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  • Writer's pictureKathie Scalf

The M Word



If you know me personally, you know there’s hardly a word in the English language – and some others – that is off limits.  I’ve got a mouth like a sailor which my mother hates, but I consider necessary to be able to accurately convey my emotions.  F bombs, C words, and even the universally hated ‘moist’ are welcome within my vocabulary.  However, there is one word I’ve grown to despise with the fire of a thousand suns, and the older I get the more loathsome I find it.  This word and its entire concept is annoying, childish and dangerously misleading. 

The word is:  Motivation.   

At the end of last week’s column, I touched on ‘motivation’ and how it’s great to get you started, but it’s a fleeting emotion that can’t be sustained.  That’s because motivation isn’t real; it’s a word assigned to the feeling you get as the result of a chemical reaction inside your brain that came from some other intake/output action within your body.  To make a long story short, it’s just dopamine.  That’s right, the burst of energy you had that caused you to unexpectedly clean out your closet is the same devil that will drive a drug addict to literally kill themselves with a substance.  Dopamine is the feel-good chemical that triggers the “reward” part of your brain; it’s natural release is inconsistent, which is why it’s not sustainable.  That’s also why it can do as much damage as it can do good for a person; when dopamine is released, it feels great so naturally we want more of it.  This can lead some people to habitually chase that feeling from another external, superficial source (a drug, gambling, sex, etc.) and that is the root of addiction.  

But back to the reason behind my hatred of the word ‘motivation.’  The health industry has misued this term to a degree that it is detrimental, as a way to keep you – the consumer - like a drug addict, chasing this intangible feeling and keeping them in business.  “This product will motivate you, this app motivates people to lose 20 + pounds in 4 weeks, learn how to become more motivated in 2024!”  There is no product or outside resource that will help you be a productive human, because the root of success and positive outcome is actually self-discipline.  

Nothing curdles my milk quicker than hearing a grown adult say “I’ve just got NO motivation today,” as they lie on their couch scrolling on their phone.  Or when they blame “lack of motivation” for why they stopped going to the gym.  I much prefer someone to take accountability for their inactions and simply say, “my productivity is not a priority today.”  When you shift blame outwardly to an intangible concept like motivation instead of owning up to your own bad behavior, it’s the same as a child breaking something and blaming their imaginary friend.  

As adults, we do stuff every single day that we don’t want to do and it’s not because we’re ‘motivated.’  Why do you get up and go to the same job every morning?  Is it because you’re motivated?  No.  It’s because you have to provide for your family.  If you fail to do so, there is an immediate consequence for your action, so it’s non-negotiable; you don’t even consider the option of lying in bed or quitting without a backup as being viable.  

I recently switched my dog’s food and like clockwork for the last 3 nights he has woken me up at 2:30 in the morning to go to the bathroom.  I most certainly am not motivated to get out of my warm bed and stand outside in the 20 degree temperatures wearing a bathrobe, but the alternative is to spend 2 hours cleaning up a smelly mess from my carpet, so it’s also a non-negotiable.  

If we all relied on ‘motivation’ to engage our productivity, we would live in squalor.  At my core, I am the laziest human on earth; if it were up to me, I would eternally stay in my bed like Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka.  But the reality is, it’s non-negotiable for me and most other people to routinely clean our homes and conduct business to maintain our lifestyles.  

Why is it then, that we don’t prioritize our most valuable asset – our health – the same as these other non-negotiables?  We wait for ‘motivation’ to come along to make changes, and then drop them as soon as the ‘motivation’ leaves.  The answer is to simply make the switch in your mind and make a healthy diet and daily exercise just another non-negotiable like brushing your teeth.  You have to assign the same importance of getting your heartrate up at least 30 minutes a day as you do to changing your kids diaper in the middle of the night; you might not feel like it, you might be having the best sleep of your life, but it must be done.  

Stop making childish excuses and just do what needs to be done.  It’s that simple.  Check your screentime on social media, then explain out loud why you can’t track your meals on an app. If you’ve got 4 + hours a day to scroll on Instagram and TikTok, there’s no reason why you can’t get in the habit of logging your food in MyFitnessPal.  Its just that habitually watching other people’s lives is more of a priority than taking action in your own. If you’ve got hours every night to binge a show on Netflix, you’ve got 30 minutes to break a sweat, you just have to stop waiting for the motivation to hit you, get out of bed and get it over with.  

I am not perfect, and I don’t expect anyone else to be.  There are bad days for me too; there are nights I sleep in my makeup and mornings I skip my cardio.  Rest is as important to health as activity and no one is going to have a 100% track record of successes.  Curating the self-discipline to make these healthy life choices part of your norm is what will drive you to get back on track quickly when you falter.  If I fall asleep in my makeup I am so uncomfortable the next morning I can’t wait to scrub my face; likewise, when I over-indulge at a business dinner in the evening, I’m chomping at the bits to wake up and hit the treadmill the next day to alleviate the uncomfortable feeling.  You have to re-route the dopamine release that comes from artificial choices (scrolling, binging, sugar, snoozing) and source it organically from wholesome food choices and physical activity.  And most of all, you have to make it a non-negotiable.  

So in 2024, let’s all scrub the M word from our vocabulary and replace it with accountability, priorities, and discipline! 


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