I’ve written before about my work developing what I call non violent self motivation. I’ve called it “unjobbing” in the past – a parallel to “unschooling” which refers to a non violent form of parenting – but I think this name is clearer and also has the benefit of not requiring you to understand the term “unschooling”.
For those who haven’t read about it before, non violent self motivation means ideally never forcing yourself to do something – never “efforting”, never beating yourself up to make yourself do something. When you remove these violent impulses, there is a natural, easy way of motivating yourself that remains. And not only is it much more comfortable than beating yourself up to achieve your goals, it has other benefits too: you actually have more energy, things flow better and are more intuitive, and you are better placed to discover your true motivations underneath those things you think you “should” do.
The opposite of non violent self motivation is violent self motivation. When it is purposely cultivated, it is called self discipline. If you have strong enough self discipline you can motivate yourself to do things, but it comes at the expense of silencing your natural intelligence. You may waste your life forcing yourself to do the things you “should” do without ever actually listening to yourself.
Those people who sense this to some extent might try to cultivate self discipline but fail because they are unwilling to go all the way. Self discipline is violence, and it hurts. If you want to be effective at it, you must kill whole parts of yourself. You don’t need to though. If you go in the other direction, you get all the promised benefits of self discipline (self motivation and the ability to prioritise some needs and desires over others) plus the opportunity to be a healthy, happy and whole human being.
Violent self motivation has its origins in how our parents, and later on, teachers, treat us as children. These authority figures have learnt from their parents, and so on and so on, that it is necessary to force children to do things.
Take “screen time” for example. Parents tend to think they have to limit their children’s screen time, because otherwise the children would sit in front of a screen… forever? Or at least far too much?… That seems to be the fear. There is also the implicit message that if a child undertakes actions that are harmful to them, there is no room to respect that child’s choice. The child must be forced by an outside authority to do what is perceived by that authority to be the “right” thing – free will be damned.
When we grow up, we continue to treat ourselves like this. The way our parents and teachers talked to us becomes a voice in our head, and we interact with the voice in our head in much the same way as we interacted with them. We engage in active, or passive rebellion; siezing our “screen time” or other indulgences when the voice isn’t around to tell us off, or doing our work slowly and without inspiration when the voice is around. We engage in “busy-work” – work that’s often not efficient or even necessary, but its real purpose is to appease our inner authority. Looking busy is more important than the actual results of our work.
Unschooling – or “radical unschooling” to differentiate it from other philosophies that use the same name – encourages parents to give up this pattern. It’s hard, because the pattern is also inside their head, but as a slavery abolitionist once said, “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken [adults]”. As a parent, you can attempt to set aside your inner demons and model a positive way of functioning.
This means, simply never attempt to force your children to do anything. If you have some good advice, give it. Especially if your children have learnt to trust your advice, they will generally follow it, or else realise afterwards why it was such good advice. (That said, parents are not always right).
The essential point here is, children, like everyone, want to take care of their own needs. An outside authority forcing them to take care of their own needs is superfluous and violent. All they need is your advice, then the freedom to take it or not.
If you doubt this, please spend some time researching the actual experiences of Unschooling parents and those who have received Unschooling parenting. They are living proof that violent motivation is unnecessary, and if that is true, why would anyone use violent motivation?
This explanation of unschooling was important for this article because the process of removing the inner authority is incredibly similar. It is almost exactly as if we have an internalised “parent” in our head trying to violently control us.
Some forms of psychology talk about psychological aspects such as the parent and child. Some treat these aspects as if they were real. The internalised controlling parent has a voice in our head, but it is not really real. The ultimate goal of non violent self motivation is to dissolve that inner authority, and to operate as an undivided whole.
In previous articles, I’ve generally favoured an approach similar to what unschoolers call “deschooling”. In deschooling, parents who have learnt not to use violent motivation on their children stop doing so, and a process is naturally begun where the child begins acting out against all previous limitations. If the child had limited “screen time”, then for a while, maybe days, maybe months, they will spend excessive time looking at screens. They still feel their parents’ voice in their heads, so they fight against it. Eventually, with no more reinforcement from outside, the inner authority fades.
Note that when an adult acts this way – indulging in something with no thought of “responsible” stuff they “have” to do – we talk of the “inner child”. Perhaps, though, we can call it the inner rebel. The rebel is much more “us” than the authority, as the rebel desires autonomy, a real need, whereas the authority desires control, an illusory need. When the inner authority is finally dissolved, there will be no more rebel either, but that’s because there will be no more need to rebel. There will just be peace.
