First, I am so sorry for keeping this answer for so long. Most of the delay has come from my fixed mindset and high expectations, which I will explain later in this answer. Also, it turns out it's pretty hard to write about motivation when depression is working hard to keep you really un-motivtaed. But I'm back now and I hope my delay hasn't derailed your faith in the Board.
Now, on to your question.
Part 1: Background
(You happened to ask this question right before I started Ed Week, which means I sat through every class trying to see how the truth that was being presented related to your question. This is both good and bad because I have a whole bus load of truth for you, but it's taken me forever to organize it.)
I think it's a question that we all, at times, will struggle with, and it the answers root back to our divine eternal nature. I believe that we are wired to want to progress. Even in this midst of an un-motivated slump, I think we all have moments of motivation, if only in the quiet moments of solitude. President Eyring explains this beautifully in his 1989 BYU address. After telling a story of his own self-articulation, he states the following:
"...[Y]our impressions will not have been quite like mine, but you have felt a tug, maybe many tugs, to be someone better. And what sets those yearnings apart from all your daydreams is that they were not about being richer, or smarter, or more attractive, but about being better. I am sure you have had such moments, not just from my experience, but because of what President David O. McKay once said. Listen very carefully:
Man is a spiritual being, a soul, and at some period of his life everyone is possessed with an irresistible desire to know his relationship to the Infinite. . . . There is something within him which urges him to rise above himself, to control his environment, to master the body and all things physical and live in a higher and more beautiful world....
That pull upward is far beyond what you would call a desire for self-improvement. When I felt it, I knew I was being urged to live so far above myself that I could never do it on my own. President McKay had it right. You feel an urging to rise above your natural self. What you have felt is an urging from your Heavenly Father to accept this invitation:
O, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. [Moroni 10:32–33]
That urge to rise above yourself is a recognition of your need for the Atonement to work in your life, and your need to be sure that it is working. After all you can do, after all your effort, you need confidence that the Atonement is working for you and on you" (Come Unto Christ, bold added).
So the small moments of motivation that you're maybe faintly feeling are more than just fleeting hopes. They are divine in nature, an invitation to allow the Atonement to change you. But how do you actually put that into action? How can you change effectively?
Part 2: The Root
I believe that real change will not happen by medicating the systems of a problem. If you want real change, you must attack the root, what drives our attitudes and behaviors.
I went to a class Ed Week that addressed this. The main idea is that real change cannot happen without a change of heart.
Thankfully, he had some great diagrams because my words would surely fall short. Let's take a look:
Basically, we process things (philosophies, ideas, actions, words, etc.) through our Belief Box. These are our core beliefs, thoughts, expectations, and interpretations of doctrine. Based on that filter system, we form attitudes and emotions about things and act accordingly to those examples. If our beliefs are truthful and whole, our actions will be also. If our beliefs are tainted with untruths, our attitudes and behaviors will follow suit. You know the quote, "True doctrine understood changes attitudes and behaviors"? It works the same with false doctrines, or misunderstandings of true doctrines; they will guide our attitudes and behaviors.
This was a little confusing to me at first, so let's look at an example the teacher gave. (DISCLAIMER: These examples are oversimplified to get the point across.)
INPUT: Let's say you ask someone out or are asked out on a date.
BELIEF: This input filters through a belief you hold about yourself that you are not attractive, fun, or lovable. (This might sound harsh, but I think if we paid more attention to the way we talk to ourselves we would find that these thoughts are more common and more present that we might think.)
EMOTION/ATTITUDE: This will cause you to be nervous about the date. You'll be anxious and have a lot of self-doubt.
BEHAVIOR: Consequently, you will act shy and awkward on the date. You won't really be yourself because you're afraid that they'll find out what you believe to be true- that you're not attractive, fun, or lovable.
INPUT: The next input you get will be your date acting awkward, uncomfortable, and not really connecting with you. This will reinforce your belief that you are not attractive, fun, or lovable.
