If there’s one single ‘problem’ that comes up time and again in consultations with clients, whether in the context of their business or their personal life, it’s this: motivation, or the lack of it. ‘How can I motivate myself?’ is a recurring question, and there’s a genuine longing behind the words, the desire simply to be living a better life, a more fulfilling, happier life. There’s something about the modern world and the pressure that we all feel to perform at optimum levels every day that has a paralysing effect on our collective mind. Whatever tasks we’re confronted with at work, whatever targets we are set, or set ourselves, it always seems we could be doing better, doing more, going that extra mile. Likewise at home we often find ourselves beset by doubts. Am I a good parent? Could I be a better husband or wife? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities? And what about that lifelong dream I was supposed to fulfil? If the answer to any of the questions comes back negative, those doubts too often turn to frustration, the frustration to anger, and the anger to depression, resulting in lethargy and a general lack of motivation.
It’s very easy in these circumstances to blame ‘the world’ for creating the feeling of helplessness. It can seem like a no-brainer that outside forces are conspiring to hold us back. Everywhere we look there are obstacles to happiness. If only we could win that promotion then, we feel sure, things would rapidly improve. If only we could get the cash together to start that business. If only we could find someone to love, someone who really understands.
If only. We human beings do the most extraordinary things to try to overcome what we perceive as our difficulties. We gamble precious income on the lottery, swapping jobs in the hope of a new start, any start. We up sticks and move to a different country, hoping the change of scenery will turn our lives around. Some of us, finding ourselves with the wrong life partner, decide to have a child (or another child) with that person, thinking that this will somehow refresh the tired marriage. And when the lottery ticket fails to make us millionaires, the new job is just like the old job, the new country is the same as the old country, (only hotter as a rule), and the baby’s arrival only compounds the problems inherent in the relationship, we find something or someone else to blame, and the whole vicious cycle starts up again. What’s the answer?
Despite all appearances, the world ‘outside’ is not creating the problem. Your thinking is creating the problem.
That pressure I’ve been talking about, the pressure that we all feel to perform, isn’t real. Believe me, I know how hard that is to grasp, but Carl Gustav Jung, the eminent psychologist and Freud’s contemporary, was 100% right when he said that ‘Perception is Projection’. In other words ‘thinking makes it real’. Does this mean that there is no physical reality, that the entire world is an illusion? Some people think so, but believing it doesn’t really solve anything. What we need to understand is that events occurring in the world outside of us are entirely neutral. They have no power over us, beyond what we give to them through thought. It is not the events that are creating the negative feelings but our perception of them, the feelings that we attach to our thinking about those events.
Small children don’t need motivating. Their natural curiosity about the world ensures that they will play happily for hours with a new toy, (or, failing that, with the box that it came in). Everything is fascinating to them, and as adults we too often bemoan the fact that we have lost that innocent capacity for finding joy in the simplest of activities. Sometimes, feeling overburdened with my own responsibilities, I have felt that way myself. But it’s not true. That sense of wonder is still a part of me, and it’s in you too. It can never leave you, it is consciousness, the gift of being alive. These days when people talk to me about their lack of motivation I see the truth beyond those words. The thought comes first: ‘I don’t feel motivated’. But it’s an abstract thought, a nonsense. How do I know? Because when we are motivated, when we are fully engaged with living, there is no thinking involved. Never in your life have you said to yourself, in the middle of some activity that you thoroughly enjoy, ‘I am so motivated!’
Carl Jung also said: ‘I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become’.
What do you choose to become?