Some words are fuzzy. We use them as if they had precise, clear definitions, but if we look at them a little closer it gets hard sometimes to explain what we mean – or even what something is.

One example might be the word “freedom”. We use the word a lot, but most of us are not clear what freedom precisely means from use to use, from user to user. Freedom could mean a complete lack of rules, boundaries or restrictions.

Or it could mean the capacity to move easily within a framework of restrictions – i.e., parameters that define a certain range of motion or activity. Or it could mean that someone is free BECAUSE they are also responsible for specific outcomes or duties.

Those are some pretty varied meanings – yet we use one word for all those meanings. The same thing could be said of motivation or drive, two words I hear a lot in this work of breaking the power of anxiety in our lives.

I usually hear the word used in a sentence like this: “Erik, I’d love to get serious about digging into my what if anxious thinking and facing down my Flight or Fight reactions, but I’m not really motivated right now. I just don’t have any drive. I think I’ll wait until I have some motivation before I face this work.”

Oops. We need to get clear on the definition of motivation and drive…

Let’s get out the Dictionary

Most of us have the notion that motivation is a mysterious inner force, a fund or well of energy or push that just is, like the sun or the rain. It comes and goes, it waxes and wanes, and it is more than anything else based in how we FEEL.

Motivation 1

Uh, no. That’s not motivation. Let’s go to the Oxford Dictionary. It says that motivation is “the reason or reasons one has for acting in a particular way.” Hmm. Reason. Not feeling. That’s pretty interesting. It implies that feelings don’t have a lot to do with motivation.

That’s a pretty serious reorientation for most of us. We have learned to see thinking like “I just don’t feel like doing this work” as an accurate way to assess our motivation, when how we feel has very little to do with whether we have REASONS to get up and tackle our fears.

This ties in very nicely to the notion that feelings are the result of thinking, and not the other way around. It pulls the curtain back on that illusion that says feelings just come out of nowhere, or that feelings stand independent of what we are experiencing in our thinking. Motivation isn’t emotional – it’s mental.

Which means that to create motivation we have to get clear on reasons to do something. Motivation comes from knowing what we want enough to go get it, regardless of how we feel. Like so much in life (healthy, actually-based-in-how-things-work life) we have to have the cart in FRONT of the horse for the process to work in the first place.

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OK. What about the word “drive”? You hear similar conversations around drive that you hear around motivation. “I’m not driven to do that right now.” “I lack drive.” “Some people seem so driven – I wish I had their drive.”

Driving Miss Daisy

Let’s go to Merriam-Webster for this definition: “to direct the movement of, to move in a specified manner or direction, to travel.” Here’s some more: “to carry on or through energetically, to set or keep in motion or operation.”

Wow. That’s not really what I expected to find when I first looked up the word drive. But isn’t it interesting to see how, again, the word has very little to do with feelings or emotion, and instead has everything to do with DOING and TAKING ACTION.

This made me think of something else we apply drive to – using a car or truck. The car or truck doesn’t drive us (although if Google has its way we could all easily wind up with vehicles that do the driving for us.) Nope, WE drive the car, we drive the truck, we direct the movement of that collection of steel, computer chips and rubber.

Motivation. Drive. These are both things that come from us making a decision to do something and then doing it. They are not based in feeling, they are based in thought that forms to action.

So that begs the question: what reasons would generate motivation and drive in us? Note that I’m not talking about generating any feelings here. I’m talking about reasons that would make it worth our while to lean in and do the hard work of changing thinking, rather than sitting around waiting for something to change on its own…

This is such a crucial thing to understand. Feelings don’t spring from a mysterious inner well. They are not fairies that sprinkle magic dust on us and presto! we’re having a feeling.

Ixnay on the airiesfay! Feelings come from our thinking. (Man, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve written that here I could get a week in Puerto Vallarta at the beach…)

Motivation 2

In fact drive and motivation are precisely how we can GET the feelings we’re sitting around waiting for, not the other way around.

What is my Motivation?

In younger days I was an actor (high school, some in college.) I loved it. At some level of my soul I’m a ham. One of the questions that an actor learns to ask when they are creating a character is what is that character’s motivation? Why are they doing or not doing in this particular scene of a play?

And doesn’t that make sense of the definition we’ve discussed in this blog post about motivation? Characters in stories take action because they have reasons to do so. They then both take action and have feelings.

You hear it all the time on the stage. “What is my motivation?” “Why is my character doing this thing?” We can use those same questions to help us motivate, drive ourselves to do the work we need to do.

So – what is your motivation? Why push against anxiety? Well, that seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? We don’t want to be afraid anymore! We don’t want to hand away any more of our lives to this stupid and maddening condition called anxiety! We want to feel happy and peaceful and NOT ANXIOUS.

OK. Sounds like a great set of motivations to me. They were my motivations as well when I waded into this battle with anxiety.

But Erik, you don’t seem to Understand – I’m AFRAID!

Ah, but I do understand! I understand that we too easily confuse feeling or lack of feeling, energy or lack of energy, with motivation and drive. They are not the same thing.

Because trust me, I had ZERO energy and ZERO passion for this work when I started. ALL I wanted to do was JUST NOT FEEL ANXIOUS. And this work meant that I had to both face down my anxiety and FEEL a LOT of anxiety to make any real progress.

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I said out loud a 100 times “but I don’t feel like doing this work. I don’t have any drive. Nothing seems important, nothing seems worth the effort.” That was my anxiety and my depression talking, and, combined with my believing that I had to FEEL like doing something before I did it, I stayed frozen, waiting for something to magically change in me so I could take action.

Here’s some big news: I slowly, haltingly, began to learn that nothing was going to change until I DROVE the BEHAVIORS of change in my life, in my daily activities. I began to learn in small baby steps that feelings and energy didn’t change until I DROVE change – in my thinking, in how I treated Flight or Fight, and in deciding that feelings and energy came from sustained action rather than some mysterious place in my soul.

This Car won’t Drive Itself (at least not yet)

Motivation and drive are not feelings. They are reasons. What are the reasons you have to break anxiety’s hold?

Would you like a real life?
Would you like to not be anxious all the time?
Would you enjoy getting out of that damn house and seeing the rest of the world?
Would you like to get a job, or volunteer someplace, or just be involved in life again?
Would you like to get more time with your kids, or spouse, or total strangers again?
Would you like to travel, see the planet?

There’s some GREAT motivations right there. Lots of things to drive towards, yes? This work isn’t about feeling like doing it first. It’s about doing the work and then seeing feelings and energy change.

That won’t happen overnight. And it can’t happen if we keep NOT doing the work. That specifically looks like this:

Taking action while still fiercely feeding what if stories
Flinching back from Flight or Fight sensations and emotions
Hanging on to old anger and self-abuse behaviors
Deciding that we must be fighting anything but anxiety – i.e., making our condition into a mystery we can’t solve

Motivation is reasons to act. Drive is moving towards those reasons, making them real in our lives. We don’t have to feel it first. In fact we can’t. Feelings will come later. All we need now is clarity and taking action.

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