A new friend recently asked me how I motivate myself to do all the practices that keep me well. He finds it hard to believe that I prioritize spending time every morning tending to body, mind, and spirit. It all feels like a chore to him even though he sees the value in putting in the effort to influence the inflammation and mood disorder that plague him consistently.
My short answer is, I’m motivated by a desire to avoid pain. Secondarily by the desire to actually feel good. Because I know that when I regularly tend to myself, my baseline hovers between content and joyful, and I like it there! I wish I had some lofty, awakened, altruistic piece to add, but really it’s the age-old strategy of avoiding pain and seeking pleasure that fuels my efforts.
Decades of experimentation have revealed a personalized formula that is consistently reviewed and adjusted, but more or less ongoing. I meditate first thing in the morning because it gets me in touch with my deepest self and internal wisdom. It feels good to experience this connection while starting my day off intentionally. I like to spend a few minutes reading something inspirational to elevate my mood. Currently, “The Four Agreements” sits on my coffee table, next to my journal, where I flush out all the thoughts, helpful and unhelpful, onto the page to clear my mind.
This sets the stage for creative writing, which is my current challenge in terms of motivation. When I make the time to express myself, a wonderful sense of purpose and joy emerges. My body needs some sort of activity to prevent pain and potentially enjoy pleasure. I have chosen a “movement” practice, often dancing or bouncing, sometimes yoga or hiking, because that sounds a lot more inviting than “exercise”. Just that word brings up dread! And to top it off, I nourish myself. I’ve come upon the perfect combination of macros that works for me and keeps me satisfied and stable for several hours.
A good part of making all this happen is the devotion. I’ve decided that these efforts are valuable, and designed them to fit into my life in a way that best suits my needs and availability. I’m a morning person, so I load up on the yummy stuff that allows me to coast through the day, and rest in the evening when my energy drops. This isn’t a good plan for everyone, but it totally works for me. Your plan should work for YOU!
Another piece of the puzzle is planning. Breakfast doesn’t happen but looking in the cupboard at the last minute and wondering how mustard and noodles can become a nourishing dish. I keep myself set up for all these steps, which is why the book, the journal, and the pens are all within easy reach and my tea kettle gets set up before bed. Today I managed a visit to the farmers market before before work so I would have a stocked frig and the opportunity to do some food prep on my day off.
So we have devotion and preparation as two key elements. The third is Reiki. My daily Reiki practice is intended to heal and support myself. This helps remove any blockages so that I can remember why I go through all these steps every day. To FEEL GOOD. It also helps me when the resistance arises- not to squash it, but to investigate and then compassionately tend to the parts of myself that have other ideas about how to best use my morning. There’s often a negotiation that ensues, with younger aspects of myself demanding freedom. They get their say, and often a promise for downtime or screen time later in the day, and I allow my mature self to make the decisions.
Another helpful factor is setting the bar reasonably low, AKA setting myself up for success. My movement commitment is an easy 10 minutes. Once I get going, I usually continue longer than that, but having such a doable goal makes it much easier to begin. If I faced an hour-long goal, it would feel oppressive and I’d likely make all sorts of excuses to avoid it altogether.
Now, there are some other items on my to-do list that don’t respond to this same strategy. Things I don’t actually want to do are an entirely different story! I think it’s important to acknowledge this. If there’s something you continually aren’t doing, there’s a good chance you’re just not into it. Is it negotiable? Often we carry the “shoulds” from cultural or familial programming and once we realize that this “should” isn’t in alignment with our own desires, it can be liberating to let it go.
Other items might be obligatory. Like vacuuming. UGH! I don’t like vacuuming one bit. But I do enjoy having a clean floor, so I focus on the end result and offer myself a reward (a leisurely walk or a hot bath, for example) for accomplishing the less-than-pleasant task.
To sum it all up, I don’t really need to motivate much because I like pleasure and dislike pain. Over time, I’m made consistent baby steps and created the circumstances to move in that direction. Meditation was first. The rest followed, bit by bit. Most of my good habits were developed on an average of one per year. That’s both doable and has an amazing cumulative effect when you keep at it. It’s not to hard to keep at it when you are enjoying the rewards and have Reiki on your side.