There are two problems with standard motivation and inspiration.
Neither should be too big of a surprise. Like many of the other things I’ve said, you’ve probably thought or felt about it vaguely a plethora of times before.
If you’re walking into a place where you do things you would really rather not do, some motivational posters aren’t about to change things. You don’t automatically look up “motivation” on YouTube every time you feel down. Good lines in a movie sometimes click with you… and other times, they’re just there.
1) They are extremely dependent on context.
While some motivators and inspirational content are general use, none of it is truly applicable everywhere, and most of it can only have a significant effect if delivered at very specific times.
This is not an attribute particular to motivators. Indeed, perhaps everything is dependent on other specific things happening to be at its maximum efficiency – knowing at certain times, understanding at certain times, acting at certain times; correct coordination applies both to individual and group pursuits. Internal drive, though, doesn’t seem to have this property… in the standard culture. If you’re up, motivational scenes should have the same effect as if you’re down – you should feel better about yourself regardless. “If not, something is wrong with you”.
But let’s say they do work on you. As long as they’re in your language and you read them or hear them, motivators work on you. You have a generally “positive” outlook on everything, with a goal to work towards. Even then though, you really aren’t motivated every single second of your life at the same level. There are highs and lows. Things can bring you down and up… and although you don’t shrug off motivators, they have less and less power over time. Something which once inspired you to take many risks, now is just a string of words that you hear somewhat often.
2) Traditional inspiration is anaerobic.
While different motivators have different effective timespans for different people, the important fact is that they have a timespan. Unlike fiction, there is no end to any story. You can’t just get inspired, and that’s all there is to it. It is the unfortunate truth that the traditional model of motivation is built outside of this fact. Thus when we use it, it is like most blind attempts to translate fiction into reality: strong at first, but declines exponentially quickly. Like anaerobic working, it requires recharging before continuing. Thus we come to what we’ve all experienced: we get motivated, then bored until something by chance inspires us, then we get motivated again, and then bored again.
And it seems we’re just fine with it.
I’ve looked up “motivation” and other related tags on several occasions because I have been writing in that direction, and every time all I get are anaerobic statements. Feel this way. Think that way. And it’ll all be better. These lines and stories are viewed as the cliche’d “diamond in the rough”, things which only a few people and a few instances can have. The rest of us can only rely on chance, or now the internet, to perceive and absorb such sacred wisdom.
Motivation, i.e. the mechanics of desire, the perhaps single most important skill you’ll ever have… is believed to not be a skill, to need absolutely no coordination.
Well, I refuse to accept the perception that I must treat my desires like the weather.
If I can smooth those ups and downs, if I can make it so that neither the lines I see or my internal drive are increasingly less dependent on other things, I will do so. And I have found something that fits just these criteria.
So here is my theory, and story.
Part 1: Origin
I used to make playlists of songs. Everyone knows that music can enhance or create certain emotions given that a certain prior mindset exists – different for each song, of course. Some bring you from point to point and require you to be feeling a fairly specific way to make you think something, others you can just listen to almost anytime and they’ll just brighten your day, and so on. This is probably the same reason why playlists work. Fundamentally, it is one long song, or piece – except it can be used to much greater effect, given that the playlist was constructed well. Where a single song can only have one start, one opening verse, one ending verse, and one closing, a playlist can have multiple openings and multiple internal links. You can create a playlist such that it works more effectively on themes created from sets of songs, so as long as one of them connects, the playlist works like a song which you empathize with.
I made them, as most people do, to get motivated.
As back then I was your now-standard angsty, sarcastic, conceited, undisciplined teenager, I had problems with general motivation / perspective on everything, and made playlists in an attempt to bring myself out of it. While I do believe in Einstein’s line and the clincher from A Beautiful Mind,
Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.
I had seen the effects of music and stories before, bringing me from the lowest depths to heights of emotion I couldn’t even imagine. I believed at the time that though perhaps “thought alone” does not change awareness, perhaps music does. So I pursued it.
Part 2: Form
Eventually the depression left for a different reason, and one day on a whim I thought I’d recreate a playlist in the style of the old. As now I had a wider and different perspective, I looked at all the arrangements of songs I had put together before I was me… and they all had the same ordering. Some were shorter, some were longer, some had the same few songs in the same order… but the themes were always the same three, and they always came in the order of “Love”, “Tragedy”, and “Hope”.
Over the next several days, I made a 6~7 hour long playlist of 88 songs, and it was great. It was the successful one I had always wanted. But obviously, because it was made to cover all conceivable reasons to feel anything, it is also extremely unwieldy as a motivational tool. While to the years of being depressed and generally unmotivated 6~7 hours is a small price to pay, I would really rather not use the 88 to cure my lack of motivation.
I need something which is efficient. Again, dependence on context – efficiency is a matter of what is needed. The 88 isn’t going to help me get out of bed. Something which helps me get out of bed isn’t going to help me with something the 88 is good at.
As you have probably observed many times now, I love scaling. If I can use fewer theories and ideas to explain more things, I will do it, 100% of the time. Although the 88 was designed to be a playlist with the largest “funnel”, one which can link with almost any of my emotions and lead them linearly to a singular end, it was also something else.
