The Missing Motivation

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MotivationPeople think I’m a good person, but really I’m not.

I don’t mean that I’m bad, like I hurt people and do evil things.

I mean I’m bad, like, I’m bad at being a person. I even say that a lot which probably doesn’t help because we tend to be whatever we say and think we are.

And that right there is exactly my point. Exactly.

For the most part, I know precisely what I could be doing to make my life better.

While some people fumble through life because they’re ignorant and lack resources and support and education, I’m a different animal entirely.

I’m reasonably well-informed about many things and am a huge proponent of “best practices” in every imaginable area of life.

I’m always spouting examples while standing on soapboxes because I can talk a big game when I don’t actually have to put in any work or suffer the consequences of being wrong.

I’m always wondering why the City of Cleveland can’t take cues from Chicago as to how to properly develop lakefront property.

I’m always wondering why the American education system can’t take cues from all of the other countries with vastly superior academic (and economic) results and borrow all of the good ideas and put them into practice here.

In other words, for almost every imaginable subject, someone has taken the time to figure out a really effective way of doing something.

And it’s almost always in a book or on the internet. And if it’s not? Great! That means there’s a huge opportunity there to fill that content gap and help other people solve problems or excel in that particular niche.

Almost always in 2014, the information is there. Someone really smart has figured out a really effective way to overcome <insert random problem here> and now you can benefit from their trial-and-error and do things with better results than flying blind.

So, what’s my excuse?

The Table Analogy

I love the table analogy because it’s so easy to visualize and understand.

Your life is like a table.

Your life’s foundation has four pillars—like legs on a table. Not only do the legs need to be long enough, strong enough, and sturdy enough. But they also must all be equally balanced, or else your life is going to wobble and be shitty and annoying and you’re going to have to temporarily wedge a piece of junk under the short leg to stay level and functional.

Everything good and bad in life ultimately comes down to health. If you’re not healthy, nothing else matters. It’s a lesson you don’t learn until you’re unhealthy or are close to someone who becomes sick or injured.

Problems at work and in your relationships and with money stop mattering when you think you might die.

The four legs: 

Mental health (Read, talk, think, learn)

Physical health (Good overall health, physical fitness)

Spiritual health (Peace, gratitude, forgiveness)

Emotional health (Love yourself, balance in your meaningful relationships)

People think they want money. Love (even though many people are merely craving feelings of infatuation and lust). Success, in whatever ways they define it in their individual pursuits.

I submit that those things are nice and are inevitable byproducts of succeeding in balancing their life table.

People really just want contentment.


The world could be blowing up around us, and if we had enough dopamine (the chemical that makes us feel happy) rocking our brains, everything would seem great.

I know these things.

I know that if I take steps to exercise my mind. To bring my body to maximum health and peak performance. To achieve spiritual peace. And find emotional equilibrium in my various relationships.

That I will feel something akin to happiness. To peace. To contentment. To balance.

So, what am I waiting for?

The Things that Motivate Us

I think it’s different for everyone.

I cleaned and (sort of) organized my home office desk for the first time since April 2013 yesterday because I’m going to have some family visiting for the rest of the week and it was getting embarrassing.

I like to exercise my mind to have things to think about, talk about and write about.

I like to be physically fit so girls won’t think I’m ugly.

I like to be spiritually balanced because it makes me feel safer and stronger.

I like to be emotionally level because I never knew what it was like to NOT feel that way until a couple years ago, and it totally jacked me up and I haven’t been the same since.

When I was married, I did almost everything for my wife, and later, for my wife and son.

She probably doesn’t know that.

She probably doesn’t realize that almost every single thing I did for the 12-plus years we were together, was because we were together.

Sure, I did some shitty, selfish things. The kind of things I do now just because there’s no one around to convince me otherwise.

I wanted to be smart because I wanted her to be proud of me.

I wanted to look good so she would like to be seen in public together and not be disgusted in bed with me.

I wanted to be spiritually whole so that she could have a spiritual partner and anchor as we dealt with life’s ups and downs together.

I was emotionally level, naturally. It’s REALLY shocking when that goes away for the first time and you don’t know what that looks or feels like.

When your partner leaves, all that motivation—all that purpose for existing—goes away, too.

And it can really jack you up when you’re wired like me.

I talk a big game. A big game about self improvement and who I want to be and how I’m always working hard to be that guy.

But, really?

I’m not.

I’m not working hard.

I’m being lazy. I’m letting depression (if that’s what it is—I don’t feel sad, I just feel nothing) win. And then I’m sitting around asking rhetorical questions about why I still feel a bit shitty all these months later.

Surprise, asshole. It’s not magic.

It’s not.

It’s not magic.

