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I am always putting myself in the way of inspiration. Life is beautiful, but it also pulls us down. Inspiration lifts. Lift is a vital aid for growth at any time, but in our particular moment of pandemic and political instability, it seems essential.

When I sit down in the early morning darkness to journal and do The Work, I loosen the bonds of painful thoughts that keep me earthbound. I see things I could not see before, which reliably inspire and lift me. When I read, I am looking for inspiration in the realms of ideas and artistic expression – a well-expressed idea always gives me a feeling of elevation (lift). When I walk the dog, I spend half the time paying attention to my five senses and the world around me, and inspiration usually makes an appearance (then I can listen to a podcast or talk to a friend).

I also take classes! This week I participated in a masterclass with the amazing Kirstin Hotelling Zona called Learn to Thrive. I was particularly inspired by a concept she shared called the Motivational Triad.

In order to survive, humans must:
– avoid pain
– seek pleasure
– conserve energy.

This summarized so much, so succinctly. In an instant I saw my own tendency to conserve energy as the biggest impediment to my growth. I hadn’t known it was a survival instinct. I had thought it was just me.

Which one jumps out at you as the one that most frequently undermines your goals?

We Want More Than Survival

This survival program has worked for hundreds of generations of humans. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. But for many of us, survival isn’t enough. We want more. We want growth and progress. That requires us to upgrade the program.

To upgrade the program, we:
1. Recognize the instinct and acknowledge it.
2. Do the opposite.

Let’s see what those two steps might look like.

Recognize and Acknowledge

You will know that your survival instincts have impeded your progress when there is something you want to do that you nonetheless don’t manage to do, and you continue to be alive. This usually leads to pain, both physical – tension, heaviness, upset stomach – and psychological – feelings of disappointment, frustration, failure.

For example, I stopped working out when the pandemic hit, and my gym closed. I have wanted to create another routine, but I have not. As a result, I have felt silly for not figuring it out by now and sad about my loss of fitness.

At first, the loss of the gym was like a holiday – it was pleasurable to have that space open up in my schedule. Seeking pleasure is one leg of the Motivational Triad. When people were (and still are) dying, it also seemed frivolous to work out; conserving energy (another leg of the triad) made sense.

Now that I’ve recognized these instincts for what they are, I acknowledge that they are worthy survival instincts. I thank them for keeping me alive and say, I’ll take it from here.

Do the Opposite

Doing the opposite can take a lot of forms. It will depend on the circumstances and your personality.

In my example of working out, the opposite of “seek pleasure” could be “embrace discomfort” and “seek inspiration.” I love routine, so it is uncomfortable to upset an old rhythm, but that’s what I’ll have to do in order to create space for working out. I will seek inspiration from the person who used to be my trainer, when I was in great shape a few years ago. Doing so will connect me with an old friend, which I love, and to a fitter version of myself, which reminds me what I am capable of.

My opposite for “conserve energy” is “invest energy purposefully.” Doesn’t that give you a lift? Another one is “conserve faith” – faith in myself to make positive changes in my life.

The motivation to “avoid pain” was not as operative as the other two, but just for fun I can add in an opposite: “avoid cheap thrills” – the cheap thrill of continuing to sit for 30 more minutes instead of exercising.

Play with finding opposites! Remember the 3B’s? The third B is “better it.” Making something fun is always on the table.

We cannot ditch the Motivational Triad. It’s too deep, and we still need it. But if we want to grow and progress, we need to interact with it thoughtfully and upgrade it purposefully. I hope this post inspires you to reach for more!

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