My Problem with All Things Motivational

The first motivational book I tried to read was a John Maxwell book. It was during the holidays after my first year in the university. After a few pages, I dropped it, picked up another text, finished that and returned to John Maxwell. I tried to finish the book but couldn’t. After that first attempt, I’ve tried to read several motivational texts from other great writers; from the Think and Grow Rich type to the ones that try to tell you about your riches in Christ. The only one I remember finishing is Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

When I talk about my dislike for motivational books I usually add a side note that the problem has to come from me and not the quality of the texts. There are lot of folks I respect who have a love for motivational texts and speakers. They just happen to lull me to sleep. Once in a while my dislike slips through on Facebook. Like when I posted this:

motivational grouse

Thank God the motivational crowd is not as vindictive as some liberal groups or they would have attacked me. Is there a reason behind my dislike for all things motivational? I know someone has to remind couch potatoes like me that there’s a world out there for the taking, I just don’t get why it has to be done every time. I look at people who attend churches where their pastors preach motivational stuff every week and wonder how they survive. It’s good for us to feel in the clouds once in a while but too much of it has the same effect on me as eating a meal of icing sugar. A topping of it on my cake is good, but a plate of it will just make me sick.

I love Jesus.  Sometimes when I read his words, he sounds like an anti-motivational speaker. Yes, there were times he said things to uplift the spirit of the people, but that was to people who were really down, not folks who wanted to feel convenient about life. He once fed five thousand with fish, but the next day when they expected more fish, he talked about feeding them his flesh. He told a rich dude to give away all his money. He told a guy who wanted to follow him not to, and told another who wanted to bury his father to let the dead bury their dead. That doesn’t sound motivational.

The ones that tell you to think outside the box without realising there is no worse box than a cliché

There’s a type of motivational speaker I find comical: the kind that just reads a few books on success, dons a sleek suit and speaks in some strange accent. They are the ones that tell you to think outside the box without realising there is no worse box than a cliché. These are a laughable lot and we’ll all be better if we stay away from them. But there’s  a kind of motivational speaker that seems to have found value in some area of life we’ve all missed and is eager to spur us in that direction. To this kind I say, keep up the good work. Some of us will just never be motivated by that.

I’m more motivated by life, every day stories and characters from books whose writers have given the kind of life I aspire to live. This doesn’t mean I’m better than the man who lives on John Maxwell, Sam Adeyemi or Leke Adler. Their words just don’t work for me. Does it work for you? Am I missing something?


26 Replies to “My Problem with All Things Motivational”

  1. Nah,,doesn’t work for me either. I’ve never been able to complete one motivational book, yet I have read thousands of fictions, journals and research papers since I first picked up a book.

    You think we need to see a shrink?

  2. Kinda similar, The only one I also finished reading is ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad.’ I even got the sequel, ‘Cashflow Quadrant’ or something like that as a present but I lost it because I didnt take good care of it. By the way, you forgot another category of Motivational Speakers. The ones who have failed in almost everything they did, who try to give other people hope they dont have themselves. A lot of average students fall in this category. Motivation isnt totally bad but it is just too ‘ideal’ for the Nigerian situation. Here, nothing works! I dont even have electricity to cook or preserv e my food, John Maxwell is now telling me to go and start that business with little or nothing! Nibo?

    1. LOL But Maxwell might be right. It is possible to start a business with little or nothing even in Nigeria. The question is “What kind of business is it?” I’m sure there are a few success stories in Nigeria who started with nothing but their ideas.

  3. I am not exactly clear with what your definition of “motivational” is. Please help with that. I read John Maxwell solely for the purpose of the principles and stories that he shares. Usually, I try to find a scriptural reference for the principles and when I cant find, I do my best not to share. But then, I have a problem with writers who reduce Jesus to the class of philosophers like Aristotle and others.

    1. By motivational books, I mean books that offer to show you a way to live better. Anything that falls under the “How to..” bracket. I think Maxwell is the pick of the lot with the way he sometimes uses scriptures to illustrate his principles. It just doesn’t work for me.

      1. OK. Thanks. The principles shared in the books actually work for me especially when they have the force of the Scriptures. I think the bulk of those principles authors like Maxwell share are just regular life principles that we all get to abide by one way or the other. The problem I have with motivational books is their tendency to blow the importance of a principle out of proportion… But to the extent of their personal applicability, I am OK with them.

  4. I’ve tried a few motivation books. I have issues with the ones that prescribe methods that seems impossible. For example, ‘All you need to succeed is just sit down and think deep’….. Anyone that has ever tried that would realize how frustrating life could be without the help of the godhead that really matters.

    There are good ones, anyway. All books have their market and people that are madly in love with them…. Just stick to the ones that suit you.

    1. LOl @ “All you need to succeed is just sit down and think deep”

      I know there are people that love them and I have nothing against such people. I just hope they stick to the good ones and feast on other good things.

    1. I rarely read Christian fiction these days but some of them are quite good. Frank Peretti has me any day and I know a lot of folks love Francine Rivers. I wish Christians read more fiction. We need the empathy they teach.

