Before Fight Club was a cult film starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, it was a cult book written by Chuck Palahniuk.
For those who are familiar with the story, it might be considered an unlikely source of any kind of motivational lesson. However, its pages contain one of the most important things one should know about getting motivated and succeeding. In this post I want to share it with you.
How Raymond K. Hessel Got Motivated
Towards the end of Fight Club, our protagonist (played by Edward Norton in the film) approaches a grocery store worker named Edward “K. K. K. K. K. K.” Hessel as he waits for the late night bus and puts a gun to his head. What follows is (in my opinion) one of the most engrossing scenes in the book (a video of the scene is included below).
Fill in the blank. What does Raymond Hessel want to be when he grows up?
Go home, you said you just wanted to go home, please.
No shit, I said. But after that, how did you want to spend your life? If you could do anything in the world.
Make something up.
You didn’t know.
Then you’re dead right now, I said. I said, now turn your head.
Death to commence in ten, in nine, in eight.
A vet, you said. You want to be a vet, a veterinarian.
That means animals. You have to go to school for that.
It means too much school, you said.
You could be in school working your ass off, Raymond Hessel, or you could be dead. You choose. I stuffed your wallet into the back pocket of your jeans. So you really wanted to be an animal doctor. I took the saltwater muzzle of the gun off one cheek and pressed it against the other. Is that what you’ve always wanted to be, Dr. Raymond K. K. K. K. Hessel, a veterinarian?
No. No, you meant, yeah, no shit. Yeah.
Okay, I said, and I pressed the wet end of the muzzle to the tip of your chin, and then the tip of your nose, and everywhere I pressed the muzzle, it left a shining wet ring of your tears.
So, I said, go back to school. If you wake up tomorrow morning, you find a way to get back into school.
I pressed the wet end of the gun on each cheek, and then on your chin, and then against your forehead and left the muzzle pressed there. You might as well be dead right now, I said.
I have your license.
I know who you are. I know where you live. I’m keeping your license, and I’m going to check on you, mister Raymond K. Hessel. In three months, and then in six months, and then in a year, and if you aren’t back in school on your way to being a veterinarian, you will be dead.
You didn’t say anything.
Get out of here, and do your little life, but remember I’m watching you, Raymond Hessel, and I’d rather kill you than see you working a shit job for just enough money to buy cheese and watch television.
Now, I’m going to walk away so don’t turn around.
Raymond K. K. Hessel, your dinner is going to taste better than any meal you’ve ever eaten, and tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of your entire life.
There are few (if any) greater motivators than the fear of death.
If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you that you must do something, you are likely to try your damnedest to achieve it, no matter what it is. Your survival instinct will kick in and you will accomplish things you never thought you were capable of doing.
And that fact carries with it one of the greatest lessons one can be taught about motivation: the strength of your motivator can make all the difference to your likelihood of success.
The Fallacy of Dieting
Consider for a moment the dieting industry, which is forecast to grow to $66b this year.
How can such an unnecessary industry exist? Let’s face it: when it comes to dieting, we all know what we need to do. Eat less bad stuff, eat more good stuff, exercise more. It’s a foolproof process if you’re willing to make the necessary sacrifices. Yet we spend literally billions of dollars on fad diets in the vain hope that they provide the key to stress-free weight loss. We’re looking for a shortcut; an easier way.
What many of us don’t appreciate is that the key to stress-free weight loss is motivation. We all know how to lose weight, but what we need more than anything is a strong enough motivator. We don’t need a foolproof dieting solution (which is a good thing, considering that no such thing exists). We need a gun to the head, just like Raymond K. Hessel got.
How to Waste Potential With a Lack of Motivation
A couple of months ago I went out for a few drinks with my girlfriend. We met up with a group of her friends in a bar and I got chatting to one of them.
Before long the topic of discussion moved onto our jobs. I explained what I did and he listened with interest. I then moved the conversation onto his job and discovered that he was a graphic designer, working in a job he hated. He needed a change.
I told him that he was rather fortunate, given that his particular skill set lends itself to freelancing perfectly. There was no reason why he couldn’t build up a client base on the side while working in his current job and quit when the time was right.
But I had something even better for him. At the time I had been looking for a graphic designer for the redesign of Leaving Work Behind for a while without any joy. I made him a deal: he would design a logo for my newest blog (Healthy Enough), and if he did a good job, I would commission him to work on the Leaving Work Behind design. Furthermore, I’d promote him as the designer to my audience (that’s you guys!), which would almost undoubtedly lead to more work in the future.
This should have been a dream for an aspiring freelance graphic designer. Not only would he get on the ladder with a client with ongoing needs, but that same client would be happy to promote his services to his not inconsiderable following. He certainly seemed keen at the time.
