Who motivates the motivators?

So the big question is how do we keep going? What keeps us motivated? And I don’t just mean when the chips are down. In some ways, it’s easier to fight and keep going when you’ve got something to fight against.

What I’m interested in is how do we keep motivated day in day out. Day out day in. When the chips aren’t down but temptation is all around you. I mean when you’re taking part in the great Ab Challenge, but some news you’ve been waiting to receive for a long time, comes through and the champagne needs opening; when you’ve promised your partner that you’ll be home early but there’s a leaving do happening; or just when the sun is shinning and the weather is sweet but you’ve got that tax return to do [nice one Craig btw, hope you made full use of your 45 mins]. Whether we want to get fitter, leaner, stronger, improve our relationships, our prospects or help other people… just what is is in the human spirit that motivates us to do whatever it is we want to do?

Why for instance has it take me 20 years to get to Cape Town…. when I’ve known for most of that time I’ve wanted to come?

It’s impossible to be in South Africa and not live under the shadow of Nelson Mandela. His aphorisms are in shops, his name is on street corners and his legacy is everywhere. Now there’s a man who was motivated. And it strikes me from reading his words, from my own experiences and even from the brief introduction I had to Buddhism this week, that motivation is a combination of a number of things.

Me in Cape Town. Blown by the wind and lack of focus.


You need to really believe that what you are doing is worth doing. Whether it’s to make your own life better or someone else’s. If you don’t believe that you will fail EVERY time.

So that’s your foundation. But then there are the 3 corner stones

  1. Self practice
  2. Study
  3. Community

1. Self practice

Whether you are an artist, a sportswoman, a writer, religious or family focussed, without actually training, painting, writing, praying or picking up your kids from school you will not get any better at whatever you are trying to do. You need to put away the time, even if it just 10 minutes every day. 10 minutes. Set the timer, whether it’s the first thing you do in the morning or the last thing at night.

I’m probably a little too cynical to believe practice makes perfect, but it can make you a lot better.

I got told off the other day in my first Muay Thai class in Cape Town, when I told my instructor I was a ‘slow learner’. He said if I think I’m slow I’ll aways be slow. He’s right of course, but it’s not like I don’t know that…

“Mate”, I said. “I hear you. I understand what self-imposed perception can do. However, it is also important to know one’s limitions and adapt to them”…. That went down well. However, it’s true.  I was the girl who smoked behind the bike-sheds instead of going to netball. I am not naturally fit nor co-ordinated. I poke myself in the eye with my own  kickboxing belt when sparring, for chrissake… However that doesn’t mean I will never get any beter nor that after several years of martial arts practice, I can’t hold my own. And while it means, that yes, I AM a slow learner for anything physicial, I also know that with time, and practice and patience (mostly from the instructors) I will improve. But it needs to be up to me to believe that spending that much perfecting my roundhouse is worthwhile.

You’ll never improve as an artist, a buddhist, a manager, a parent or even as a lover, if you don’t actually spend the time doing these things.

Just think of those classical musicians who have been practicing 10hours / day since the age of 5. So to be motivated, about something you actually have to schedule the time to do it. Lots of it.

Cape Town from the mountain

If this view doesn't motivate me to run every morning, i don't know what will...

2. Study

Now I’m not saying that all you have to do is stick your head in a book get to where you want to be …but it can help. Religions with their Bibles, Korans, Upanishads… tell us that. Universities offer us Plato, Dante or  Stephen Hawkings to help us understand ourselves and the universe. And for all the faults of these institutions, and my own doubts about both, I do believe there is a lot we can learn about how to move our lives forward  from both these ancient traditions of learning.

I know that if I don’t intellectually understand why I’m doing something or where it comes from I don’t really see the point in it and lose my motivation even more than usual.

For instance, once I knew that the king of Siam trained his personal body-guards to protect him, Muay Thai suddenly made sense as a fighting methodology rather than just a load of sweaty boys proving themselves to each other  down the gym. Knowing that the reason the instructors are often a bit arrogant and treat you like disciples is that once upon a time your arse really was theirs. You lived with your master and were dependent on them for clothes, food and education, in return for respect and loyalty. Knowing why something is the way it is helps you understand it and this in turn can keep you motivated. (Undeniably martial arts in the West does seem to attract its fair share of arrogant men, but I’m trying to intellectually understand where they are coming from ;o).)

3. Community

A few years ago I watched a pride of lions take down a buffalo. I realised then that animals intrinsically know something I am still learning… that when taking on big projects you need all the support you can get.

I used to think that as long as we stayed focused, studied and practiced hard we could all achieve whatever we wanted. But it doesn’t work like that. But most of us need , inspiration, debate, examples and just plain love and support. And that can only come from others. It’s what mosques, dojos, online writing or photo communities and even gyms can offer. And supposedly families.

One thing I know now, though, is that if you want to get somewhere you can’t do it on your own. Determination, perseverance and belief  may offer a foundation for motivation. But you also need self-practice, study and community to make that motivation concrete. Or have you got any better suggestions?

Answers on blog post please.

In the meantime here is one inspirational lady. If only I could stay as motivated as she.

 What I’ve learnt today:

This entry was posted in buddhism, cape town, motivation, muay thai and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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