Why write?

I’ve been writing for about fifteen years in various capacities.

Journaling, fiction, opinion pieces, work projects, blogging, and non-fiction books and articles.

Motivation is the most significant component throughout all of my writing. Most conspicuous in its absence, motivation is the difference between a finished article and an unfinished stub of an idea.

What moves you to write?

I’ve experimented with different motivations over the years. The promise of financial rewards worked…once. The hope of finding a purpose and meaning in life kept me going for a while.

For a long time my motivation was helping people by sharing insights and perspectives that I found valuable.

But that motivation took a hit as I eventually realised my insights and perspectives don’t help people. People help themselves, and they find the right material at the right time. Aka “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

My remaining motivation had to be entirely self-centred. If I can’t help others, all that’s left is helping myself. So I wrote to express and crystallise my own thoughts.

But lately I’ve been wondering if even that is beneficial. Endless rumination doesn’t help me. So why continue writing?

The end of objectivity

Recently I learned that I’ve been operating under a false premise when it comes to my own motivations and choices.

As an ethicist, I not only accepted but also internalised the fundamentals of ethical theory: that there are right ways and wrong ways to live, there are actions that further our happiness and actions that undermine our happiness. Ethics is about trying to work out principles and rules to guide our choices.

And the implication is that we can’t trust ourselves. We can’t trust our feelings, our desires, our naive thoughts and impulses. The history of ethics is a history of human beings trying to shape themselves and others, on the premise that we aren’t right the way we are.

There’s plenty of evidence to support this. But given that we create our reality through our thoughts, expectations, and what we give our attention to, the belief that human beings are in need of fixing will always provide its own evidence.

Even within ethics, people have historically held with equal conviction that human beings are born good but turn bad, and conversely that they are born bad but with some promise of turning good.

Has anyone held that people are born good and stay good just the way they are? Probably, but these people tend not to get into ethics.

What does this have to do with motivation?

What I’ve learned is that desires and preferences and impulses don’t need to be justified, and yet my own belief that they need ethical justification and guidance is a surefire way to suppress motivation.

It wasn’t enough for me to simply enjoy writing – I had to imbue it with a deeper meaning and purpose and rightness. I had to have some kind of deeper principle or basis to my motivation.

That’s a huge burden to place on something that could serve me simply as an enjoyable pastime, rather than some kind of epic search for meaning.

What if I write in the context of enjoying life, while letting enjoyment be its own justification?

Ethically, that’s a recipe for societal collapse into anarchy and hedonism. But people don’t operate ethically, they operate according to their own non-academic beliefs, thoughts, feelings and desires.

Life can be a lot more enjoyable if I accept that enjoyment is a good enough motivation to live by.

Will it mean I write more? I don’t know. But so long as I’m enjoying life it won’t matter.

Finding motivation

Whether it’s losing weight or learning to meditate, motivation is the key.

The key to motivation is belief. The reality we each inhabit is entirely framed and contextualised by our beliefs about it.

I’ve tried for many years to meditate, because I believed it would help me find peace and happiness.

But for some reason I found it so difficult that I began to suspect it just wasn’t for me.

It’s not until recently that I understood why: meditation is really, really easy, but I believed it should be difficult.

I came to meditation and spiritual practice as a kind of epic journey and worthwhile accomplishment. I believed that in order to be worthwhile, the journey must be difficult.

And coupled with this was my desire for an identity and sense of self-worth. So meditation had to be difficult, to give me a feeling of accomplishment.

Making things easy

Many things in life are easy once you’ve worked out what you need to do.

But even “easy” things are difficult if you lack the motivation to do them.

Losing weight and meditation are great examples.

If I want to lose weight, know how to do it, but don’t do it, then clearly something is going wrong.

If I want to meditate, know how, but don’t…it’s a motivation issue and therefore a belief issue.

Self-examination

So why haven’t I been meditating every day?

To examine myself on this subject I imagine the scenario in which I meditate every day and bring that peace and ease into my life.

I notice a negative feeling in me as I imagine this scenario. It’s a bit like part of me feels left out of this scenario.

