Why do we do anything we do? From primal urges to impulse buys, there’s motivation behind every simple thing we do, even if we’re not giving it conscious thought.
Sometimes after a string of hectic days I get to the point where I feel frazzled and tired and confused, and I find myself asking, “Why am I even doing this?” Some days I can answer that question fairly easily, which keeps me from going back to bed to hide under the covers. But when the answer is, “I honestly have no idea,” it makes me take a couple of steps backward to see how I got to the point to where I no longer feel connected to what I’m doing.
There are a lot of ideas lurking behind why we do things, and I found motivations falling into a few different categories–and finding some really interesting insights as to who’s really making my choices.
This has become a fun little game for me now—a multiple choice test that has produced everything from snorts of laughter to some fairly profound revelations.
The game: Why am I ___________ today?
a) Tradition: the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way. (I group nostalgia in here too.)
b) Habit: a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
c) Obedience: compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.
d) Obligation: an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.
e) Desire: a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.
f) Love: an intense feeling of deep affection.
(Note: all definitions taken from the Oxford English Dictionary online.)
So just for fun, here’s this: Why is ham always served at my family’s Easter dinner?
Tradition is one reason, full of memories of family Easter dinners from years before—but it doesn’t really have anything to do with Easter, or the actual ham itself. It could also be habit, but again, not actually about the ham. It could also be obedience—which could actually be about the ham in some cases, but the motivation is based on someone else’s—not yours, and trust me, probably not the ham’s. Obligation is also external motivation. Desire? That’s where it really begins to connect to you personally. Desire to eat ham? Desire to prepare ham in order to please your family? What’s your desire really for?
And finally, love. Well, no, definitely not for the ham. I think love is probably for non-ham-related motivations. It’s more deep-seated, intrinsic motivation. It’s more personal.
The last time I played the game, it was, “Why am I going to the gym today?” It definitely wasn’t tradition. It could’ve been habit, though it wasn’t that day. It could’ve been obedience, because my doctor wants me to achieve certain health goals. It could’ve been obligation, because I’m paying for my membership, or because my health plan gives me a discount if I go a certain number of times per month. And that particular day, let me say it definitely wasn’t desire.
No, I went to the gym out of love.
Recently, a friend of mine related some advice he received about the nature of discipline—that discipline was not about being punished or forcing yourself to do something you didn’t like just because you know it’s good for you. She told him to remember that discipline was based on the idea of being a disciple—a committed follower of someone or something you loved. And so her advice to him was this: discipline is remembering what you love.
I went to the gym because I’ve learned to love my heart and my lungs and my muscles and showing up at the gym is my way of telling them that. I love my completely beat-up running shoes that have run more miles than they ever thought they would run. I love feeling completely out of breath but strong and resilient. I love feeling alive.
And so I am a disciple of feeling alive, which is why I lift the weights and run the miles and say thanks to my heart and lungs and muscles for working hard for me. And then I drag myself up the gym steps (because, don’t get me wrong, I’m elated but completely exhausted), and pass the tennis courts and think to myself, “Interesting… love means ‘nothing’ in tennis.” That’s about keeping score. That’s not love–for me, at least.
But, thankfully, I don’t play tennis.