What motivates you (and why I stopped trying to master the handstand)

A few months ago, I saw a post on Facebook by a guy I met at the Global Lululemon Ambassador summit last spring. He’s a handstand specialist, offering an online course – how to master a handstand in 6 weeks. He meant a handstand in the middle of the room, no walls, no elaborate setup, just popping into a vertical line standing on your hands. As a devoted yoga teacher and student who loves challenging goals, I thought, “I’m in!” So I signed up with a burst of motivation and a keen sense of accomplishment and started practicing immediately. I did ok for the first couple of weeks, so long as I had a wall nearby. Call me crazy, but I could not get my arms around the idea of flipping upside down with nothing nearby to catch me in the (highly likely) event that I fell on my head. Thus, close to a wall, I stayed.

Then, life started to get in the way, and my biggest motivation factors started fading away. I had a hard time finding the time, extrinsic motivation, and intrinsic motivation to practice regularly. I kept up with my other ambitious goals like daily yoga and meditation practice, my favorite cardio workouts, and my marriage, family, friends, and career goals. But I could not find the internal motivation, discipline, and willpower in my mind to stick with my efforts to master handstands. Eventually, I gave up. I felt bad about this. I even felt a little ashamed and embarrassed. When I say I’m going to do something, I typically do it with buckets of motivation, even when it is a difficult goal. So why the goal failure here? It was such a tricky question that I couldn’t find an answer relevant to it at first. So I dug into some relevant research to help me understand first why I gave up on my goal and second to come to peace with my decision.

What’s your Motivation?

Important Advice on Motivation

Coincidentally, earlier this week, I listened to something interesting on the Ten Percent Happier App – a constant source of inspiration for me. The conversation was about understanding how habits you try to cultivate fit into the larger picture of your values. The more a particular behavioral change aligns with a strongly held value, the higher your boost in motivation will be to stick with it.

Of course, this makes complete sense. I reflected on my failed “I’m-going-to-nail-handstand-in-the-middle-of-the-room” exercise and had an aha moment.

See, I don’t care that much about my handstand prowess. It’s not truly tied to a high value for me. Instead, I value my chief motivation and the powerful motivators for movement, physical activity, and overall wellness. But a handstand in the middle of the room? The most emotion I can muster about this is, “that’d be cool.” That’s about it. So, on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being I couldn’t care less and 10 beings I’d go to the ends of the earth to make this happen, I was at about a 4. Realizing this, I saw how and why my motivation and determination withered in the face of daily life demands.

Instead of clinging to my handstand goal and internally beating myself up for not achieving it, I was able to see a different perspective with strong answers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the possibly achievable goal was ill-advised from the outset. It felt fun and compelling the moment I set it and for a short while afterward. But as time passed, it became less so, even negligibly so. Deciding to release myself from my acrobatic aspirations felt great once I let go of whatever residual self-criticism and situational motivation I felt about walking away from this incomplete goal. I got half an hour of my day back. And some freed up mental space.

What Are The Popular Motivation Theories?

If you are trying to achieve a new goal – personal or professional, it’s critical to assess your motivating factors. What is your deeper why? What are your motivations? How would you approach goal setting? How much do you truly value the thing you are working towards? These are some common questions about external motivation, approach to motivation, and source of motivation.

There are theories of motivation that can help us assess these questions for ourselves. Motivation theory studies understanding what drives people to work towards a particular goal or outcome. The most popular and well-known motivational theory is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Abraham Maslow believed that people are motivated when their needs are fulfilled. We all start with basic human needs and work up to self-actualization needs, and his theory is that one cannot move to the next “ladder” of needs, if you will, until their lower needs are satisfied.

What Are The Popular Motivation Theories?

What Motivates You: Find Your Motivations.

The first bucket of needs in our checklist is physiological. In other words, you can’t worry about professional satisfaction with role responsibilities, for example, a job interview or current job role, if you don’t have food on the table and a roof over your head. Once these basic needs are met, safety needs take center stage. In Maslow’s terms, safety refers to security, stability, and basic freedoms. In other words, you likely won’t be trying to shore up your get-to-the-gym-everyday habit if you fear for your life because you are in an unsafe or unstable physical environment.

The third bucket of needs is social. We are hard-wired to need love, affection, and a sense of community. Many experts consider loneliness a public health threat. When people suffer from a lack of social support, their physical and mental health can quickly deteriorate. It makes sense, then, that you won’t be chasing your highest dreams and visions if your social needs are unmet.

Next on Maslow’s hierarchy is esteem. He posits that we all crave respect, attention, and appreciation. A lot of our goals fall in this realm. Professional goals often come from this need, and many personal ones do.

Finally, according to Maslow, we can focus on self-actualization goals if all of these buckets are filled. By this, he means self-fulfillment, personal growth, and learning.

So where did my short-lived quest for handstand fall? I suppose, in theory, it was in the self-actualization bucket, as it required physical acumen, growth, extrinsic motivators, and learning. But at the end of the day, as I’ve said, I just didn’t care that much.

What Motivates You: Find Your Motivations.

We must be honest and answer concisely as we assess our motivation and goals. Sometimes, giving up on a goal makes sense, as it did here for me.

What I see far more commonly, though, is people giving up on themselves concerning strong goals that do, in fact, truly matter to them. Common reasons I hear are that it just feels too hard, or it’s taking too long, or because the outcome of their efforts is uncertain. Let me suggest that these are not good enough reasons to give up, to throw in the proverbial towel.

In short, giving up on a goal because it simply doesn’t matter that much to you is usually a good reason. But giving up because it’s hard or because success isn’t guaranteed is typically not a good reason. Discerning our true motivations and string motivators for backpedaling on ourselves by giving up on our goals requires deep introspection. We have to ask ourselves hard motivation questions. And then give honest answers. Only then, I believe, can we know where our attitude motivation comes from and whether or not it serves us to jump ship.

If you’re thinking of reversing course on a goal you set for yourself after reading this article, here’s my best advice: check in and assess yourself and the key factors. Where is your motivation coming from? Do you like your assessment? From that place of self-awareness, discern what you truly want to do. What serves your values? Where on Maslow’s hierarchy does the goal fall? Answer concisely. If it is something that matters to you, consider seeking support. A coach can be a wonderful resource here. I’ve found this to be true time and time again. And whatever you decide, trust and respect your decision, and don’t second guess yourself.