Running on Wantpower, not Willpower

Although the running season is over for the Ninja Turtle, she continues to run because she is a masochist not only has it become routine, it’s frankly quite hard to do anything else. Running isn’t only a chance to get some fresh air, it’s a sort of meditation-in-reverse, where she starts running with an empty mind and slowly fills it along the way with To-Do Lists, ideas for her writing and teaching, and at the end of the run, she is fully awake and ready to start the day.

Non-runners may find all that laughable. Waking up for some is as simple as standing up, slapping the face once or twice and knocking back an espresso. Non-runners will definitely find it incomprehensible that the Ninja Turtle would insist on this ritual on a Monday morning in the rain, with wind speeds of over 70kph, low barometric pressure and high humidity. Oh, and floods.


One may observe that the Ninja Turtle and her fellow running nutters (there were at least twelve other runners she came across while running) are highly motivated people. Yes, they are indeed. Not long ago, she had a friend who observed that she must have incredible willpower, and proceeded to regret in the most self-apologetic tone that she will never make anything of her life, unlike the Turtle.

Well, that sort of self-berating is sad for both the speaker and the listener. Sad because it’s not true. Perhaps as children, we were taught the virtue of humility, and while that is most commendable, it also seems that we took it three steps too far, becoming incredibly harsh and critical of ourselves.

Women are the usual culprits, but men are just as guilty. I’m not talking about false modesty, or fishing for praises and compliments (we all know people who do that, we all know what it sounds like, so let’s not afford them any more attention by dwelling on it). No, I mean the negative self-appraisal from people whom we know are far better than they believe themselves to be, and who use such shockingly cruel language on themselves that they will never dream on using on their friends.

Folks, motivation doesn’t come from kicking yourself up the arse so hard that your foot is stuck in it (thus rendering you unable to do what it is you were trying to motivate yourself to do).

Remember the school teacher who always singled you out and made you do lines or stand outside the classroom? Well, he’s not there anymore, but don’t let yourself become him. Would your ten-year-old self have done anything to please this figure of authority? To earn his approval and respect? No, your ten-year-old self was probably cowering in fear, secretly (or openly) resentful, plotting revenge while trying not to pee your pants.

Motivation is so often linked with the word willpower that a lack of motivation immediately gets translated into a moral failure of some sort. The mentality goes something along the line of:

I have no motivation to (insert activity here) today -> I have no willpower -> I am weak -> I don’t deserve to be loved -> fire and brimstones and burning bushes and lakes of…


Motivation fluctuates, it’s not a sign of personal weakness or possession by demon spirits or a sure sign that you will be single and lonely at the age of 63 or whatever fancy imaginations that you guys have been amusing me with.

If anything, low or no motivation is not a sign of weak willpower, it’s a sign of weak wantpower. You simply don’t want it, whatever the hell it is.

On some levels, it’s almost more painful and difficult to admit you don’t want something as much as you thought you did, or feel like you should be wanting it, than it is to just say you are weak-willed.

Perhaps you are pressured by loved ones/society/the donkey who lives under your bed to “want” something. Quit smoking. Lose weight. Give up meat/alcohol/chewing gum. Stop watching kiddy porn. Whatever. It’s not you who really wants to change, but those other people whom you feel obliged to please. Out of love, or for the sake of maintaining peace, you flex that “willpower muscle” (if I ever find the person who coined this term, he’d better have some serious explaining to do) and struggle hard. You tell yourself that it is not them, but YOU, who wants it, and then you slowly but surely take on the role of that nasty schoolteacher with zero compassion, and bully yourself into getting there.

Well, good luck, I say. (And stop with the kiddy porn. I ain’t judging the other bad habits but man, there’s a line you shouldn’t cross.)

Motivation comes from innately wanting something, and does not require willpower of any sort. Carnivorous animals are a brilliant example of that – they’re only motivated to rouse from their digestive stupor when their hunger is strong enough to prompt another hunt. Then they go right back to napping when their needs are satisfied, and they don’t want to eat anymore.

People, you don’t need motivation, you just need to be clear on what you really want. It’s not hard to stick to doing something you really want to do. In fact, if you really want to, you’d be gagging to do it. That’s real motivation. This week, give up chasing after what others want for you, and drop the name-calling. You deserve so much more respect than that. This week, look for what you really want. The motivation will come.

If the Ninja Turtle had insisted on wanting to run along the riverside, not only would she have drowned, she would have also missed this pretty row of leaves to stomp in.

If the Ninja Turtle had insisted on wanting to run along the riverside, not only would she have drowned, she would have also missed this pretty row of leaves to stomp in. The man with the leaf blower said something rude to her in French for that, so she knows it’s going to be a great week ahead.

P.S (Like real motivation, a sense of fulfillment only comes from responding to your real wants. Doing something that you don’t really want to do is the worst – you need immense willpower, the ability to lie to yourself, and even when you attain the outcome you will only feel cheated. Do it long enough and you’ll end up looking cross-eyed and constipated.)


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