Why You Should Avoid Motivational Content (& What To Replace it With)

Every time I scroll my Facebook newsfeed, I see at least one piece of motivational or inspirational content. You know, that video with an overly-energetic guy trying to convince you to push your limits, or maybe just a quote on a nice postcard, like the one below:

Bullshit

Consuming such content is like drinking alcohol. For instance, if you are shy, drinking might help reduce the tension when talking to someone of the opposite sex. But drinking addresses the problem only temporarily: in the short term, it might help you get laid once in a while (bear in mind that you’ll not be at the top of your sexual performance, known fact alcohol reduces potential here). Probably, most of the times, you’ll look weird or do weird things, to the amusement of those around (which is not a bad thing, btw). More importantly, longer term, if the reasons behind the shyness problem don’t get addressed, the situation might get worse.

This is exactly how motivational content works: it gives you short spikes of “feeling good”, but the root causes are never dealt with. True results and transformations are never possible. At best, you’ll have brief moments of “enlightenment”. Worse, the more you consume such content, the less likely to get out of the state you’re in, long term.

Before going into deeper reasons and solutions, it’s worth a paragraph explaining why I’m writing about this. First, because this is top of mind right now. Going through difficult times myself: feeling alone no matter how many people I hang out with, being single even though I dated ~ 20 girls from the beginning of the year, relocating from one of the best neighbourhoods in Bucharest to the outskirts, and working in a very energy-consuming job (working in a startup with smart people is great, but it has its cost) — all this lead to some sort of fatigue. Second, I write this because I always felt motivational content is for suckers and that it does more harm than good.

Going back — the reason motivational content has the effect it has on people (short spikes of positive vibes) is because we have a natural tendency to imitate. Put it differently, emotions and vibes are contagious. As social creatures, from earliest of times, dependency on others was crucial for personal survival, so we were heavily dependent on the group. In such an environment, developing a basic sense of empathy was necessary for getting around. This skill is what is triggered when you notice, involuntarily, that someone is angry or that they don’t feel well. The same applies when you see someone overly energetic in a video, trying to motivate you — you empathise and feel a bit of that energy as well.

When going through moments of crisis, the last thing one could want are substitutes that facilitate avoidance. Drug abuse is an extreme example of a substitute, but motivational content acts in the same way. Ever wondered why this content is full of jokes, or maybe has a soothing music in the background, or calming visual images of nature? All these are substitutes — they help to replace one emotion (e.g., anger, helplessness, low confidence) with a totally unrelated one. You have a hard financial time and are remembered of people living on 1$ a day? Your problem seems a lot smaller, but in fact you substituted a root cause with compassion, which is not beneficial here. With physical injuries we deal differently — if you get cut, you heal the wound, and don’t think that others die of cancer. This pragmatism might seem cold-hearted, but if you don’t treat your wounds you might not be around to heal cancers in others.

There is another twist to motivational content — it’s aimed at a very generic audience, with people from a wide range of backgrounds. But every issue is very particular and has to do a lot with the unique circumstances each individual was faced with — maybe a traumatic event in childhood, or toxic relationships, etc. Generic advice, like “don’t let others tell you what to do” is nice, but the real question should be “Why do you let them in the first place do that?” The answer to the “Why?” is different from person to person, and no guru can answer that — not without understanding YOU.

So if motivational content should be avoided, what is the solution when you feel overwhelmed? Unless what you feel makes you jump off a building, just stay in the state. Rather than seeking avoidance, acknowledge the feeling. Understand where it is coming from, and look for causes back in time, maybe as far as in childhood. Live with the state. Go through. The human mind and body are very strong, and are in the 100,000th iteration, the result of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution (as a comparison, an iPhone is only in its 7th iteration). Therapy can also help a good deal, even if it’s only for self improvement. And of course, read books in full (skipping in the middle is encouraged as well).

I hope you don’t find these lines motivational. That would defeat the whole purpose of this post — but at least I hope you’ll remember a bit of this when going through difficult times.

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