Happiness, if that’s a word you’re comfortable using, is not a destination. So many people think that if X, Y and Z happen, then they will finally be happy. You know, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

I love to talk about pursuing happiness. And I do, symbolically, feel like that’s what we all should be doing. That the primary goal of our lives is to BE and FEEL happy and then help everyone around us be and feel the same.

But the truth is, happiness isn’t a place.

Happiness isn’t a destination.

Rather, happiness is a path. A state of being.

Like love, it’s something we choose. Today. Right this second.

“I’m happy.”

Maybe you don’t feel happy. I don’t. But maybe that’s because I don’t act grateful. Maybe that’s because I don’t exercise my mind and work harder to achieve my goals. Maybe that’s because I’m not in very good physical shape and it makes me feel physically and psychologically shittier than I could and should feel. Maybe that’s because I’m not living up to the spiritual ideals I profess to hold dear.

Maybe it’s because my table is totally wobbly and shitty.

Maybe if I did all those things, emotional balance would come.

And maybe if I got my life table balanced, all of the other things, like love and money would fall into place.

Maybe waiting around for something to happen is really just a life sentence of always waiting around for something to happen.

Doing what I’m doing? Not working.

So tomorrow we try something new.

But what if there is no tomorrow?



Right now, we try something new.

28 thoughts on “The Missing Motivation”

        1. I don’t know very many people who haven’t already pushed their broken table together with someone else!

          But that’s also a lovely suggestion. Thank you.

  1. “I even say that a lot which probably doesn’t help because we tend to be whatever we say and think we are.”

    This was the point I was trying (feebly) to make yesterday with my “I think, therefore I am” remark. Maybe I should start a petition for you to take down the “I make bad decisions” line from your heading? Doncha think it can be a self-fulfilling prophesy? Would you be willing to try an experiment for two weeks and substitute that line for “I make my own decisions” or something more positive? Maybe people have harped on you for this before and I missed your reasons for hanging on to that line? Love the Table metaphor and will come back for the rest when I’m not on such a deadline but wanted to comment on this before my menopausal brain completely forgot. (Aha! See? I’m equally guilty of the prophesy. 😉

    1. You’re funny! I think everyone makes bad decisions! And in a way, it’s good because then we get smarter. Theoretically.

      I don’t mean I ALWAYS make bad decisions. I just mean, I walk around being alive and occasionally make bad decisions. I used to think that would generate good storytelling. Maybe it still can.

      I promise to consider this!


  2. Well said. I think that over time we have all been told thousands of times that you must love yourself first before someone else can love you. That you must do all the things you say you did for your wife, for yourself first. But right or wrong our self-worth is tied to other’s attitudes about us to stay in some kind of balance. Is it right? No. Is it human? Absolutely. We all want to feel worthy in the eyes of those we love, care for and depend on. When that goes away, we are left to find those things within, sometimes for the very first time – and it’s hard. Oh so hard. But it’s possible. You just have to be ready – and it sounds like you are.
    So start by replacing those “bad human” thoughts, with “flawed (just like the rest of the world), but a work in progress”. Progress is good 🙂

    1. Words are wonderful things.

      “Work in progress.” I’ve seen that used for situations just like this. And it’s both an apt and healthy characterization.

      Thank you for the reminder.

    1. I think this is sound advice. And I think that’s a method that makes the most sense to me. Incremental, patient, habit-forming changes. Slowly. Sustainably.

    1. Thank you. 🙂

      Table repair, in this instance, is a particularly useful skill. Best wishes. 🙂

  3. I remember being taught that the Romans had three-legged chairs. A three-legged chair can’t wobble no matter how mismatched the legs are. It can fall down if one leg is drastically shorter, but it can’t wobble.

    Of course that doesn’t help your analogy much, but if you want tables and chairs that won’t wobble three legs are the way to go.

    1. People who think spiritual health is a bunch of hogwash can use a three-legged table! You’re providing alternative solutions.

      And you taught me something about table construction.

      Thank you!

  4. Happiness isn’t a place and isn’t found in things outside of you. It’s found within you. And sometimes you do actually have to let go of some crap in order to fit the happiness in. Maybe you should work on that – letting go of crap. (Which is totally a technical term, I swear it is!)

    1. I’ve been working on that myself, and will second what you’ve said. Put this in the “spiritual” leg of the table since I have some idea that getting rid of the crap and letting joy in is really a spiritual thing more than anything else.

      1. I like the idea that it’s filed under the Spiritual leg – it makes sense and I was struggling to figure out where it would fit! And, it’s not an easy journey, that’s for sure, so I am sending you good energy as you are working on it! 🙂

  5. I’m at home right now as I read your post, waiting for the plumber because my plumbing has been jacked up for 3 weeks. 3 WEEKS! It meant showering at other peoples houses, piles of dirty laundry, piles of dishes…why did I wait three weeks to call? I think because I’m out of balance too. Not sad but perhaps still a little depressed. Wallowing in the grossness of what HE used to take care of. Meanwhile, my house stinks…my kids are majorly inconvenienced. I am absolutely feeling ya here.