EMOTION: This may lead you to feel fed up with dating and yourself, or even jealous of those who seem to have success.
BEHAVIOR: You'll make fun of those who date a lot and gradually retreat from the dating scene.
INPUT: People don't date you. Your belief is reinforced.
This is how a false belief can affect your life. And really, the second input could be the opposite; your date could seem to really like you and ask to see you again. But because you weren't yourself, you'll feel pressured to be something you weren't.
Now let's look at the same situation, processed through a belief of true doctrine.
INPUT: You ask someone out or asked out on a date.
BELIEF: This input filters through a belief that you and those around you are children of God, and therefore of great worth. This leads to other beliefs, such as an understanding of the healing power of connection and the worth your soul and others'.
EMOTIONAL/ATTITUDE: This will cause you to be relatively calm and excited for the date. Obviously you'll be nervous because, you know, Dating, but it won't be a mind-racking nervousness.
BEHAVIOR: Consequently, your fears will not dictate your actions. You will be able to be yourself. (...as much as possible. I'm not sure I believe first dates are too telling of someone, but at least it will be better than the situation above.) Your date will feel more at ease and comfortable being themselves because you are, and you will both look for opportunities for connection.
So, yes- these are quite oversimplified, but the principles stands true. The main point is this: No matter the outcome, the false belief will captivate you and bring you down. If the date is bad, you wallow in self-deprecating thoughts and continue to belief you can't date. If the date goes well, you feel obligated to keep being someone they can like, always afraid they'll find out that you're not lovable, fun, or attractive.
On the flip side, no matter the outcome, the true belief sets you free. You don't need to positive or negative reinforcement from others because you are sure in your God. If the date goes badly, you can get a good story out of it and try to improve the next time. If it goes well, awesome! You can continue to date without needing constant positive reinforcement from those you date because your confidence comes from God.
This is the great part about true beliefs; you don't need to find ways to justify them. The Holy Ghost will ratify truth and help you be sure in your true beliefs. However, the Holy Ghost cannot ratify that which is not true. We feel this absence of validation and so we search for it ourselves, because if we can't find anything to validate our belief then we'll have to change them.
These principles reach beyond the realms of dating (though I've seen it a lot in that aspect of my life lately). Another example that rings true with me is that of general expectations. While on my internship this summer, my roommate and work companion really tried to help me become more organized. She'd kindly invite and ask me to plan with her, clock hours, and join in other productive habits. I didn't do them, and, in fact, many times I couldn't bring myself to do them. I believe it's because these inputs were being processed through a belief that I had to perform well, or even perfectly, and a knowledge that I couldn't do that. My anxious and depressed mindset couldn't see them as ways to improve, only as impossible expectations that would only stress me out and exploit my weaknesses. So really, I guess my belief was more about me needing to prove myself. My worth was tied to my performance and I had lost sight of my connection to God.
This was an extremely harmful way to see things because I was deeply misunderstanding basic doctrine of God's plan for earthly life. Before I elaborate on that, I need to take a minute to explain growth vs. fixed mindsets.
Part 3: Mindsets- Beliefs in Action
The background of this idea comes from research done by psychologist Carol Dweck. For a more in depth explanation of her research, you can watch her TED Talk or read a variety of summaries found online. In the interest of flow, I'm summarizing based off of this video. Here's what happened:
- 400 5th graders were given the same menial task.
- Upon completion, students were randomly assigned to be praised for their intelligence or their effort. Each group was told one of the following sentences:
- For the next test, all students were given a choice of which task to complete. The two tasks were presented this way:
- While 67% of the group praised for intelligence chose the easier version, 92% of the group praised for effort chose the option that would allow them to grow more. To explain this, Carol Dweck said the following:
- "The child or adult hears, 'Oh, you think I'm brilliant and talented. That's why you admire me. That's why you value me. I better not do anything that will disprove this evaluation.' As a result, they enter a fixed mindset; they place it safe in the future and they limit the growth for their talent. Whereas focusing on the strategies they use, the way they are stretching themselves, and taking on hard tasks, the intense practice they are doing... Thos are the kinds of things that say to a child...,"It's about the process of growth." As a result, they don't feel, 'Oh, if I make a mistake you won't think I'm talented.' They think, 'Oh, if I don't take on hard things and stick to them, I'm not growing.