So part of me is resistant to what I want. This is inner conflict, and explains why I’ve struggled to do what I think I want.

The resistant part of me isn’t bad. It probably comes from an earlier time in life and represents different priorities and wants.

So part of me wants to meditate and feel good each day, and part of me wants something else, and the end result is inner conflict that comes across as a lack of motivation.

The next question to ask is: why? Why would part of me not want to meditate and feel good each day? What would I lose if I felt good each day….if I felt relaxed, easy, peaceful…

I need to get things done.

That’s the thought and the feeling that came up as I expanded on my desired state of ease and peace.

Part of me strongly (and with negative feelings) believes that I need to get things done, and this belief – and especially its emotional tone – conflicts with meditating and feeling peace and ease and relaxation.

By a process of self-examination this conflict is becoming conscious. Two parts of me that have never met are now connecting and I’m in a position to reconcile the implicit conflict between “getting things done” and “enjoying life in peace and ease”.

Resolving the conflict

It’s immediately clear to me that the desire to get things done is not a happy one. It feels bad, fearful, and stressed.

It no doubt stems from an earlier period in life when I was under strong external pressure to “get things done”. Back then it seemed like getting things done was the best way to remove that external pressure and find relief.

So this part of me isn’t bad or wrong. It was my best attempt to find relief and ease under very specific circumstances. I just haven’t updated it or examined it since then. I continued living my life with this belief operating quietly in the background.

Under external pressure it made sense to get things done so I could rest and play and be free from pressure. But that pressure no longer exists, and yet I’ve kept it alive in my mind for years.

As I tried to meditate in the past, these different parts of me tried to find their own balance by turning meditation into a difficult challenge that, if accomplished, would count as “getting things done”. But that’s not how meditation works.

While I wanted to meditate, part of me wanted to appease a sense of external pressure. It was only as I learned that meditation is actually meant to be easy that this conflict came to the fore, because nothing “easy” can placate the pressure I had internalised.

Updating old beliefs

Beliefs like “I have to get things done to relieve external pressure” don’t serve me anymore.

As I become conscious of them they lose their power and I am able to update these old beliefs with my new knowledge and clarity.

Now I can imagine again my desired scenario of meditating and allowing that ease and peace and relaxation and happiness to flow into every day.

And as I feel the resistance from the old beliefs, I can continue to expand on my desired scenario with words that soothe and neutralise the old belief: I don’t have to get anything done. I am relaxed and easy. My whole day feels like ease. There is no pressure on me to get anything done. There is nothing I need to do. There is nothing I ever need to get done. There will never be anything that needs to get done. There will never be any pressure on me.

Meditation is ease. Meditation is all I need to do. My whole day can be ease and relief and relaxation, and there is no one and no thing that can resist it.

I can feel the shift in my mind as these beliefs change. It will take continued practice because “getting things done” will crop up again in different contexts. But I’ve sown the seeds of the new belief and so long as I practice ease and relief the conflicts will resolve naturally.

Getting to the root

As I practice, the root beliefs in this conflict will eventually arise.

I create my reality. My beliefs literally create and form the reality I inhabit.

Why does meditation allow ease and peace and relaxation? Because reality is meant to be easy and peaceful and relaxing, it’s just beliefs like “I need to get things done!” that create conflict.

Meditation suspends those thoughts and beliefs and temporarily removes the conflict.

Time spent in meditation feeling good reinforces the intrinsic goodness of existence and weakens the hold of old beliefs.

And along the way, the act of meditating becomes a measure of motivation, and hence an indicator of the beliefs active within.

Weight loss: Time to get serious

So I’ve lost 4-5kg using my approach, and I’m borderline overweight according to my BMI.

At this stage the pleasure of eating still motivates me to eat more than I need to keep going. It’s easy to think “screw it” and eat more for dinner and also have something for dessert.

I’ve been at this point for a couple of weeks and the beauty of doing this mindfully is that I’m increasingly conscious of my decision to overeat.

It’s simply cause and effect: my overeating maintains my current weight.

