Who hasn’t had to deal with, at a certain point in their lives, with issues of motivation, when having to finish something and not being able to do it, simply because you don’t feel like it, feeling blocked, in a process of struggle, irritated, worn out.
Even though motivational courses show up on the internet every day, reiterating with the latest babbling of our self-help digital days, what Tchaikovsky so wisely said: “A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood”, you just can’t do it. One does folds one’s own hands, feeling highly unmotivated, maybe because of exhaustion, trying to cope with so much stuff to do.
I will tell you a story. Today, I took a day off. I went to the park in the morning, and then I sat at home, while listening to music. I turned on my own personal “YouTube radio”, and I looked for a specific song. I clicked on it and I heard it again. I have been listening it for the past few days, because that song makes me travel. The song has the pace of a driving car, on a fast secure ride, a ride on the motorway, taking me to some kind of place, some destiny.
In it I am a passenger.
“I am a passenger And I ride and I ride I ride through the city’s backside I see the stars come out of the sky.”
Who wrote it was James Newell Osterberg, or rather Iggy Pop, in 1977, in a moment of sudden inspiration when travelling with the S-Bahn in Berlin. Back then, Iggy Pop lived in Berlin, sharing a flat with David Bowie. The two friends had decided to get away from London’s busy night scene, to wean themselves off their drug habits. Obviously, their choice of Berlin as a calmer and healthier environment, didn’t serve their purpose in the best possible way. During the seventies, the city had a thriving nightlife, which made it hard to resist its usual hedonistic lifestyle. But Berlin had definitely produced some kind of soothing effect on the soul of Iggy Pop, and his song “The Passenger” was the result of a series of moments of inspiration.
The captivating song, is said to praise the nomadic spirit of the punk outcast, through the grave warmth of Iggy Pop’s voice, and the song’s off-beat syncopated rhythm, alluding to the balanced flow of a ride through the metropolis. “The Passenger” has a riff made by David Bowie singing the repeated “La-La-La”s in the chorus, and a captivating melody, written by Ricky Gardiner. Gardiner had also become inspired when strumming on his guitar while sitting under a tree, in his home by the countryside. By mimmicking so well the lulling motion of a train, the song invites us to become passengers while moving through the flow of Berlin´s life.
What is the connection of “The Passenger” to motivation? Motivation comes from an ancient word invented by the romans : motivus. According to its Medieval Latin origin, motivus means “moving, impelling” . Plainly, motivation means to move. Which explains why Iggy Pop´s song is so powerful. Even though we tend to forget it, we are all passengers that one day entered a dark channel to arrive here, to planet Earth. Since that day, we have been moving and moving, entering and exiting railway stations, motorways, paths, airports. We are travelers passing through the tunnel of life, and always “on the move” be it through the time space of Berlin´s U Bahn, London´s underground or the metro in Paris.
But if to move is the origin of motivation, why it is so difficult to feel always motivated to do what we have to do? How come the “seven steps on how to be more motivated” just don’t seem to work? We buy the books, we listen to motivational talks, and we try to feel better for a few days, imbued with a burst of energy. But quickly one feels empty in a matter of weeks, absolutely turned off, not motivated at all to do all that we want and need to do. There are others that do feel motivated, and to those overachievers, the productive ones, another different sensation might happen: a constant feeling of struggle, never happy with what they do and have already achieved, aiming permanently to be more and do more, while feeling constantly tired, stressed, unfulfilled.
Where is the end of the road
Why is that? Is it really true that we need to “work hard” to achieve our dreams, by relying on some motivational plan ? Will that plan really lead us, by the end of the road, to be more productive, and achieve success ? (And what is success ? and where is the end of the road ? )
The trick could reside in finding the pace. But first we need to look at the “road”. If we are always “on the move” we are always traveling through some kind of road, both with our body and our thoughts, and within a certain kind of pace. Say, when you are sitting in the sofa doing “nothing” we might actually be extremely active, while struggling, engulfed by a swirl of thoughts on the anguish of procrastination. Or you might be having the most amazing idea ever, after having relaxed for a while. In either case, you are moving, because that is what humans do. We move in circles, swirls, linearly or in whatever way, both with our brain and our body. Either we like it or not, we are definitely always moving.