The children who were praised for intelligence got trapped in a fixed mindset; their worth was tied to results and performance. As such, they didn't want to risk letting others see any faults. They were afraid to try because they were afraid to fail. All this points to the fact that a fixed mindset kills motivation. If you're stuck in this trap, know you can change. Our brains are moldable and able to change, and we can use our agency to change our nature.
What does this look like in real life? Probably similar to how I was the first week of classes. I felt like ohmygoshthere'ssomanythingstodoandI'mbasicallygoingtodie. I knew I couldn't get straight A's. For some classes, I knew it'd be a tough fight to even pass. And then my anxiety flared and reminded me of all these extra expectations I have for myself, most of which are incredibly unrealistic. So I wanted to quit, because I knew I would most likely fail, and because I didn't want to push that hard; I just wanted to be "good" at school. It seemed that the harder I needed to try, the less "good" I was.
So I've had to work with reframing the challenges ahead as a push to develop myself, both in my field and as a person, rather than a push to perform. I don't know what my grades will be, but if I focus on that I will freak out and drive myself crazy. I try to remind myself that I want to learn and enjoy this amazing opportunity I have to study what I want.
Back in the study, the children were given a final task, something well above their grade level, something at which they were designed to fail. Students from the first group became frustrated easily and gave up relatively quickly, while students from the second group worked harder, longer, and enjoyed the work more. When asked why they thought they did poorly, students with a fixed mindset would say something like "I'm just not very smart," while students with a growth mindset were able to respond with, "I just need a better strategy." The thing is, a better strategy probably wouldn't work because IT WAS AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK. They could not have succeeded. But while the first group took that as a personal blow, the second group saw it as a way to grow.
Part 4: Gospel Application
Now to tie it all together. I want you to hear an excerpt from this 1990 devotional and then I'll comment on it. I recommend listening and reading along, which you can do here (start at 9:51). (I also want to note that this talk is in incredible and at some point you should make time to read all of it.)
Sometimes the weight of the demand for perfection drives us to despair. Sometimes we fail to believe that most choice portion of the gospel that says he can change us and bring us into his kingdom. Let me share an experience that happened about ten years ago. My wife and I were living in Pennsylvania. Things were going pretty well; I’d been promoted. It was a good year for us, though a trying year for Janet. That year she had our fourth child, graduated from college, passed the CPA exam, and was made Relief Society president. We had temple recommends, we had family home evening. I was in the bishopric. I thought we were headed for “LDS yuppiehood.” Then one night the lights went out. Something happened in my wife that I can only describe as “dying spiritually.” She wouldn’t talk about it; she wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. That was the worst part. For a couple of weeks she did not wish to participate in spiritual things. She asked to be released from her callings, and she would not open up and tell me what was wrong.
Finally, after about two weeks, one night I made her mad and it came out. She said, “All right. You want to know what’s wrong? I’ll tell you what’s wrong. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t lift it. I can’t get up at 5:30 in the morning and bake bread and sew clothes and help my kids with their homework and do my own homework and do my Relief Society stuff and get my genealogy done and write the congressman and go to the PTA meetings and write the missionaries . . .” And she just started naming one brick after another that had been laid on her, explaining all the things she could not do. She said, “I don’t have the talent that Sister Morrell has. I can’t do what Sister Childs does. I try not to yell at the kids, but I lose control, and I do. I’m just not perfect, and I’m not ever going to be perfect. I’m not going to make it to the celestial kingdom, and I’ve finally admitted that to myself. You and the kids can go, but I can’t lift it. I’m not ‘Molly Mormon,’ and I’m not ever going to be perfect, so I’ve given up. Why break my back?”
