Rule #2: Maximize Inner Motivation

torah-scrollRecently, I shared my observations on an article called “Ten Rules Fit People Live By.” Since I was rather critical of the author of that piece, I’ve decided to see if I could do better by examining each of the rules in the light of Biblical teaching. You can check out Rule #1 here. 

The second rule, shared, like all of them, by a personal trainer named Joel Harper, is Maximize Inner Motivation. Here’s how the author explains that.

To do this you need to be absolutely clear about why you want to get fit. “Figure out what’s really important to you,” Harper urges. “Do you want to lower your blood pressure? Fit into a size two? Or do you just want to feel better?” Motivation that lasts can’t come from an outside source—like your doctor or a loved one who wants you to slim down. It has to come from a personal, deep-rooted desire for change.

Rule #2 is a sort of common-place of self-help literature. According to those writers, you can’t get motivation externally. You have to want something yourself in order to achieve it. This theory is related to the widespread lie, “You can do anything if you want it badly enough.”

I have to admit that I somewhat agree with Rule #2. It wasn’t social pressure or Penny or any other outside force that had me at the gym this morning lifting weights or out on the streets in Independence putting in 6 miles. That was all me.

On the other hand, if inner motivation were really the ultimate force in the universe, then why does the military employ butt-kicking drill instructors? Why do we need police to keep people from driving like maniacs? Couldn’t we save a lot of money and effort by just teaching everyone to self-motivate? Those motivational posters aren’t all that expensive!

There are limits to inner motivation. From a spiritual perspective, those limits seem to live in the space between our redeemed souls and our sin-afflicted bodies. Paul understood this limit well as he explains in Romans 7:21-25:

 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

When I ran that 6 miles this morning, my intention was to maintain a 9-minute pace along the way. What I found was that I couldn’t do it. But that’s a lie. What I found was that I didn’t want to do it badly enough to endure the complaints of my heart and lungs. I don’t believe that I actually sinned by falling off of that pace, but the descent into sin, the fall from intention to execution, is similar to what Paul describes here.

I’m at peace with my slightly disappointing run this morning, but there are other places in my life when inner motivation utterly fails, places where I need to imagine Christ watching me, where I need exterior motivation. In 1 Kings 8, during his prayer of dedication for the temple, Solomon prays that people, aware of their sins, will spread “out their hands toward this temple.” He doesn’t urge the people to look inward but to look at the temple, an external, physical symbol of God’s presence and power.

Rule #2 isn’t utter foolishness, but it is a limited thing. For the truly important things in life, exterior motivation is often a necessity.

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