The Demotivating Power Of Motivation

Those workout motivational quotes may not be working out that well for you.

Hey, asshole, what’s up with the demotivational shit? Aren’t you supposed to be doing the opposite? Why’re ya such a dick?

– you (…because I know you’re thinking it)

Trust me when I say that I’ve been doing this fitness thing for a while…

…and NEVER during that time have I said to myself, “Self, you better read some shit on success, life, goals, blah, before you go to the gym and hoist those heavy ass weights.”

But check your social media feed, and what do you spy about the accounts of the gym rats and fitness professionals that you actively (or ghost) follow?

Twenty quadrillion dollars is waiting here just for you if you DON’T say, “Why, Monster, I see a shitload of inspirational statements in a stylized font on a solid background or superimposed over an artistic image that has virtually nothing to do with the quote…like, perhaps, a babbling brook, beautiful mountain range, pride of lions.”

People are obsessed with these bad boys! They’re all the rage.

The logic behind the posting of this shit is that whosoever reads it will be given much needed motivation to start, continue, see to completion, their goal to eat better and live a more active lifestyle. This line of thinking is thanks in large part to Norman Vincent Peale.

I. He Dares Blaspheme!

My good man or woman, before you go “Who the bleepity bleep is Norman Vincent Peale?,” lemme tell ya he’s the founding leader of the cult you probably didn’t even know you’re a member of.

American society is primarily made up of worshipers of his positive thinking gospel, which says that if you believe it, you can have it, or be it, or do it, because the achievement of whatever you hope for in the future is dependent on your present belief — so if you think happy thoughts, you’ll be happy; if you envision the best possible outcome, then it’ll happen; if someone you don’t know from Adam and will never meet in life posts something about how much of a winner you are, then just read it and really, really believe it deep down in your wittle, wittle heart and then, by George, you’ll be a winner!

Just banish all negative thoughts from your mind.

You’ll be better for it the sooner you blow rainbows and unicorns up your ass!

Welp, I’m sorry (not really) to break it to you, but it doesn’t work like that.

Whoa there, whoa!!!

What’s with the pitchforks and flaming torches?!

I beg of you, don’t be in such a rush to burn me at the stake for heresy…

…burn contemporary psychologists!

II. Say It With More Conviction

Motivational quotes to help you through your workout come in three forms. The first is the chipper shit I’m sure you’ve seen posted on Facebook, Twitter, name your social media platform, along the lines of “I can do this,” “You cannot destroy me,” “I’m so hardcore that my workout clothes should come with a cape”.

These are known as affirmations, positive statements about oneself that are intended to elevate a person’s mood and confidence. They’re helpful to frequently say to yourself, especially before a stressful or challenging event, right? Eh…not so much, says Joanne Wood of the University of Waterloo.

Based on her findings, those with high self-esteem receive a little bit of a boost from self-affirmations. But who really cares, though. After all, they don’t really need the bump since they already believe in themselves. The critical question is what do affirmations do for those with low self-esteem.

Well, it turns out that for those who were in need of all the help they could get, self-affirmations made them feel worse, not better. Why? Because your being so hardcore that your workout clothes should come with a cape has the built-in internal counterargument that you’re really a pussy. And persons dealing with low self-esteem are inclined to discount the positive statement in favor of the other. When they do this, they end up feeling worse than before because of their failure to respond to the affirmation as they thought they should.

III. Ain’t That A Sight?

Positive visualization, or focusing on a mental image in order to achieve a particular goal, doesn’t fare much better. Twenty-plus years of research by New York University’s Gabriele Oettingen suggests that this technique doesn’t necessarily lead to successful outcomes because it fails to help its thinker generate energy to pursue the desired change to their life, health, destiny.

Ya see, it’s inspiring to repeat those words plastered over that rock hard #fitspo chick on your Tumblr and visualize yourself looking like her, but the approach ultimately backfires because it fools the mind into relaxing as if that’s all that needs to be done to achieve success — not actual effort to transform yourself from Jennifer Walters to the Sensational She-Hulk.