Love betrayed is Tragedy, Tragedy dissolved is Hope… Hope fulfilled is Love…
Part 3: Gravity
A couple of weeks ago I thought I had boiled all motivation down to its simplest form, a metaphorical north and south pole. It did work, for the time I was writing it, and after I wrote it for a couple of days. But in under a week, I was down again, not caring for basic everyday things and just wanting to stay in bed. Normally I (try to) find interest even in washing the dishes and showering (because if you want to see something, you will see it), but I just couldn’t want that day. I could not want to want, or want to want to want, ad infinitum. This is normal for most people, from my observation. But I saw it as a problem that day, so I looked at every hypothesis I had about motivation.
I had a four part theory: Believe, Feel, Execute, Remember. The two entries linked above were my attempt at giving the perspective a larger form.
I had a three part theory: Knowing, Doing, Remembering. Though it was about confidence, I felt it was applicable enough.
And then I had the cycle theory, from the 88. I had only ever thought of it as a ridiculously huge loop.
So I looked at all of them, and they all had the same quality.
They were all cycles.
Cycles… of a huge, an almost infinitely small, and then one just a bit smaller size. Though the 88 is composed of love songs, tragic songs, and songs of hope, the funneling effect of its content and the ordering of content was to make a statement – that even though there will be good times, and there will be sad times, the world will not wait on you, and you should not wait on your emotions. The three part theory on confidence is similar: though I must know the specific subject, do what is needed in the specific subject, and remember my purpose on the specific subject, the overall effect was that I would be more confident about the subject. This is the same with the four part theory on motivation. Though unlike the other two it was fully intended to be a loop, it too was not about running in circles. It was about using a circle to move in a whole different direction entirely. Like not a carousel, but like a wheel.
Concentric cycles, aiming to achieve a same goal on an exterior plane of existence. Some are unwieldy but can take on absolutely anything. Some are extremely efficient, but also only last a very short time. That is to say, they are…
Part 4: Light
One of the first things I learned about cycling was that I could not treat it like weightlifting. I could not simply translate over the explosive effort, then rest. Going faster on a bike takes exponentially more energy because of air resistance, and cooling down from sprints works much differently.
In cycling, there exists an optimum cadence. It doesn’t matter who you are or what bike you’re on, there is a certain rate at which you push your pedals that maximizes your speed output for your power input. Intuitively, it makes sense – if you are using at the highest gear all the time, you’ll tire yourself really quickly. If you are using the lowest gear all the time, you’ll need to spin many more cycles to achieve the same speed and thus also use more power than you need. However, each of these “inefficiencies” have their use. If you need to get that extra boost of speed, you’ll be better off on a higher gear and the same cadence, rather than spinning ever faster on the same gear. If you need to cool down, you cool down by going at a higher RPM on a lower and easier gear, to clean your legs of all the lactic acid so as to return to the standard race speed as soon as possible. And of course, outside of bursts, higher and lower gears are for how high the resistance of the terrain is to your cycling.
All of these have analogous existences in our minds. If we’re having an easy time, it’s downhill. If not, it’s uphill. If something requires our attention, it’s a chicane. If we want to simply plow through it like it’s just another bump in the road, we will use the optimal method i.e. the gear that gives us the highest cadence, to spend the least energy on the matter. If we want to do it with all our might, up the gears. If we need a rest through something because we just gave it our all, down a few gears.
We do not exit the race.
We keep going. A little slower. A little more inefficient. But as soon as that burst of pain goes away, we’re back in the competition.
Part 5: Life
I propose cycling as the model for aerobic/constant motivation.
The traditional model is linear. There is something you want, you go and get it. There is a point you are at, and then there is another point you want to get to. By itself, there is nothing wrong with this theory – except that there is nothing wrong with it. It is too clean. There is no room for improvement. As it is the absolute truth, there is no kink as to where we start, how we start, and how we continue. Our goals are simply a light at the end of a dark tunnel, where we cannot see where we are and what we are doing.
It does not work because there is no measure of movement. They say everything starts with baby steps, one foot in front of another. But in that model, where are your feet? And even if you are putting one foot in front of another, how fast are you going? How far have you gotten? How far are you from that light? If you just stick your arm out, will you be able to touch that hope and end that sad and lonely world? This model always lives on the brink of despair. I cannot accept this as the optimal solution.
There are many motivational speakers who talk about how you need to develop a love for the process of reaching any goal. Instead of wanting to be rich, love how you gather connections and love how you organize your business. I cannot see this as anything other than an escapist and sophisticated concession that they have lost sight of what they originally wanted.
If you use the “If I want it to happen, it’s already done. I just have to do it” model, you will have have better chances. But you will also lose the love.
You give up none of these with the cycling model.
While it is still linear in the sense that you are here and your goal is there and an unknown terrain inbetween, there is a fourth part: it is a tiered cassette of loops. A third body. A body which, if you will it into existence by deciding that allowing the bike and the goal to be the only things outside halation, becomes something which you can be sure is moving due to your efforts. The switching of gears and subsequently the level and persistence of your motivation becomes your gauge on how you need to adjust to the terrain leading to your desire. If a lower gear is easier, then you know you either exerted a lot of energy recently or something’s getting a lot harder. If a higher gear makes you more passionate, then you know you either want to do something in the moment, or you’re doing something which is easier. The ability to simply switch gears at all, at any time, gives you the ability to measure, and thus re-calibrate and remember what it is that you want, for what reason, and how important it is to you.
In the traditional model, you can say all else is halation, but you and your goal will always be on the brink of oblivion.
Motivation is the movement.
Inspiration is the instant of change which causes change in movement.
In the cycling model, you have you, your goal, and a set of gears.
A set of gears which
at your whim and at any moment
you can change to inspire yourself
and remind you of your motivation once more.