Whenever I don’t yet feel up for a challenge or able to tackle something I should be working on, what I find myself saying is, “I’m just not feeling motivated right now.” We all say it, we all hear it, but worst of all, we all misunderstand it.

I cannot for the life of me remember where I read it, but something jumped out to me a couple months ago. I can only paraphrase, but the gist of the idea was that motivation as we know it simply doesn’t matter. We talk about not being or feeling motivated to do everything from starting to look for a new job, to working out and getting in shape, to reading a book we know will light a fire under us, to ditching a bad habit. Nothing is really off limits for “I’m not motivated.”

But how many of those things are truly optional when you stop to think about it?

Let me pose a more concise question: are we obligated to better ourselves?

I think that most Christian or at least “spiritual” people would say yes, even if only for the sake of good karma coming back to us.

So let me make a couple statements here that most of us can agree on:

People should do good.

Some things are more good than others.

Given a reasonable option, we should always choose to do what is “more good.”

So one could say we have an obligation (or duty) to do good things, or make choices that improve ourselves, our situation, and those around us, if possible.

Hopefully we can at least mostly agree on this conclusion. (If we can’t, drop a comment and tell me why.) So let me get back to the original topic of motivation. How do these things relate to one another?

We have to distinguish between duties and extras. Is it our duty to try to provide for ourselves and our families? Yes. So not being motivated to find a job is ludicrous. Is it our duty to take care of our bodies and keep ourselves healthy? Yes. So not being motivated to eat well and get exercise is ludicrous. Is it our duty to keep our minds sharp and continue learning or improving ourselves? We have established that it is, so, does motivation matter?

When it comes to duty, we really don’t have the option to not be motivated.

When it’s an extra – that is when we have an option. Are you motivated to learn to be a professional opera singer? No. So if you aren’t feeling motivated to do that, it isn’t a big deal. Not motivated to learn the Russian alphabet? No biggie. Not motivated to go big game hunting? No worries.

So duty… that is where we are so often led astray in our thinking. In my position in life it is my duty to take care of my infant, to prepare meals for my husband, to keep our home in order, to take care of my own health, etc. None of those things are optional extras. If I choose not to do them because I’m “not motivated,” I am shirking my responsibilities and not doing my best. If my husband decides not to go to work for a week because he’s “not motivated” it doesn’t fly. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Try some slightly clearer examples: Does a doctor have to be motivated to save every patient? Does a fire fighter have to be motivated to pull you out of a fire? Do motorists have to be motivated to drive cautiously? The answers to these are easy because we automatically see the responsibility of these people. But every other walk of life also has responsibilities that are not optional.

There are so many things we are all skipping doing on a day to day basis and telling ourselves we will get to it later because we just weren’t motivated enough today, but maybe tomorrow we will be. But how long can we get away with that? What about when the motivation just doesn’t show up? We have to train ourselves to fall back on duty, and let that lead our actions!

Let me tell you, I haven’t felt motivated to do much other than sleep since my baby was born, but if that’s all I’d done, my poor family would suffer. There are still days where that happens. But I make myself start laundry, even if I fold it late. And I make myself cook dinner, even if it isn’t exceptional. And I make myself go grocery shopping, even if I forget half the list. And starting this week I’m making myself begin getting back in shape, even if all I can do is low key pilates for 15 minutes a day. It is my duty to do these things, especially when I am not motivated to do them. At these times they are even more meritorious.

So, to whomever wrote or said something a couple months ago, thank you. It didn’t motivate me, if I can make that joke, but it did remind me what my duties are. And even if it has only helped me move at a sluggish pace in the right direction, I am grateful that I am moving.

At the end of the day it’s almost a relief to not think I have to wait for motivation to strike before beginning to do my best, because it often doesn’t come. Sometimes I still do wish I had that cop out. But I don’t, so I try remember that it is the devil who tries to convince us our duties require motivation, because as soon as we think that, we stop doing them, and as soon as we stop doing them, we are his.

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