Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Motivation cycles and rhythms...

I do not like intensely motivated people who get up every day at 5am to go for a jog or a gym session. These are the sorts of people who use the phrase “24x7x365” a lot in everyday conversations even with their drivers. You know what this kind of person would do that is most irritating? At a critical juncture in a work meeting they’d stretch their calf muscles and squeeze their face in agony. One of the people around the table would inevitably ask, “Everything all right?” to which the calf stretcher would often say: “Oh, nothing much, really. I overdid my run today,” pretend as though everyone else in the room wanted to hear the rest of the story and continue, “I should have stopped at the 33 kilometre mark, but continued on to complete 35 kilometres. That probably did it for me.”

That sort of intensely motivated person... The world is full of these types of people. 

This sort of person brings such supreme levels of motivation, drive, determination, energy, commitment and focus to everything they do, whether it is running, gymming, work, studies or even the organisation of the office football competition. They give the anal in analytical a new meaning. This sort of person scares me more than Himesh Reshamaiyya. This sort of person appears to have no imperfections at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a bit of a runner and a gym fiend too. I too get up at 5am and there are work meetings when I get severe cramps in my calf muscles. But I go through cycles of intensity in everything I do. There are phases when I am intensely focussed on an outcome and will work incredibly hard to get there. For example, November (2012) was a tough month for me from a work perspective. It was also a month when there was much non-work nonsense that was swirling around too.

However, what I did first in November was to cut out much of the obvious distractions (Twitter and Facebook, for example). We live in an age of monumental distractions; each with its own customizable alert tone or vibration. If an incoming email doesn’t compel you to reply immediately, even as you run on the treadmill, your Facebook will let you know, through yet another unique alert tone, that someone liked the silly picture you put up just a few seconds before you hit the gym. Most of us are almost always on the losing side of the distraction battle that today’s electronic media has with us and imposes on us.

In November, I defined my purpose and goal rather clearly and succinctly. More importantly, I was able to rid myself of debilitating negativities that tend to make the ‘calf stretcher’ look better than they actually are. For me, at times like these, I also work on shortening the list of things I do rather than lengthening; which is a temptation because there is just so much to do. I prioritize my goals rather brutally. Being productive is not about doing everything. It is about doing a few things really well. I write these down as a reminder and only focus on these.

All of this delivered the focus that enabled me to get through that work-month... and more. I was productive even though I put in many 3-hour sleep nights and 15-hour work days. My gym work and my running suffered. I had no sore calf muscles to draw attention to at work meetings. And I did not organize any office football competition. But I got through the month even though it was an imperfect month when seen through the lens of my personal fitness.

Now this is an imperfection that the intensely motivated person perhaps does not have. They focus on a few things and do them really well; they drive these to within an inch of perfection.

I am not like that. I exist in what I call ‘motivation cycles’. I like that rhythm, that imperfection and that lack of continuous focus to everything I do; and I do have many interests that ebb and flow over time.

I go through periods of lethargy. A very good friend of mine refers to this by asking me whether I am in the ‘fit or fat’ part of my fitness motivation cycle. I go through similar cycles in all other pursuits of mine; professional and otherwise.

I do normally get up at 5am and, after sending out a few work emails, I am either out on a run or I hit the gym for at least an hour and a half before I head out to work. However, when there are other priorities – such as my work-intense November – I am able to switch priorities quite easily. I easily slip into the trough-phase of my fitness regimen. I remember there were days in November when I would get up at 5am – having only slept at  2am – with the intention of going for a run. I would wash my face, don my running clothes and stealthily climb back into bed without even a semblance of guilt; I soaked it.

Even after my intense November work-phase concluded, I just could not bring myself to get into that gym routine for a week. Perhaps it was the mental exhaustion caused by work. Or perhaps I had reached a burn-out point. I just had to get out of the trough; the valley of the Sine curve I existed in. I knew I would. I had done that before too.

At times like these I rarely beat myself up with a wet towel; I build resolve. I accept, embrace, understand and cope with the resultant guilt. I do not deny the sloth. I grow determination instead.

I then monitor the return carefully until the endorphins slowly take over again. There is a process to this. I maintain records in this period; records of how much I run each day, or how far I cycled, or what weight I pressed on the bench press. I am most cautious and deliberate at times like these without beating myself up; I try and identify the reason for the sloth (usually mental exhaustion or other work  personal priorities).  And I am more honestly observant of myself at these points in time than at any other point in time on the motivation curve. The most important step in this journey is monitoring the return process honestly, deliberately and slowly. It works. Always.

Especially if you are not one of those intensely motivated people who like to complain about their insanely taut calf muscles at meetings...

--Mohan (@mohank)


  1. Anonymous2:27 pm

    The world is full of such people a? What world do you live in? :P


  2. Haha Ajit. Ok, that was a bit of an exaggeration. The world *does* have a few people like that, does it not?

  3. Anonymous1:52 am

    Yes yes. Many such people. Annoying creatures :P