Monday, March 02, 2015

Motivation is a Feeble Reed

What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises - no matter the mood! Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for fighting.  --Gurney Halleck, Dune.
When I was in high school, one of the things upper classmen could do was choose English classes by topic covered. Some things were mandatory, like early American short fiction, but you could do a nine week unit in horror, or the Iliad and the Odyssey (which I did.  Had a great teacher and it was wonderful), or a unit in science fiction as literature. (Yes, this has something to do with swimming.  Hang on).

Of course I took the SF class.  We studied Dune.  The quote above stayed with me to this day.

I had my Saturday swim lesson to start learning flip turns (they're a lot of fun, even if I am learning them for a practical purpose) and as we were closing, my teacher, who is also a personal trainer, asked me how I stayed motivated to keep getting up to go swim every morning.  I swim every weekday morning at five thirty, you see, and then do one more workout on Saturdays.

I answered that I am not actually motivated.   She gave me a funny look, and then I quoted Gurney Halleck from the passage above and said that what gets me up in the morning isn't motivation, but habit.  I can assure you that I'm not all charged up and ready to go at five in the morning. Hell, no! I don't feel excited about getting out of a warm bed to brave the winter pre-dawn freeze.

I find motivation -- the sensation of being excited about a goal, a pretty feeble reed to lean on in terms of keeping going.  Oh, don't get me wrong.  I love to swim.   I can't think of a practice I really wanted to end and I can't think of a time I really wanted to get out of the water.   But yes, there are lots and lots of times when more sleep or just faffing around on the Internet or playing a video game seems more attractive.

That's why I don't rely on mood, motivation or emotion. It's also why I swim so very early in the 
morning.  It's habit that really gets me through.   I've made a plan and I follow through with it so my uncaffeinated, pre-dawn brain doesn't have time to come up with excuses why not.

This is also why I am a morning swimmer rather than an evening one.  I can come up with all sorts of reasons not to work out after a long day at work.  I have too much time to talk myself out of it.
I think motivation and excitement about goals have their place.  They can help you choose what to commit to.They can be great when you're really feeling it, really feeling energized and looking forward to training (that does happen, after all).  I think you should definitely latch on to and use that energy whenever it comes about.

But I think it's a crap thing to lean on for a long-term goal. Long term goals are usually long enough in scope and difficult enough that it is unlikely you will sustain a single positive emotion towards it the entire time.  Use the energetic honeymoon phase of your goals wisely.

Use that to build the habit that will sustain you through the times of not feeling it.

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