At one of my Toastmaster meetings, a Bosnian cyclist compared motivation to climbing the Sarajevo Mountains. Most tourists encamped at the bottom; it was the rare individual who trudged to the top. I added to that analogy: Let’s say someone invested $200 to traveling to and climbing the Igman Mountain, he persevered condensing all his energy and time to making it to the top. Days and weeks went into it and mountain sickness, hunger, and exhaustion. And then someone told him… he had climbed the wrong mountain. How would he feel?
Popular psychology links motivation to perseverance. If you want something madly enough – such as to be rich, good, successful, and so forth – you are given routes and told to look into yourself – focus and persevere in order to win the peak. That was my friend’s analogy; I tipped it showing that ‘experts’ may recommend wrong peaks. Research shows that 20% of indoctrinated individuals kill themselves following recommended routes whilst the majority of the human race wastes their lives trudging so called ‘successful’ mountains. My research for more than four decades in five countries and three states has shown that the way to choose your best mountain is to not only look into yourself but also – and perhaps more importantly – to look out at society’s habits.
You can do so by following three steps:
1. Realizing that Society is Capricious – All groups adjust their habits in response to events. You were born to an unchosen society at an unchosen period and may be hard-put to see its rules objectively. These rules tell all people of their group how to live so that the group itself thrive and find meaning. The ‘successful’ man in Benjamin Franklin’s America was honest, prudent, modest, and philosophical. The ‘successful’ man in Rockefeller’s America was glib, well-mannered, gregarious and persuasive. Personality was in, character was out. What caused the shift? Historians point to unprecedented materialistic and corporate/ technological glut. Most humans conflate society with itself: I am an American Jew, Afro-American, Latino and so forth. The brain makes us do so. Recognizing that there is a wedge between society and ourselves – there is society and I – and realizing that society and its rules are in constant flux (20th century American-Judaism; 21st century Latino) is the first step to detaching yourself from the crowd and to objectively assessing its rules.
2. See As-Is: How can we see ‘outside the box’ if we are irreversibly born ‘in’ it? Only by peeking into the box and scrubbing rules to their core. Rockefeller’s century coined a new descriptor: ‘productive individuals’. These are ‘somebodies’ who return economic value to society, who benefits the group according to the group’s current perception of success. Anne Fadiman (1997) complains that too many Americans call immigrant Hmong ‘unproductive’. Is the 97-year-old Hmong unproductive because she is too old to work? Too old to ‘benefit’ her new country? What do these words literally mean? Strip to its essence. PRODUCTIVE. “To achieve or produce a significant amount or result” (Websters, 2001). Words and other symbols sometimes become so thickly sprayed by cultural denotation that we lose their buried kernel. Digging out that kernel and seeing as-is helps us climb the mountain we want to climb.
3. Think: Does this Societal Prescription Help you grow – Nature is growth. You are nature. The healthy tree thrives. What is a healthy human being? Someone whose cognitive, emotional, social and physical components (all aspects of you) thrive and you use your gifts to benefit society. Any route that contributes towards that growth is good for you. It helps you plan your life the way you – not your society – want to live. Would it help you to consider the 97-year-old Hmong ‘unproductive’? Is it true? What about the smile that this 97-year-old woman gives her baby grandson? May you not be a better social human being if you step back, reduce the word to its essence, and ponder whether or not adherence to its implications allows you to grow?
Motivation is crucial. You need it in order to climb your mountains, but what was once ‘in’ is now ‘out’. The problem is how do you know which trek to take? Should you follow your society’s recommendation or plod its rejected route? You want to make a difference in your world and have your children and those whom you impact remember you as a blessing? You want to be a top-notch Self-I rather than a top-notch Self-Society? Your group tells you to look in to succeed: grit your teeth, focus, persevere. My research suggests that you look out; use the three steps to evaluate society’s present rules. Your life is of the essence. Are you trudging a trek that will really help you become a memorable person, effective parent, successful spouse, contributive entrepreneur? Or are you plodding the wrong mountain?