Our biological nature makes us very similar to growing flowers, streaming rivers, self programmed to be “on the move”, motivated, always, permanently engaged on effortless processes of transformation. The difference is that flowers don’t stay a whole day lying on the sofa, thinking how unmotivated they are to grow up and blossom. Flowers don’t program their iphones to have chunks of productive, focused time, interrupted by 20 minutes of relaxion, as a method to achieve their desire goal: a glorious moment of blossom, happening on a beautiful spring day.
Pareto’s Law and The Principle of Least Effort
If we are biologically very similar to flowers, we are not flowers. We are thinking beings living in an environment where there is an entrenched culture of “hard work”, a culture driven by values such as success and competition. Since childhood, we are socialized to the idea that it is necessary to force oneself to do unpleasant things, because “that’s life” and with “no pain, no gain”.
But is it really true that we need to struggle? Or could we also live in an effortless way by applying to our lives the principle of economy of expenditure of energy, that flowers so wisely use?
The principle of least effort, which is a broad theory that covers diverse fields ranging from linguistics, to information systems, and evolutionary embriology, postulates that animals, people, and even well designed machines will naturally choose the path of least resistance or “effort”. The theory was studied by many different people, and in its various fields, and it has received different names, such as Zipf’s Law, named after an Harvard’s linguist called George Zipf. Zipf proposed in his book “Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort” that “one single primary principle in any human action, including verbal communication is the expenditure of the least amount of effort to accomplish a task”.
Another development of the principle of least effort, is explored in the book Living The 80/20 Way written by businessman Richard Koch. Richard Koch developed his book by studying Pareto’s Law.
Pareto was an Italian economist from the beginning of the twentieth century that one day discovered that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. He discovered as well that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population, that 1% of words (and their derivatives) in the English language account for 80% of common speech and that 1.3% of movies earn 80% of box office revenues. Richard Koch developed Pareto’s ideas to write his book, aiming to convince business people that if 80 percent of your outcomes come from 20 percent of your inputs, you have to take it easy, by simply identifying and focusing your efforts on the 20 percent that really counts. As such, he says, you can achieve much more with much less effort, time, and resources.
The Flow Of Flappy Bird
To live in an “effortless way” feeling always motivated, can be achieved, if we embrace the feeling of the “motion” the “motus”, i.e. if we are able to embody the flow, taking life as if we are passengers on a ride, while observing the rhythm of that movement, while grasping our own balance.
There is a new game, super popular and addictive, called flappy bird, that is the perfect metaphor for gaining your flow: the game consists of a little vintage bird, flying through a city filled with a series of green pipes. As players, we control the movement of the bird by tapping the screen, avoiding coming into contact with the green pipes.
The app was hugely successful, but the game was considered so addictive that its developer, the vietnamese Dong Nguyen took it out of Apps store. And even though some consider it as being difficult, there is a trick to play it: one has to find the balance. If one plays rhythmically, by tapping your finger at a regular pace, but being able to change and readjust the tapping as a way to gain a new balance after each obstacle, we can play eternally, moving our little bird through pipes and pipes. We go with the flow, and travel through the city, like passengers.
Curiously, Dong Nguyen, who grew up in Van Phuc, a village outside Hanoi, said one day that the reason that lead him to invent flappy bird, resided in his wish to make a simple game for people who are “always on the move”. Which is what motivation means : “on the move” all the time finding and being the right balance, while journeying through life.
Maria Fonseca is the Editor and Infographic Artist for IntelligentHQ. She is also a thought leader writing about social innovation, sharing economy, social business, and the commons. Aside her work for IntelligentHQ, Maria Fonseca is a visual artist and filmmaker that has exhibited widely in international events such as Manifesta 5, Sao Paulo Biennial, Photo Espana, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Joshibi University and many others. She concluded her PhD on essayistic filmmaking , taken at University of Westminster in London and is preparing her post doc that will explore the links between creativity and the sharing economy.