The word ‘motivation’ seems to pop up a lot. Perhaps because I work in the domain of Emotional Intelligence where the whole concept is often (ignorantly) trickled down to the idea of ‘motivating’ people. I beg to differ, but let’s not get into that for now. My life which revolves around designing and facilitating self-reflective experiences, squares me up with students who regularly complain about how they can hardly get themselves to do anything because of a lack of motivation, with educators who have big dreams to change the face of the system if only they knew how to motivate those very students and corporates whose say their 5 year plan is highly attainable if only their team could be motivated enough to stay on course. You get the theme. If only but for this thing called motivation. But where does one firstly find it for themselves and if they do manage to capture the imagination, pass it on magically to the others?
I wish I knew. But I’ve recently been reflecting on how we might find motivators in triggers that would, if not given careful consideration, send us into a negative spiral. You know, the kind of stimuli if left unchecked, makes you feel pathetic about almost everything in life. If you live in Kathmandu, then like many others the current situation of air pollution might be one of those triggers. A daily commuter in my scooter, I’m definitely one who is affected on two fronts: a) physically as I’m highly allergic to dust and b) mentally as I consider Kathmandu’s air pollution to be one of the triggers of feelings of ‘disgust’ within me. Despite the hope that comes with investing Rs.300 monthly on a mask that claims to save me, if these feelings are left unchecked, I will invariably find myself getting caught in a loop of judgment-attachment-resistance. For instance, if unfortunately I happen to be behind a Nepal Yatayat bus, the dark smoke (that seems to be characteristic of the brand) emitting violently is likely to make me judge my quality of life in Kathmandu as pathetic, leading me to attach myself to the idea that I should have considered leaving this country for good, and then in no time, I’m grappled by an incessant loop of negativity. If I’m not mindful, this seemingly minor trigger could escalate into a bad day at home and at work.
This is precisely where the art of mindfulness, i.e. in simple terms, learning to direct one’s attention is severely tested but crucially required. Considering that I try to ‘watch’ myself during the day, I realized that I needed to do something about this trigger of feelings of disgust in me. So using the smoke as a cue, I tried becoming intentional about my thought process. Instead of letting judgment take over as my autopilot response, I attempted to let curiosity take over the driver’s seat. Questions would then arise- ‘How long before all this pollution catches up on me?’ ‘Seriously, how long will I live under these conditions?’ A pattern started to emerge. The curiosity of my death was the common theme in those questions. But instead of dismissing the idea as morbid, I found value in turning this trigger of disgust into a serious contemplation about my limited time on earth. If all this dust and smoke is taking away hours/days/months or possibly years from my life, shouldn’t I feel ‘motivated’ to make the most of whatever precious time I have left?
It was an interesting change of perspective (rest assured, I managed to avoid any accident while thinking about all this during the commute) that continues to sit with me. By noticing the trigger, I had managed to shift my attention to positively channelize it into something purposeful. Wow! All this talk about motivation and there you have it- something so seemingly bland could be turned into positive fuel for living a meaningful life.
But I wonder- the dust and smoke are pervasive. Why the problem of motivation then? Growing resentment toward an ailing parent who tried doing their best, urge to leave a dysfunctional relationship despite fears of rejection, longing to follow a meaningful career despite the uncertainties involved- triggers are different for different people. But what is true for everyone is that time is running out. Have we been turning our judgment into curiosity and daring to ask ourselves the question that really matters- how long have I to live?