in the Latin movere, ‘to move.’ If you do the thing, it was motivation that moved you.

Motivation isn’t about feeling motivated, it’s about being motivated from a deeper place. The realm of psychological and emotional drivers that shape our behavior exists almost entirely below our conscious perception after all, so it follows that how we consciously feel about a certain action at any given time isn’t necessarily the best predictor of how we’re going to act when the time comes to do so. The action becomes a tell that reveals a person’s motivations.

How to go about understanding and reworking the often elusive mechanics of motivation is a topic for another time. For now, suffice it to say that Jocko, Mel and I are talking about the same thing even though we’re using different words. Whether you consider motivation to be the feeling of motivation or a motive force you can cultivate and come to rely on no matter how you feel, we can all agree that at the end of the day, you need to dig deep, align with your core values and vision, and go get the damned kitchen clean.