But that was seemingly the beginning and the end of the dream for him. After a couple of weeks I received a handful of unusable designs (which probably took a few minutes to cobble together). I sent him a response with my thoughts and he replied with assurances that he would give the project far more time.
Fast forward another six weeks and I had heard nothing. In the end, my girlfriend had to harass him into sending an email just to tell me that he “didn’t have time” to work on anything else due to his commitments to his job. That might be a reasonable statement if it weren’t for the fact that my girlfriend knew all too well that he was far from weighed down by other professional commitments.
The simple fact is this: he wasn’t motivated enough. He didn’t have a gun to his head. While he said he hated his job and wanted to quit it, that clearly wasn’t a strong enough motivator in itself to persuade him to take the relatively simple step of spending just a couple of hours on a logo design for me. Who knows where that could have led. He’ll never know.
Finding a Big Enough Reason
Many LWB readers are in a job that they want to get out of, but in terms of creating motivators, they never get much further than that.
In my opinion, that is where so many of us go wrong. While you may dislike or even hate your job, that does not automatically make it a strong enough motivator to undertake such an enormous transformation as quitting your job and building a successful online business. You may need more.
I recognize that better today than I ever have done before. When I look back to my motivators, I see much more than just a desire to quit my job (although that was certainly a big piece of the puzzle). In reality I had a number of motivators, all strong. I wanted:
- To prove to myself that I could create a business out of nothing and call myself a self-made success.
- A level of flexibility in my life that a 9-to-5 would never afford. I wanted the financial freedom to travel.
- The financial security to live a life largely free of the concerns of money.
The list goes on, but my point is this: I had something far closer to a gun to my head than my girlfriend’s friend did. All he had was an abstract notion that he didn’t like his job and wanted to quit it. That wasn’t enough.
Put Yourself in Raymond’s Shoes
In my opinion, being suitably motivated is often far more powerful a factor in determining your success than your abilities or experience. I truly believe that every single person reading this post has the necessary potential to build a better life for themselves. The key is not in whether or not you can do it, but whether or not you are willing to take action.
That’s where your motivators come in. While you’re not going to be able to recreate Raymond’s gun-to-the-head epiphany (thankfully), you need to figure out what really drives you.
Your motivator cannot be an abstract notion that exists ambiguously within your head. It needs to be as real to you as it possibly can be. It needs to be as real as a gun to the head.
So take this opportunity to think critically about your situation. I advise that you create a complete list of things that you like and things that you dislike as outlined in my previous post on the meaning of life. What changes can you make in your life to reduce the number of things you dislike and increase the number of things you like? Often there will just one, or perhaps a small handful of solutions (as there was for me).
Once you understand what you don’t like about your life and what you need to do to make your life better, your motivation should be far more charged. If it’s not, then you may want to question just how much you dislike your life (and if in fact you’re relatively satisfied with your current situation).
There’s no fooling motivation in the long run — you either have it or you don’t. If you don’t then your motivators aren’t strong enough. It’s that simple. Don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t be afraid to admit it to yourself. The human mind has a knack of achieving equilibrium — if you find yourself lacking the motivation to achieve something, perhaps it’s just not the right time. Perhaps your lot in life isn’t so bad after all.
Don’t fight for something that you’re mind isn’t really willing to fight for. Pick your battles.
The Darker Side of Motivation
It would be remiss of me not to highlight the clear causation that exists between motivation and stress. If you do find a strong motivator then you will likely to feel pressured into achieving your goal, which in turn can cause a great deal of stress.
It is unavoidable. It’s like the first law of thermodynamics (that energy can be transformed from one form to another, but not created or destroyed): the energy that motivation supplies must be transformed into something else. That energy most often transforms into the stress that such a high level of motivation unavoidably leads to.
Consider Raymond’s predicament. He now has an enormously strong motivator to go back to school and study to be a veterinarian. However, the stress laid upon him will be enormous, as he knows that failure could lead to death. He has been “blessed” with an extremely strong motivator, but at the same time, he will experience an extreme amount of stress.
This is not intended to discourage you from seeking to achieve your goals. If that motivation exists, it should not be ignored. For the most part, if it is ignored, you will still experience stress due to your inaction. It works both ways.
True Motivation Cannot Be Ignored
I’ll conclude by saying this: if you are truly motivated, your only option is to succeed in your goals. If you do not, you will be miserable. Fortunate, you will have so much motivation that your likelihood of succeeding will be high (on the assumption that you have not set yourself an absurd goal).
And believe me: most of our goals, when examined relative to the achievements of mankind, are laughably small. I’ve touched upon this before.
If you’ve identified your true motivators and they are strong enough, trust in them. Let them guide you. You’ll be amazed at where they will take you.
Photo Credit: Ack Ook