As adults, if we avoid the military and some workplace environments, we are often able to avoid having a real authority figure forcing us to do what it thinks is best for us. However, we still maintain the inner authority in our minds.
I do think there is some value in “deschooling” by consciously exploring those uses of your time you previously denied yourself – particularly inaction.
Inaction is a particularly interesting use of your time because our inner authority particularly reviles it – we may need to “earn” our right to rest, or in the worst case, our inner authority never wants us to. In my life, I’ve observed that laziness, procrastination and even depression have all come from a rebellion against my inner authority. On the one hand I had all the things I thought I “should” do, and on the other hand, I hated the voice that told me to do them and preferred to do nothing. Doing nothing was a way of feeling some form of personal power. And on the flip side, the only way I could do nothing when I needed to was by claiming that power.
As I said, I’ve in the past used the strategy of consciously exploring those things I’ve denied to myself. That has included “screen time”, as well as rest. I’ve found that sometimes the best way of getting out of a low energy spot was to give up on fighting myself and really go deep into the impulse to do nothing. I would come out of that mood faster that way. In the bigger picture, I had the idea that such an approach would weaken my inner authority and give strength to my natural, non violent motivation. However, I now believe this approach is incomplete.
One thing I have found to be incredibly important, for example, is self love. I worked on self love parallel to working on non violent self motivation, and the two fed into each other. It makes sense: if we understand that violence is not necessary, then it is therefore fundamentally unkind, and no expression of love. I’ve found that because of a self hating attitude, I might have found extra excuses to beat myself up about what I did or didn’t do. Ultimately, the belief in the need for violence for motivation is an excuse. Part of us wants to be violent for the sake of violence. Luckily, we can heal that part.
Another thing I’ve found useful is to go straight to what I call “natural motivation”.
When you use “effort” to do something – in other words, violent self motivation – there are two steps. In your mind you order yourself to act, then you act.
Natural motivation leaves out a step. You simply act.
Effort means focusing on the work. (This pleases the inner authority, which cares more about work than results).
Natural motivation means focusing on the object of your need or desire.
Think of it this way: when you are hungry and have a piece of food in front of you, you do not order your arm to move and bring the food to your mouth. You focus on the food, and the actions needed in order to eat it come very naturally.
I’ve found that more complicated actions, which are more often targets of violent self motivation, work in essentially the same way. If you simply visualise the object of your desire in your mind, without creating an inner dialogue about it, energy wells up inside you, and you soon find that you are able to take action easily and naturally.
Sometimes this is easier than at other times. I still often unconsciously fall into the pattern of using violent self motivation. When this happens, it’s best for me to first become aware of the fact that I’m using it. I might feel “stuck” or low in energy, or notice that I’m using a lot of “effort” and focusing on the work and not the results. When I bring awareness into this, I can then choose to let this go and then start visualising the things I desire.
We are not just minds; we are holistic beings. I will refer to our holistic selves as the mind/body/spirit. We have different needs coming from different levels of this whole. We have physical needs like hunger, spiritual needs like creativity, emotional needs, social needs, and so on.
With violent self motivation, the mind attempts to have dominance over other levels. The inner authority lives in the mind. It believes it knows what’s best, like the parent controlling the child. However, just like the parent, it can’t know what the mind/body/spirit actually needs unless it listens. If it fails to do this, the body and spirit often refuse to do what it says, resulting in a standoff (laziness, procrastination, or depression).
Non violent self motivation requires learning to trust the impulses that come from your body and spirit. Often, by doing this you realise why you were always procrastinating in the first place. Maybe you always had social anxiety that you were ignoring – your inner authority didn’t consider it valid – and that’s why you don’t want to go to work. So get a different job, or take a step back and work out strategies to deal with the anxiety, but don’t keep forcing yourself long term to do something that is uncomfortable to you. Usually, if you start taking your needs into account, you can find something better.
Perhaps it’s hard for you to know what your body and spirit are saying. In that case, I strongly recommend working on that issue — but in any case, non violent self motivation will help you. After all, many times we confuse not wanting to do something with not being able to. If you refused to respect yourself enough to listen to your feelings, then of course it seems like you “can’t”.
The basic technique for accessing natural motivation is to cease putting your energy into forcing yourself to act, and instead visualise the thing itself that you need, and allow the inspiration to act to come naturally. Sometimes this technique is enough. Sometimes, however, you still find yourself to be stuck, either because you don’t know what you need, or because you aren’t acknowledging and validating your other needs that might also require attention. When this happens I suggest using a more advanced technique which I call “the circle of needs”.
A simple example of this technique can be as follows: Say, you’re lying in bed, but have no energy. You’re hungry. You also need to work to earn money. Your inner authority wants to force you to work, but you find it hard to get out of bed.
