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How to Stay Motivated

I had a conversation with a client a while back about how to stay motivated to grow and change. We talked about how prodding yourself forward with harsh demands doesn’t work and how words like “should” only trigger a desire to rebel. What, then, is left for us? Here are two useful mental constructs: the observing ego and the ego ideal.

According to Wikepedia “the observing ego is that part of the self that has no affects, engages in no actions, and makes no decisions. It functions in conflict-free states to merely witness what it sees. It is like a camera that records without judgment. It is never weighing any thought, gesture or action on the scale of right and wrong, sane or insane, good or bad. It is a psychic entity that is intact and separate from what is taking place before it.” Of course, there’s no actual part of the mind where “it” resides because there is no actual “it,” only a thought process. Another mental construct, the ego ideal, “is the inner image of oneself as one wants to become.” It is the best selves we wish to be.

So what do these two concepts have to do with motivation? Rather than prod ourselves to be as we think we should or ought to be, why not think and act in ways that will help us become who we hope and aspire to be? The function of the ego ideal is to beckon us forward to behave in ways that keep us in sync with our model selves. For each of us, the ideal self is different. Some of us wish to be conformists and some non-conformists. We also may wish to be creative, compassionate, self-less, worthy, enlightened, kind, worldly, etc. Wanting to live up to these ideals keeps us striving for them, all the while recognizing that we will never permanently be any of these things. The aim is not to be perfect. The goal is to keep reaching for the brass ring knowing that we don’t get to take it home with us.

We move toward our ego ideal by using our observing ego. This function never judges or takes sides but, rather, only notices what we think, say, or do. Put another way, it reports the news. It is a way of impartially monitoring how we’re doing in our quest to live according to our ego ideal, by, say, observing that we were kind to ourselves after a binge and that we yelled at the kids because we were tired and cranky after work.

Using these constructs—observing neutrally and striving for a humane ideal—is all that is necessary to keep motivated. Lacking either one, we may return to fruitlessly “shoulding” on ourselves. Make sure you have a consciously constructed ego ideal and that you are always using your observing ego to move you toward it.

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