    As for the three-legged table? I’m not convinced that being crooked but not wobbly is better than four wobbly legs. I know from experience that 3 legs are weaker than four.

    This whole healing thing takes so dang long but you’re right about happiness. It’s never been a destination. Thanks for the honesty. It makes me “happy” to know I’m not alone. 😉

    1. In turn, it’s also nice to know I’m not alone with this stuff. Thank you for sharing. Hope you got everything straightened out, lady.

  6. Just the point that you see this in yourself, is a great first step. It’s hard to climb out of a pit, especially when we’ve let ourselves sit in it for so long. Sometimes we don’t see a way out. We have no ladder, no rope and every time we reach up, we fall back down. I think it’s because we go about it the wrong way. The real problem is that we don’t want to get out all the way. We feel as though we should be punished in our little self-imposed pit. But, that’s wrong. That mindset is wrong.

    Things happen, and although we can’t change them, we must allow ourselves to move on. You deserve happiness. Sitting in a pit will not change anything. If we change our mindset, we will change, our world will change.

    1. Like prisoners who eventually fear freedom after being institutionalized for many years, I think it’s easy to find comfort in a familiarity of the pit.

      Climbing out seems like a really good idea, though.

  7. Two things spring to mind for you that helped me when I was in the place that you are right now. The first is the opening phrase in a book -The Road Less Travelled- ‘Life is Difficult, This is a great truth’. Once we accept the fact that life is difficult we can transcend it and it becomes less difficult because we stop having to fight against the fact that it should not be so difficult. Try it, it works.
    The second is instead of aiming for happiness, aim for 10% better. You do not have to be happy or contended, just less yukky than how you feel when you wake up. Gradually you can claw your way back to normal. 10% better, to 20% better and so on. Try it, it works.
    I know, I know, these two points contradict each other a bit, but you were asking for something new to try and they are what I can offer as two techniques that gave me an edge when i was down in the pit of ‘flatness’ and ‘nothingness’.

    1. I think these are sound, wise, helpful and useful pieces of advice.

      And I really appreciate you taking time to share them. Thank you very much.

  8. Stefanie Atwater

    You are hard on yourself Matt. I recognize this because I am an expert in the same arena. It doesn’t work (being hard on yourself). The pain we feel now is part of the happiness we get to experience later. (A line from a favorite movie of mine-Shadowlands). And you are right, that happiness isn’t a destination. It doesn’t come from accomplishments alone. You can be fit and successful and have everything you thought you wanted but happiness can still elude. I don’t know if you know of my current story, but even in this hell my family is experiencing there are many moments of happiness/joy/gratitude along side moments of grief/anger/pain. It’s simultaneous. I am happy. I am sad. I am angry. I am excited. I am hopeful. I am loved. All at once (and I don’t mean in the very same moment, but over time) because I am human and choose life despite what is happening to us and I am learning a balanced life is full of all of it.

    I think you are greater than you know.

  9. Two broken tables pushed together make one BIG broken table. I respectfully disagree with that idea.
    Work on balancing your table. That’s the only way it will line up with another balanced table.

    Happiness can’t be “As soon as X, Y and Z happens.” Otherwise, the world would not be filled with so many unhappy people who have experienced X, Y and Z.

    I talk a big game, too. Being on to yourself is not such a bad thing. 🙂

  10. Pursuing happiness is kind of like a kid chasing a butterfly: the fun of it’s in the act of chasing once it’s caught you don’t really know what to do with it.
    I have a theory that happiness is not actually a sustainable state because human beings are not supposed to stagnate. We are our best selves when we’re learning and growing, chasing something so to speak. We need some sort of challenge in life to drive us forward. If we achieved a state of happiness and maintained it after a while it would get boring and that happiness would turn to discontentment.
    I think balance and healthiness are much more attainable life goals than happiness. Happiness is overrated.

  11. I completely understand where you are coming from. I got postnatal depression with my second child and it took me three years to admit it and seek help. Two things that really helped me (although I didn’t actually finish either of them!) were a book called Happiness as a Second Language: A Guidebook to Achieving Lasting, Permanent Happiness by Valerie Alexander Link: and an audio book on mindfulness Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Peace in a Frantic World by Prof. Mark Williams Link:
    I particularly recommend the book and Valerie’s blog. Even though I don’t know her, Valerie has offered loads of personal support on my rocky path to happiness. I love the concept that we have to learn happiness like a second language, and the book gives really practical ways to learn.
    Keep looking, you’ll find happiness I’m sure of it.

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