But as time goes on the pleasure of the food holds less allure, or rather, the displeasure of being overweight becomes more salient.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be in the normal weight range? Wouldn’t it be nice to not be carrying excess weight? Wouldn’t it feel good to be lean again?

I’m well-versed in the pleasure of eating, but what about the pleasure of a lean and healthy body? What about looking good? What about wearing whatever I want?

It feels good to be attractive and healthy. It feels good to be lean. And these good feelings are motivators that can counteract the allure of food.

Feeling good about my body can help me make a different decision as I approach mealtime, or when my wife brings home snacks (it’s all her fault!).

Appreciating your body in a healthy and normal weight range is far more powerful than the pleasure of most of the food that most of us eat on a daily basis.

And it is possible to have both: you can be lean and healthy and still enjoy the pleasure of truly delicious food; just not to the extent that it robs you of the pleasure of a lean and healthy body.

What motivates your diet?

About three weeks ago my BMI was 26.59. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.

Today my BMI is 25.68. I’ve been focusing on my eating habits and motives for about ten days, and from past experience I’d expect to refine my process more over the coming week.

I won’t put a timetable on it, but while I’m preoccupied with my own motives and sensations around eating, I’m eating more to keep going with other aspects of life and less for escapism and pleasure and therefore it won’t be long before I’m back in the normal range for BMI.

Where I go from there is an open question. I tend not to focus on weight or aesthetic goals, because I really like the idea of seeing how my body and mind respond to a balanced and…let’s say philosophically satisfying…approach to eating.

If I eat only to give me the energy I need to keep going, what will I look and feel like? Not just because I’m consuming fewer calories but because I’m no longer using food to manage my emotional state. I’ve walked that path before, but I have to admit I’ve never gone right to the end.

To me that is an exciting and intriguing question. I’m curious to see what happens. Will I have to make myself eat more to have enough energy? Will I become someone who forgets to eat because I’m so engrossed in other activities? Will I find even more refined and satisfying sources of pleasure and fulfilment?

These questions are, for me at least, far more motivating than weight-loss goals and physical aesthetics these days.

Letting go 06: open to inspiration

My diet started to work when I realised I was eating to escape from negative feelings already in me, and that eating to escape just kicked the can down the road a little. I would end up with more negative feelings plus feeling unwell and being overweight.

I see the same dynamic at play when I cling to manifestations. I cling to manifestations to escape from negative feelings already in me.

The diet analogy

For my diet to work I focused on my body’s signs of genuine hunger, and treated everything else as “fake hunger”.

When I felt the desire to eat but without genuine hunger, I paid attention to the feelings that were motivating me. Just by feeling those feelings my desire to escape into food diminished.

But I also began looking for more healthy sources of enjoyment. I started to ask “what would I like to do?”, rather than just indulging in food.

I began to appreciate how clear and light I felt when I wasn’t escaping into food. Although it was daunting to live without the comfort of extra eating, it was also new and different for me, and this brought me hope of a better way of living and relating to food.

Everything is like this

When I cling to manifestations, that means I focus on manifest reality with an expectation that it make me feel better (escape) followed by disappointment and frustration when it fails.

Just like my old eating habits: eating to escape didn’t bring lasting escape at all. It was a failing strategy, and when I became aware of it I gradually grew unwilling to persevere with the same flawed approach.

If I approached all of reality with the same insight, I would have to see the whole dynamic: chasing manifestations to escape feeling bad, feeling bad anyway because manifestations refused to do what I wanted, feeling disenchanted and cynical until a new escapist idea emerged.

Chasing manifestations

Every mystic, including the Abraham-Hicks teachings, says that we need to find a place of happiness and satisfaction in God, our inner being, rather than chasing conditions and circumstances.

For us that might sound like giving up on our dreams and desires and worldly conditions. But the whole point is that we can’t really use these things to make us happy anyway.

Using food as an escape from feeling bad is no different from using manifestations as an escape. Later, when we’re feeling frustrated and disappointed and sad, that’s the manifestation equivalent of feeling bad about your weight or your eating habits.