Simply stated, the mind behaves as if we’ve already reached our desired future, achieved our objective, despite our not even lifting a finger to do shit.

IV. All N My Grill

The third type of motivation would be something in the line of “Fat, I’m going to burn you – I promise.” But it need not be a particular quote. No, the type of motivation in question very well applies to the constant bombardment of fitness inspiration meant to help people keep their goal smack dab in front of their face.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with setting goals but focusing a wee bit too much on them is a recipe for disaster.

The explanation why can be found in a joint study conducted by Ayelet Fishbach and Jinhee Choi of the University of Chicago and the Korea Business School, respectively.

The pair rounded up over a hundred college students and put them through a treadmill exercise where one group was told to focus on their goals and another on the workout itself. Those who were instructed to concentrate on their goal of losing weight, for example, mostly said they planned to run much longer than those who were told to simply think about stretching, running, wondering why the fuck ABBA is on their workout playlist but “Eye of the Tiger” is nowhere to be found, whatever. The funny thing is that despite their best-laid plans, the goal-focused group ended up running for much less time and found it to be more of an effort than the group focused solely on the experience of running. 

The lesson learned through this experiment, as well as a series of similar others, is that while having your eyes on the prize might boost your intention to do something, it spoils your experience of the activities you’ll need to pursue in order to achieve your goals. What happens is that the activity is stripped of whatever inherent pleasure there might have been and is turned into a chore, which decreases your interest and improves the odds that you’ll quit early in the execution phase and fail to reach the very goals that you’re so dead set on.

V. What A Downer!

What all of this amounts to, for the most part, is that positive fantasies about the future predict poor achievement. This happens to be something that spiritual teachers like Buddha and philosophers like Seneca, Epictetus, and the Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome knew long before the fancy scientific evidence of the kids we grew up giving wedgies to (y’know, “researchers”).

But really, why should we have believed those toga wearing dumbfucks? I mean, they were sooooooo smart, right? Well, where the hell were their iPhones? HDTVs? Hoverboards (that, for some strange reason, don’t fucking HOVER at all)? Huh? Fuck, they couldn’t even invent trousers!!! Hahahahaha…what mo-rons! Bah-foons, I tell ya!!!

Anyway, their thinking was that rah-rah shit doesn’t reduce the anxiety-producing power of the future but actually intensifies it by you not coming to grips with all that can go wrong and realizing that you can indeed cope with whatever happens. That’s not the case when you listen to, rather than ignore, your inner critic.

It so happens that when you focus on the worst-case scenario rather than the best — behave like a Debbie Downer or Gloomy Gus — the obstacles to success that are standing in your way aren’t glossed over. And because you’re well aware of the hurdles you may face and come to understand the potential risks, fear no longer plays a part in your thought process. Consequently, you’re more likely to believe in your ability to do something than be discouraged; act toward your goal instead of just dream about it; and see to its completion instead of throw in the towel.

Don’t quote me on it, but here’s a thought…

Given psychological data and that, for example, a staggering 73% of people who set fitness goals as New Year’s resolutions fail to reach them despite the inundation of “encouragement,” maybe, just maybe, we could chill the fuck out with the motivational dreck that may actually be more harmful than it is helpful.

…oh, yeah, and doing so would help clean up my fucking timeline without me having to sort through and delete so many people! Were I to do that, how else could we vicariously live through each other?!

Am I just a dude with a storm cloud over his head who’s trying to rain on everyone’s parade? Do you find that reading motivational quotes right before hitting the gym helps you go all beast mode and shit? Sure that’s not just the pre-workout? Cocaine? Hahaha…but really.
Any opinions, questions, concerns or you just wanna arrange a time and place to punch me in the face?
…Oh, you really do have something to say?!?! I was just being polite. Well, go ahead…let it out…if you must!
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