Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to live healthier, and that has been teaching me a lot about myself. Not only am I learning about my habits, but about motivation in general. Here’s a conclusion I’m coming to about motivation: Usually, motivation is waiting on the other side of action.
It doesn’t seem quite fair! After all, don’t I need to be motivated in order to fulfill the action? Let me use exercise as an example. Have you ever felt the need to exercise, but looming there is the awareness that you don’t have the energy to spare? In the moment, you’ll worry that if you expend all this effort in exercise, then you won’t have enough left over for the rest of the day. However, if you have ever followed through on the activity, even if you didn’t have the energy, then you may have noticed an unusual increase in your energy balance AFTER the exercise. Isn’t that backwards? Give me the energy, and then I’ll exercise. But our bodies stubbornly hold out the energy until after we’ve used more than we thought we had. Motivation and desire seem to be hanging out on the other side of action hoping you’ll get there.
That felt like an extraordinary insight until
I began to ponder longer. If
I approached the idea from
a different angle, I may make a bit more sense of
it. Newton’s First Law seems to be at play in my own body — an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. I can certainly relate to that. Walking begets walking. Couch begets couch!
Maybe it isn’t unnatural for motivation to wait on the other side of action. It may be the nature of action itself to beget further action. But how might I leverage that understanding in my life? And are there more areas that this applies to?
Certainly, I’ve found a similar truth in my spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. Spend some time in genuine prayer, and you’ll wonder why you don’t devote yourself to the task more frequently. Time in the Word is regularly rewarded if I’ll actually spend it. If I wake up without the motivation, then I may threaten to skip these simple energizing activities.
Here’s the principle of habit. Habit doesn’t ask me how I feel about reading my Bible today. Instead, it begs me to close the loop, to complete the task it has opened in my mind.
How many New Year’s resolutions will die and the death will be ruled as a loss of motivation? Perhaps it was lost because their habit wasn’t sufficient to find motivation waiting on the other side of action. Now, obviously, habit can have a dark side of simply logging time or muddling through. It isn’t how much of the text you can get through, but how much of the text can get through to you.
“So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” — Psalm 63:4-7