Rethinking the engine that drives us.
October sun poured into my home office. The window cracked open to let in the crisp morning air and bird trills. This was the kind of day that got the citizens of a silver-skied Seattle to wag their tails with glee.
There was no wagging happening over here.
I was talking into a computer screen, to the three beautiful, inspiring, and encouraging women who made up my writing group.
My check-in was a tired repeat of months’ worth of non-doings: writing very little; procrastinating on sending agent queries, again. Breaking promises to write regular blog posts, to submit essays to publications. I abandoned books. Broke self-made deadlines.
“I don’t know what my problem is,” I whined for the millionth time. “I’m just not . . . ”
I was going to say “motivated,” but something in me paused.
I saw the word “motivated” dropping into its track like a gumball in its little machine. And on its way down I turned away and went for something new.
“I’m feeling . . . differently motivated.”
This is what felt true. Why?
Because on this day I saw the red velvet rope policy I placed on the activities I associated with being motivated.
It was good to be motivated to write and to create new coaching clients, to make money, to exercise, to have the kind of day whereby I could point to something esteemable and say: “I did that.”
Motivation, like life, is a trickster
I think I can wrangle my focus and attention but I can’t. The body-mind system wants what it wants; it turns toward whatever it fancies. Which means:
If you’re me, and you think you should be writing, and you’re not — you’re unmotivated. If you expect yourself to swim five days a week and you aren’t, you’re unmotivated. If you do swim five days a week but don’t rip it up in the pool, you’re unmotivated.
If, for the last six months, you’ve been buying birthday cards and not sending them, you’re unmotivated. If you have a book you want to finish and get published and your process is a bit slow, you’re unmotivated.
Exhausting? A bit.
What I saw in that gumball drop moment was that every time I said I was “unmotivated,” I was turning my back on everything my mind-body system was enthusiastic about, even if the enthusiasm was a small curl of a wave.
And instead, I reoriented myself to focus on what I was doing rather than what I wasn’t.
It made me think about the word Motivated too. It’s binary, judgy:
Am motivated. Am not motivated. Good Tatyana. Bad Tatyana.
So by saying “differently motivated,” it got me to consider what stream my body-mind system wanted to ride these days.
If “motivation” is defined as “flourishing”, as my coach/teacher puts it, where was I flourishing?
What was I into these days?
Here was my list:
- A shit-ton of swimming, in a pool that was outdoors (because of covid, the bubble didn’t go up; heaven), and where I was meeting new friends and having rich in-person socializing. Kick sets were filled with great conversations.
- As someone who likes to cook —doesn’t love— I was captivated by the New York Times Cooking app and started to try more new recipes.
- I had started volunteer coaching for my Masters swim group, and surprising myself with a keen interest in learning to write creative, engaging workouts. This was a true new passion, even though it didn’t pay, wasn’t a career measurement, etc.
- I joined a local group of climate activists — a first for me.
- There were so many walks, which meant more outdoor time — and a preferred method of seeing friends, and spending time with family, pandemic or not. One morning my husband and I drove to another neighborhood to see the snowy owl people were talking about
So there it was: a shift, a turn, a re-seeing. I stopped telling myself I was unmotivated (i.e., lazy, funk-y, underperforming) and started to get curious about where I was putting my energy.
That’s where life gets interesting.