Our lives are a reflection of the ebb and flow of energy. They follow the natural rhythm of seasons. So we experience periods of expansion and periods of contraction, yin and yang, up and down, that affect us at every level - mentally, emotionally, physically and creatively. These occur irrespective of other motivators or external factors and mean that nobody (unless they’re suffering from a psychological disorder) is “up” or “down” 100% of the time.
Many of us, then, aren’t so much challenged by a lack of motivation as by a lack of staying power - the ability to keep on going when our motivation is at a low ebb.
The two might appear similar on the surface, but motivation and staying power are not the same energy. Motivation grows from desire; staying power is a force of will - a force that is still present even when the desire wanes or disappears altogether.
And that’s a critical distinction when it comes to our self-development. Because change or transformation is a function of our will to "keep on keeping on", not a function of our desire or motivation. So the force to change and transform exists within all of us even when our motivation has deserted us.
Our internal rhythms mean that our motivation is never consistent. It waxes and wanes, irrespective of the different internal and external drivers encouraging us to be motivated. Think about these examples:
- The sales person who, in spite of the terrific (external) commission structure, does not stay motivated
- The employee who, in spite of the (internal) desire to not engage in gossip, does so
- The athlete who, in spite of both the internal motivation and external drivers, loses his/her motivation to play hard and strong consistently
- The individual who makes resolutions (New Year's and otherwise) and quickly loses staying power
- The EQ-savvy individual who has the desire to remain calm and peaceful in the face of stress, yet succumbs and moves back to anger when stressed
- The person who has the desire and motivation to be more loving and appreciative of his/her partner but finds him/herself irritated, disrespectful and cold and uncaring most of the time
- The individual who is highly motivated to undertake a career transition but falls into inaction and depression a couple of months into their search process
- The person who is motivated to change and transform and undertakes a spiritual practice of some kind yet continues to judge, be critical of, demean, and verbally abuse his/her colleagues, family members, friends and strangers, etc.
- The manager who is motivated to control her emotions but loses it whenever her ego is challenged
Navigating the dips
Anyone who has embarked on a personal development process will be familiar with the "dips", those periods when energy, drive, and desire wane. It might be a fitness regime, training for an event, a new diet, a self-help group, coaching or therapy. We have the desire. We start off motivated. But having the staying power to keep going when that initial motivation wears off is a different thing altogether.
Rather than waiting for the energy to change, being still and accepting that we’re heading into a dip, many of us get to the bottom and never muster the energy to head back up the other side. Our progress stops. We head back to the drawing board, look for a new coach, a new book, a new workout program, a new diet, new rules and procedures, even a new relationship.
There's a famous quote: "A saint is a sinner who never gave up". And it’s true that there is an underlying dynamic that seems to foster a successful "self," a person who is living and growing according to their "inner values". Some people are lucky enough to be born with an immediate connection to this innate sense of self. Others find it through voyages of self-discovery that eliminate the damaging beliefs and self-images that are fostered by an excessive attachment to the outer world.
In either case, they possess an innate, passionate desire that roars up from their inner self. But more than that, they also have a tenacious will to stay the course. With this combination, their strength of desire coupled with strength of will is indefatigable.
The power of this synergy is that it silences those defeating and sabotaging ego-driven thoughts, those self-criticisms and false illusions that chip away at our desire and motivation. The inner force becomes our beacon for doing and being, reducing our need to rely on external motivators. It gives us a limitless supply of passion, strength and will to follow a greater vision and invigorates us with the energy of "I can," "I am," "I will," "I have," "I choose" and "I create", even during the dips, downs and dark times.
Whether progress is painstakingly slow or made in leaps and bounds, when vision, desire and will have melded together there is no longer any room for ambivalence, defeat or failure. Our direction is clear and our outcome is assured. We don’t give up or fall into some type of "victim/blaming" consciousness at the first sign of discouragement. The force that supports our intentions to do and to be from within, from our inner source, is beyond discouragement or despair.
There are four key questions to ask yourself. What contributes to and strengthens my passion? What contributes to and strengthens my will? What diminishes or weakens my passion? What diminishes or weakens my will?
- Considering one obstacle you're currently facing, ask yourself, "Why is this happening FOR me?" When you sit quietly with that question, what can you see, hear, learn or understand? (Ask it often.)
- Is victimization a part of your DNA? Do you often feel the victim? How? Why?
- Can you recall the last time you "stayed the course" in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds? What happened? How do/did you feel?
- Have you even been involved in co-dependent relationships? How did/are they working out?
- What were your earliest experiences of "staying the course" and "giving up
For those who are caught in a Peter Pan syndrome ("I’ll never grow up") or a veil of victimization ("I just can't," "I don't have it in me," "Woe me,") those questions will hold no appeal. The only people who will bother to pursue the answers are those who value self-responsibility, honesty, sincerity and self-evolution - those who perceives their lives as contributing to the greater good of all humankind.
For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, for everyone who finds those questions engaging and intriguing, now is the time to be still and listen and follow from within. Follow your best vision, dream or intuition. You know what course to follow; the answer is inside you.
If we keep on keeping on, in spite of whatever motivators might exist or not, every one of us has the capability to “pay the higher price” for living an extraordinary life. As Buddhist teaching puts it:
“The power of integrity is based on a firm inner sense of values that allows you to stand your ground regardless of what you are doing or where you are. When we believe that the world makes us, that it determines what we can and cannot do, then we see ourselves as small and weak. But when we understand that we make the world, individually and together, then we become formidable and strong.”