  5. I alwmysel ask myself that “what if there was no one to motivate me, won’t I make it to my dreamland? And I came to this callous conclusion that self motivation is the best form of motivation in a mans life. I have never read any motivational books with particular reference to the “how” category, and don’t intend to, its kind of against my principle and ideology of self motivation

    1. You are right about the good of self-motivation, but sometimes we are not in a place to motivate ourselves. In times like that people look to different things, so talk to friends, some read poems, some read motivational texts. Motivational texts just don’t work for me.

  6. I read far and wide, even a little outside my comfort zone. I try to find value in everything I read; either what to do or what not to do. I learn from motivational books, and some teach self-discipline, commitment to values, consistency, determination, sacrifice, etc, as keys to achieving your dreams- isn’t that what the excerpts you pointed out from Jesus’ life is about? I like the bullet-point-like format, which delivers wisdom in nugget sizes- makes for a quick read and for easy reference. Unconsciously, my brain picks up the mechanics of writing. I cannot stand poorly written work though; I will abandon that kind of book.

    I like John Maxwell. His words have inspired me. Even now, they continue to do so.

    1. Timi, I’ve read all sorts of difficult texts and I’ve conquered many, but I just don’t finish motivational texts. I once carried Maxwell’s 360 degree leader with me for a year, hoping to finish it. I read in spurts and fits and still didn’t. And that’s just one of my many failures. I also don’t like the bullet point format for some reason. I know it’s popular, can be effective but I just prefer things put in narratives. We however agree on one thing: I cannot stand anything poorly written–even when it’s by me.

  7. I learn from some motivational books , like livelytwist said some teach valuable lessons. I however do not read just any one, there are some junks out there called motivational books, I also don’t read a motivational book because it is popular i just may not flow with it, for instance I’ve never read rich dad , poor dad. A good book by popular opinion I just don’t particularly dig it, on the other hand I like Jack Canfield’s Success Principles. In the end I think I’ve learnt that you have to be your own self motivator and also learn to spend time with God, the Holyspirit happens to be a super motivator, you can’t be with him and not be motivated to go harder and do better.By the way I totally dig Pastor Sam , but then his messages I have are not really about motivation.

    1. I’ve not attempted anything by Jack Canfield; perhaps it’ll work for me too. I agree the fact that we have to learn to spend time with God. He’s often all the motivation we need. I know there are many Pastor Sam out there; maybe we should blame them for how people like me haven’t seen anything apart from motivational texts from him.

  8. I find them hard to read too. But for other reasons entirely. I have this school of thought (I hope I still do) that many of the greats didn’t read these books. They were taught by life and became whatever They became by dragging themselves through life and doing whatever it took to attain greatness. Their originality always inspired me.

    Also I wanted my writing to be untainted, I wanted to “sit and think deep” and write out of that, without external influences. That was my thinking at the time. I have noticed some changes over time, but that root still stands. Am I right? I don’t know yet. What I do know is that I can’t finish any one of those books. Time will tell.

    Bros, I May not be in a position to say this, but you’re getting better at this. Your writings are really emotive.

    1. Hah Bolu, I finally found your ’emotive’ comment. Thanks.

      Now to your “sit and think deep” comment; it’s difficult for any of us to attain any level of originality without reading great folks who are ahead of us. Of course there are exceptions (you can google Clarice Lispector) but that is a rarity. The key is to ensure the books we consume are top quality. We must find books that speak to us and those that challenge us, then go ahead and be the best we can also be.

  9. While a lil’ encouragement as at when due isn’t out of place, I hardly think serious-minded folks can afford to thrive on what perpetually keeps their self-worth, capabilities or perception of reality bloated.

    For me, a chief litmus test of the worthiness of whatever I read or listen to is if it provokes and not excites me.

  10. I am right there with you. I have never been able to read a motivational book from start to finish. I also have very little patience with motivational speakers. They all seem to be caught up in the world of ideas, and all I want them to do is come down to earth and have a conversation with me. But what do I know? Some might argue that my level of reasoning falls beneath the standard required to understand what is being motivationally spoken 🙂

    1. Falls beneath the standard. how? I think it is more about personal preferences. I don’t like being spoon-fed and that is it. And judging from the reaction to the post I think a lot of people are just like me.

      1. Haha, I was being sarcastic. What I meant was, people assume the reason you can’t possibly like a motivational speaker is because you don’t think on their level.

        I agree about the spoon feeding. Share ideas, but let people form their own opinions.

  11. I’ve read many motivational books but I have a friend who has never finished one, finds it boring and too serious. She will always ask me ‘Do u know my problem with these books? Then answe her own question “they are too theoretical or this man is telling his story, doesn’t mean that what worked for him will work for you so what’s the point in reading? And I agree with her. Although I’ve read lots of them, they are mostly talk in my own opinion and they can be boring, repetitive and so full of clichés.

    But they have helped some people succeed in life. For some people, those books were what made the difference in their life decisions and kept hopelessness at bay.


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