Motivation 101, or not

October 09, 2018

As a rookie journalist, you take on anything handed to you because all you want to do is to constantly prove you’ve got what it takes. At least that’s how it was when I started out. Anyhow, one of these tasks that I was quite often blessed with, usually on a Saturday, was a book that I had to review and submit by Monday morning.

Nine times out of ten, the book would be a motivational one, or an inspirational one, or a management masterpiece, and of course it wasn’t unusual to find all three rolled into one.

Though I’ve always loved reading, I soon developed a healthy dislike for such books. It wasn’t as if I had any great life experiences to draw on at that age, or enough wisdom to fill more than a quarter page at best, but it was the sameness that got to me.

I remember lots of clever phrases, catchy slogans, recipes for guaranteed success and so on, all packaged neatly in a familiar structure. To be fair, some of the stories within were interesting, challenging and even awe-inspiring, but till date none of these motivational or inspirational books that I read actually inspired or motivated me to do something great. Somewhere along the way, I also thought I was mentally deficient since I wasn’t remotely interested in adopting the seven habits of highly effective people.

When I read lines like ‘To think is to practice brain chemistry’, my brain tends to shut down instantly. And I’ve never forgotten attending a Deepak Chopra event right here in Muscat. I’m sure I am in a minority of one (actually two of us felt the same way) but he has the most monotonous, flat voice in the world.

Add to that, 40 degrees outside, the cool darkness of the Al Bustan auditorium, and I fought hard the entire morning to stay awake. After lunch, I motivated myself by chanting, “I paid RO200 for this, 200 whole rials, do not sleep, do not dare sleep.”

I remember loving Nick Vujicic’s talk in Muscat because his story was just so incredible: A man born without limbs who played football and golf, could type 43 words a minute with the help of the small foot on his hip, had a double degree in accounting and financial planning and travelled all over the world speaking to people. I laughed, I cried, but I didn’t get out of bed the next day motivated to achieve something: Instead I was left feeling that all my challenges were so insignificant compared to Vujicic’s, so why bother.

And that is the crux of the matter. The fact is, just like religion, motivation too is personal.

If you, like many others I’ve read about or heard, have faced huge challenges in life, discovered faith, found inner peace and contentment through meditation, forgiven all your enemies and risen above it all, and become a multi-billionaire to boot – good on you. But I believe that your recipe for success cannot be mine.

When problems are different, the solutions have to be too. The generic nature of the motivational brigade offers, at best, one step up. The energy for the rest of the climb has to come from inside, because who else would know better than ourselves what we are going through?

How you react to a motivational speaker, or how much help you get from one, also depends a lot on where you are mentally, physically and professionally at that specific point of your life. Many do have unique things to say, but many more don’t. Most of the time, motivational speakers are all about refreshing your memory with the little nuggets of common sense that you already had somewhere within you.

A few days ago, I caught myself nodding vigorously in response to the saffron-clad motivational speaker’s loud proclamation that ‘standard of living is not the same thing as the standard of life’, and so on. Nothing new, let alone revolutionary, but it struck a chord.

One and half hours later, driving out of the Sheraton, a car cut me off from joining the main road simply because he could, my phone refused to connect to Bluetooth and my mother had called three times, plus a really important meeting was being indefinitely rescheduled. In 15 minutes, the time it took me to reach home, my brief moments of half-hearted motivation were a distant memory.

I say, give me Yoda any day.