Lately, I've been asked:
There are two answers that immediately come to mind.
The Easy Answer
I see it in artists, dancers, and especially bodybuilders. Motivation through being continuously dissatisfied with the current state of things, and pushing to change it. Whether it’s in themselves, or something in the world. I call this the "Dissatisfaction Method".
We’ve all felt this to some degree.
“I hate consuming so much television”. Or “I hate my bodyfat percentage”, or “I hate that I suck at art”.
It’s quite a negative way of thinking, but in terms of motivation, it can make one’s skill succeed if there’s a clear goal and they’re working on the right path.
Friedrich Schiller - German Poet, wrote the well renown poem Ode to Joy. The poem was so great, Beethoven later adopted it in his Ninth Symphony and thought Schiller to be a genius. However, despite the praise, Schiller thought the poem was terrible, of little value, and not good enough for the ‘art of poetry’.
Should we aim for Schiller like greatness at the cost of our own happiness?
Using the dissatisfaction method, one can push themselves via sticking to a routine, having discipline, and keeping the goal in mind at all times. Through dedication, and through time, they may achieve great skill.
However, it is important to be aware of two huge pitfalls in this mentality.
1. The Constant Dissatisfaction.
An obvious fault with the "Dissatisfaction Method" is in the name. One has to constantly stay dissatisfied to keep up the motivation.
Once one is no longer dissatisfied, they can no longer use that energy to fuel their motivation. Their progress may start to flat line, and they may even get bored and leave their skill entirely.
But more importantly, is that, in being dissatisfied all the time, one never feels satisfied at the finish point. There is no 'finish point' for this individual. The goals keep moving higher and higher, and the dissatisfaction stays with them forever, regardless of any achievements they may make.
What I mean is this: the kind of motivation the "change is needed" mentality gives you is based on yourself feeling disturbed about something. If you're not extremely disturbed about how weak you are, how bad you are, or how terrible the world is- it's hard to justify dedicating much effort to changing it (For more info, Anthony Robins talks about disturbing oneself to cause change in his book Get The Edge)
2. Failure if unlucky
The second issue with the dissatisfaction method is: What if one is disciplined, training everyday, but not on the right path?
Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice only makes permanent.
What if one hasn't analysed the goal well enough, and are practicing daily the wrong thing? What if the method someone has taught them, leads to a different goal? They may very well end up not mastering the intended skill in best case scenario, or in worse case scenario damage their own health.
If this occurs, the obvious answer is to change course. But in practice it’s much harder than it sounds. And many times it can hurt to know you've spent countless years on the wrong thing. Which sucks. And makes many people quit.
The reason why I'm so passionate about avoiding this mentality, is because it used to be me.
I've previously had this mentality. The "Keep pushing, keep trying harder. Don't ever stop. You're not trying hard enough. Not enough hours yet!" (Didn't help to have Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours be screamed across the internet)
Because, even with a goal in mind, if you're not lucky enough to be on 'the right path' you're going to get screwed. Just because I worked 12 hours a day and was dedicated to training breakdance afterwards past midnight, didn't count for anything. I felt good about myself, because I had 'worked hard' in the moment. But through time the results told otherwise. I incorrectly did flares for 3 years and destroyed my right wrist in the process. I couldn't bare any weight on it, and although the pain sucked, the fact that I wasn't getting closer to the move sucked even more.
Conclusion: If one is not lucky, practice and discipline might not work. If one then doesn’t achieve their goals after much practice and discipline, it sucks.
Part Two: Curiosity as a habit
Sorry that it doesn't sound very macho- but, I'm not even trying to push myself. Atleast in the conventional way.
The idea of 'pushing myself' is just a habit.
For example 'learning music', now has become a habit.
I am so used to hearing music and wanting to know how the song works analytically. Where are the home and tension points? What is it doing?
I'm not dissatisfied in not knowing how it all works, because I don't expect myself to. Yet at the same time, I am able to stay curious and want to learn more.
This may sound strange in the context of music- but the exact same idea is super common in cooking.
When you go outside and eat, there is probably someone you know, that tries to understand how each dish is cooked, and what ingredients are used. They don't think about "pushing themselves to understand", it's a habit/quirk they've already picked up. The mentality has been engrained in them stemming from curiosity.
Personally, with food I am simple. I eat food and don't question it.
I taste and not question the cook. Whereas some people hear music and not question the composer.
It's the same.
People who like to analyse music, just like to question the creator of music. The composer, producer, or musician. Through time, they will likely understand the things they like. They will know how it's both created and consumed.
It's a snowball of curiosity. Whatever someone does, it is likely that that's what they will continue doing. And through time, those habits will define them.
So instead of being dissatisfied to work hard, can we just be satisfied in working hard? We're all just rolling in our own snowballs. Why not embrace the cold?
There's this Issac Newton quote that I like. You've probably seen it somewhere before on the internet.
Whatever we do snowballs. And it keeps going unless we decide upon major change.
So whenever I see someone changing snowballs, or changing habits, it's amazing.