But what about genuine hunger?

What is the manifestation equivalent of genuine hunger? I think it is inspiration. When an idea inspires you, you just enjoy that inspired feeling. You don’t need to do anything or make anything happen.

Inspiration arises spontaneously, and it may be prompted by manifestations but it is independent.

The more aligned with God we are, the more we feel inspiration calling us and uplifting us. We also become less and less willing to take uninspired actions.

Open to inspiration

The best we can do therefore is to be open to inspiration in our daily lives, while resisting the urge to use action and manifestation to escape negative feelings.

Learn to recognise the negative feelings that come before our escape attempts. Understand with compassion that we have been running from these feelings, but can now look for a better response.

The better response is to look for inspiration instead, knowing that the more we look for and tune into it, the more we will find.

The power of inspiration

I’ve been learning martial arts for 23 years, and in the beginning I was inspired by the thought of mastering these arts.

But as a beginner I tempered my inspiration, mindful of the gap between reality and expectations.

Inspiration kept me going but “realism” held me in check. As years passed I ceased to be a beginner, but I felt further than ever from the mastery that inspired me.

Disappointment crept in, and I grew embarrassed and then ashamed at my lack of skill.

Why was I not progressing? Why did I feel like a perpetual beginner? How could I have so little to show for my years of effort?

Realism and self-sabotage

When we pit inspiration and realism against each other we unwittingly bind and sabotage ourselves.

The more inspired I was, the more harshly I criticised myself for falling short of my ideals. I didn’t know how to draw on inspiration without then beating myself up.

I thought inspiration was about realistic hopes and goals and measurable progress, and in a sense that is true; but inspiration is also the fuel and the transformative power and the inner knowing that makes the goal achievable.

Inspiration is not motivation

I’m now learning the difference between inspiration and motivation. Motivation is what moves you into action. My goal of mastering Kungfu motivated me to practice.

But inspiration is much more than just movement into action. Inspiration informs and guides action with greater insight and wisdom than we could deduce on our own.

Motivation can set you on a path but inspiration creates a path all of its own.

Rediscover inspiration

Inspiration itself is ultimately about feeling good.

When I’m inspired I feel excited and satisfied, enthused and revitalised. My body feels more energetic and alive. My mind is clearer and more alert.

And when we feel this good it means we are in tune with our desires, our own inner being, and our “God’s-eye-view” of life.

So find your inspiration, revel in it, and feel it renew and guide you on your journey.

Feel good all day 2

The garden where I sometimes sit to write.

I love having this extreme goal, this ideal of feeling good all day.

Melancholics are idealists: it’s ideals and meaning that excite us.

Feeling good bit by bit gradually doesn’t excite me. I love all or nothing ideals, even though I know they usually contribute to gradual progress.

An outside observer might say I’ve made gradual changes over time, but the thought of gradual change just doesn’t inspire me enough to commit to it!

I want the excitement of a great ideal and an enormous goal and an absolute accomplishment to move me.

“Feel good all day” is not only all of that, it’s also vague or general enough to keep my creativity flowing without fixating on precise outcomes.

Happiness Day 14

What moves you to worry?

Being open and feeling good, I suddenly start to worry:

What time are we supposed to leave? Do we need to bring drinks? Will any shops be open? Are we swimming? What is the plan?

I want to stop the worry before it arises. But how can I do that?

Motivation – what moves you?

Motivation is literally what moves you – into action, into thought, into focus.

I don’t enjoy the worry, so why am I embracing worried thoughts? What moves me?

It’s always either desire or aversion that makes us move. I’m moved to worry because I desire something or because I’m trying to avoid something.

If I pay attention I can feel a more intense fear behind the worry. A fear of consequences if I don’t start worrying.

Worry gives the illusion of control, a sense of preparedness, but it is still an expression of fear and a focus on the unwanted aspects of life.

Unhappy distractions

This is a big deal. Worries feel bad, but we reach for them to avoid feeling something worse.

We want to be worried, we just aren’t at all happy about it. We don’t like being worried, but we keep unconsciously choosing it.