In this situation I visualise all of my needs. Each is represented by an image, and I place all of these images into a circle. Food, money and rest are all needs. The inner authority tends not to consider rest as a valid need. However, it is a valid need, so you place it in the circle. Your inner authority also doesn’t think you should eat until you get some work done. Eating is, however, a valid need, so it goes in the circle. Work is not really a need, so you stop focusing on work and put money into the circle. (You could use another outcome as a focus, such as a pleasing result to a project you’re doing for work).
By being aware of all needs and giving them equal validity, you naturally find something that seems like a stronger need or more urgent in this moment. It might be food. Soon, your natural motivation wells up and it becomes effortless to get out of bed and get food.
It’s also possible that you can’t get out of bed because you really are just that tired. When you give all of your needs the same validity, then you might realise that despite what your inner authority is saying, you really just need to stay put. But when all needs are given the same validity, making this decision is peaceful and comfortable.
Finally, maybe your inner authority was right and maintaining your income source is the most urgent thing right now. Energy wells up inside you and you do that, though you’re also aware of your hunger and your need to rest, and will deal with those things soon.
Consider what happens if you don’t bring up the circle. If your strongest need is maintaining your income source, but you refuse to accept the fact that part of you wants other things, then you waste your energy fighting those impulses.
If your strongest need is hunger, but all you see is you want to work but you can’t move, then you’re missing the whole point. Your mind/body/spirit knows what’s best for you, and won’t allow you to access natural motivation until you listen to it.
If your strongest need is rest, then focusing on money while ignoring rest won’t be enough to overcome your lethargy. That’s not a failure of the technique: that’s your failure in being unwilling to listen to your own needs.
I like to say, “If you listen to your needs, your needs will listen to you”. This is only half true, because it only makes sense from the perspective of the controlling inner authority. Yes, if the inner authority concedes to the body’s needs sometimes, the body will be more likely to have the energy to do what the authority wants. But ultimately the authority is an illusion and ALL the needs are you. You might identify more with spiritual needs and less with physical needs – but actually it’s all you. Every part of you must ultimately work together as a whole.
People who use violent motivation are often using drugs to override the impulses of their mind/body/spirit. Alcohol or marijuana might help you tolerate a work environment which you might actually be better off simply leaving. Caffeine allows you to force yourself awake; yet when operating non violently, you’re more likely to simply sleep when you need to sleep. Sometimes, you have a strong desire to sleep but your need to maintain your income source is also very urgent. If you put both in the circle and income shows itself to be stronger, you might decide to do that instead. With natural motivation, your body is on your side, so in such situations it gives you a boost of adrenaline to keep you awake. Listening to your mind/body/spirit would mean avoiding being in such situations regularly, however.
Incidentally, you can place other people’s needs in the circle too. This allows you to decide whether you will prioritise your own need or the need of another person. If it seems to be appropriate to focus on another person, this technique helps you do it without feeling like this comes from a place of guilt or obligation. It balances out both selfishness and unhealthy self sacrifice, reminding you that you work with others as part of a whole.
The nice thing about the circle is that it keeps things in the here and now. Thinking about the future is useful for planning, but you obviously can only do one thing in the present moment, and you need to focus on that one thing. The circle recognises your other needs, but allows the strongest or most urgent need come through. You can do that and stay centered and Present.
The inner authority likes to believe that work is the strongest need. First, remember work is not a need, money is. Second, I find that maintaining my income source is often a strong need, but depending on what tasks or projects you have at hand, it’s often quite reasonable to leave them off for a while. My mind/body/spirit does keep track of things, and when maintaining my income source becomes more urgent, my natural motivation grows stronger. Using natural motivation, I essentially never find that I just don’t do something in time. What I do find is that I spend less energy procrastinating. I do, or do not, but don’t waste time in a frustrating limbo.
When you learn to operate from non violent motivation, you start using certain words less: “should”, “productivity”, “work”, “effort”. You make less of a separation between work and play. It’s not like you see no difference between the concepts, but both are ultimately about fulfilling needs, and in both cases the needs are equally valid. Instead of saying you “should” do something, or even you “need” to do something, you say you “want” to do something. “I want to get this done before I come hang out”, you might say. You don’t say “Sorry, I have to work”.
Learning non violent self motivation is a big project. It took me years. But it really is worth it; not only because it makes you more effective, but because violence is one of the core aspects of our dysfunction. Violence towards ourselves destroys our health and happiness, and violence towards others destroys the health of our society. Non violent self motivation is not just a functional change, it is a radical change, and will help transform you and the world for the better.