Friday, May 21, 2010

Motivational Nonsense

The motivational business is a huge market. It promises its customers instant success. But just like most businesses which promise quick fixes, the motivational business has its own share of irrationality.

Success is dependent on a lot of factors, of which one of the important things is random chance. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you will not succeed. At the other extreme you see people who get everything they want without making any effort. That is life. It sucks. The best thing you could do is to accept it and move on, something which the motivational media ignores to tell you. You might say I'm pessimistic. I'm not. The fact that I know that life is random makes me accept unfavorable situations calmly. I don't torture myself with silly questions like "Why me?" and "What did I do wrong?".

The main tool used by motivational business to inspire is anecdotes. But when those anecdotes involve animals, things get absurd. They say to seek inspiration from the fact that an ant can carry 50 times its own weight. But what they will not tell you is, if an ant were to grow to the size of a human, it would collapse under its own weight. So who is the more capable life form here?

Eagles, tigers, lions and wolves are other favorites in the motivational business. Rather than identifying limits of human capabilities and working around them, the motivational business offers feel good examples about the amazing capabilities of other animals. As long as you are reading/hearing the anecdotes you will feel ecstatic, feel a surge of energy which rears you to go do something. But the real world is vastly different from these fantasies and when you try to practice those motivational steps, you are bound to fail and get even more depressed.

When religion gets involved with motivation, things get even more nonsensical. Instead of relying on stories of successful humans and animals with special capabilities, with religion you rely on pure myth. You chase an abstract and unreal goal. Instead of spending time on understanding the world around you, religion goads you to know the "fact" that reality is an illusion and makes you believe that fantasy is real.

So beware of motivational stories. Ask yourself "Does this translate into the real world?". In most cases they don't. You'll find that you'd be much better off reading The Lord of The Rings.


astrokid.nj said...

This is a good post.
1) People need to understand the random chance aspect of life. I have heard many people bitching "Why me?". Instead they turn to religion which suggests that God is in control, he can be appeased in so and so ways, blah blah. How much time, money and effort is wasted on this..
2) You make a really good observation on motivational speaking, and irrelevant feel-good stories. I heard of Wayne Dyer through an acquaintance, and I happened to see his lecture on TV once. He told a story of a handicapped boy, how he ended up participating in some baseball game, and united/brought forth altruistic behaviour amongst both teams, etc. At the end of the story, much of the audience was in tears.
People seem to want feel good stories all the time. Thats why even feel-good movies are so successful. In this quest for feel good stories, we lose grounding in reality. I feel science education and critical thinking are the only antidotes.