Knowing that I want to worry helps me understand why worry is so hard to shake. It’s hard to shake off something that you keep picking up!

Facing the fear

Fear of consequences is what motivates me to worry.

I fear what will happen if I’m late, or if I don’t plan the trip well or if I make a social faux pas.

Fear of vague and unspecified consequences is deeply uncomfortable, and it makes sense that I would choose to worry about more specific and tangible things.

There’s not much more to say at this point, but by becoming conscious of worry as a choice I can choose not to worry and experience the fear instead.

Face the fear, see that the consequences never come, and enjoy the relief of letting the worry go.

Can you trust your feelings?

There’s a widespread perception that feelings are an untrustworthy guide.

I think this probably comes from situations where people have bucked the conventional trends and rules of life and justified it rightly or wrongly on the basis of feelings that defy scrutiny and interrogation.

“It just feels right to me!”

But the same thing happens all the time with thinking. Thinking too can be an untrustworthy and dangerous guide for many people, but in those instances we tend to label them “stupid” or “irrational” or “stubborn” rather than criticise them for thinking per se.

The truth is that there’s such a thing as good and bad feeling, just as there is good and bad thinking.

What makes either one good or bad is the degree of honesty with oneself, and the knowledge in and around the thought or feeling that guides us.

For example, if we think that vaccination is bad for us, or that raw chicken is okay to eat, then we are being guided by thoughts that are either insufficiently scrutinised or else coloured by some ulterior motive.

Similarly, our feelings can be coloured by deeper motives, or we can be mistaken in our own interpretation of them.

In accord with temperament, I think we can use either thinking or feeling to work out what we want to do. But it’s up to us to be honest with ourselves and clear about the nature of the thoughts or feelings we are following.

Perhaps the best way to put it is that both our thoughts and feelings should be genuine or authentic. In my own life I seem to get into trouble when – either thinking or feeling – my words and actions are coloured by ulterior motives of which I am not fully conscious.

Things like insecurity, escapism, avoidance and so on.

I might have a desire to say something, but what is driving that desire? Is it the genuine expression of a good feeling, or is it a shady evasion of a bad one?

Why INFP = Melancholic-Phlegmatic

Keirsey is the go-to guy for linking the four temperaments to the MBTI, and while his views apparently shifted in the course of his career, this table seems right to me.

Phlegmatic = Keirsey’s Guardians = SJ

Sanguine = Artisans = SP

Melancholic = Idealist = NF

Choleric = Rational = NT

I was already pretty sure I was an INFP based on tests and self-typing, and it didn’t take long to conclude I was melancholic-phlegmatic either.

Why would an INFP be melancholic-phlegmatic?

Look at the functional stack: FiNeSiTe

That means my two strongest functions are introverted Feeling and extroverted Intuition, making me melancholic.

My two weaker functions are introverted Sensing – which is what defines a phlegmatic in Keirsey’s arrangement – and extroverted Thinking.

So if I use all my functions in their order of strength, I’ll be foremost melancholic (NF) and with a secondary phlegmatic (Si) temperament.

But in my case I also seem to have put a bit of extra emphasis on my inferior function Te. I’ve gone through phases of being very Te oriented, in terms of setting myself goals, seeking to be efficient, driven, and effective.

When push forward with Te, I go into uncharted territory where my Si isn’t especially helpful. That leaves me forming a weird combination of Ne and Te, a kind of makeshift choleric influence.

It also seems to trigger bouts of stress-related illness, suggesting an imbalance from all that extroversion.

But all of this taken together is why I would describe myself in temperament terms as a melancholic-phlegmatic with a bit of choleric thrown in.

When I compare myself to other melancholic-phlegmatics, they seem to lack my awesome yet debilitating penchant for intense thinking, and my bootstrapping attitude to getting s*** done…within my otherwise very melancholic-phlegmatic parameters.

They don’t seem to know how to push themselves in that turn-yourself-inside-out way I’ve grown to love.

I wouldn’t recommend doing what I’ve done, but it’s nice to know where the differences lie.