Well, we started to talk, and it was a long night. I asked her, “Janet, do you have a testimony?”
She said, “Of course I do! That’s what’s so terrible. I know it’s true. I just can’t do it.”
“Have you kept the covenants you made when you were baptized?”
She said, “I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I cannot keep all the commandments all the time.”
Then I rejoiced because I knew what was wrong, and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t any of those horrible things I thought it might be. Who would have thought after eight years of marriage, after all the lessons we’d given and heard, and after all we had read and done in the Church, who would have thought that Janet did not know the gospel of Jesus Christ? You see, she was trying to save herself. She knew why Jesus is a coach, a cheerleader, an advisor, a teacher. She knew why he is an example, the head of the Church, the Elder Brother, or even God. She knew all of that, but she did not understand why he is called the Savior.
Janet was trying to save herself with Jesus as an advisor. Brothers and sisters, we cannot do it. No one can. No one is perfect—not even the Brethren. Please turn to Ether 3:2. This is about one of the greatest prophets that ever lived, the brother of Jared. His faith is so great that he is about to pierce the veil and see the spiritual body of Christ. As he begins to pray, he says,
Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; [One of the greatest prophets who ever lived, and he starts his prayer with an apology as an imperfect being for approaching a perfect God.] for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.
Of course we fail at the celestial level. That’s why we need a savior, and we are commanded to approach God and to call upon him so we may receive according to our desires. In the New Testament the Savior says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). We misinterpret that frequently. We think that means blessed are the righteous. It does not. When are you hungry? When are you thirsty? When you don’t have the object of your desire. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after the righteousness that God has, after the righteousness of the celestial kingdom, because as that is the desire of their heart, they can achieve it—they will be filled. We may receive “according to our desires.”
Like the students in the study, we have been given an impossible task, a life-long test. We must make it back to God, who cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, and yet we sin all the time and we will continue to do so. It would seem that the plan was designed for us to fail. In fact, if we try to go it alone, we will fail.
But our Father loves us too much for that to be the plan. So he gave us a Savior, and a chance to return. Because of Him, life is not so much about being perfect as it learning and growing into perfection.
And what could be more wonderful? Life is not about giving the best performance or receiving immediate justice when we mess up. If we believe that, are hopes of progressing are shot. How wonderful it is that we have a Savior, who has taken upon him the weight of failure so that we may have the chance to grow.
I've gone through some experience lately that have allowed me to start seeing weakness less of a barrier between me and God and more of a step towards him. Even weakness that will seemingly never be healed, I now see it as part of the journey I'm on to come to know Christ and God. For me, that makes it so that I can keep going. I am independent from my short comings, I am hopeful, and I can keep going.
Part 5: Doing It
I love these principles and truths, and I know they can help someone become more than they are, but they won't have any effect without action.
Get "a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world." Do this by writing down what you believe about God, yourself, and the world around you, in that order, without editing. Just write. Once you've finished, figure out what belief is behind your lack of motivation. Compare your beliefs and the doctrines to which you've been subscribing to Christ's and figure out what needs to change.
Then, ask God for help to make that change happen. Immerse yourself in true doctrine all that you can so that your false beliefs can be corrected and your true beliefs can be strengthened and become part of you.
Don't berate yourself when you fall short of your expectations. Embrace these times as chances for greater growth and greater connection to God.
Finally, if you do all of this and still nothing seems to help, get more help. When I'm in the depths of depression, it seems my ability to be motivated is the thing that is broken, and I need help from family, friends, and therapy to get back on track.
There will be more ways to apply this in your life, but I know you'll find what works best for you as you go.
You can do this. I believe in you. I’m pulling for you. "And I’m not the only one. Parents are pulling for you, leaders are pulling for you, and prophets are pulling for you. And Jesus is pulling with you."