Why Motivational Videos Fail at Motivating Us

We’ve all watched those motivational videos where a runner is crossing the finish line in slow motion, or a toned shirtless guy is climbing a mountain, accompanied by an epic track and an authoritative male narrator speaking inspirational words about success.

I have a love and hate relationship with motivational videos. While some are super cheesy, I have to admit that some really good ones do get to me. The better ones can instantly energize you, transport you into the hero’s journey, and make you feel like ‘That’s it, I can do it, I’m ready to fight any challenge’. But soon after the picture fades to black and the music stops, we often find ourselves back at the beginning, longing for something more to sustain our motivation. And a week from then we barely remember that we watched the video at all.

Why is that? Most motivational videos tell us that we can achieve anything. They tell us that we can, that we are worth it, that we owe it to ourselves. They give us good reasons for it and remind us why we should never give up. They try to get us pumped with the belief that we can succeed at anything despite facing unsurmountable challenges and tell us not to make any excuses. Which is all good.

We all need a source of inspiration and support even though we don’t always like to admit it. If we are completely honest, ideally it would take the form of a human being who calmly pats us on our backs and assures us that it will all turn out great. Someone who looks us in the eye and reminds us of all the skills and strengths we have to succeed. But not all of us have someone available to do this unfailingly. Not to mention that this might also feel awkward, perhaps even be counterproductive and possibly make us feel weak. So instead of turning to our loved ones for moral support, it is much safer to browse ‘motivational video’ on youtube.

So looking at the millions watching all these motivational videos and the straightforward logic they contain, we should all be hyper-motivated and extremely successful – by whatever measure – but are we? If it has worked well for you, then stop reading here. I don’t mean to discourage you at all from consuming those videos that I myself have a soft spot for. But if not, how has the motivational content failed us?

What the majority of motivational videos don’t do, is tell us about the micro-steps it takes to succeed at whatever your goal is. The reason why the motivational effect that comes from motivational videos is so short-lived is because it comes from outside of us and doesn’t directly connect to our world. It attempts to imprint on us a train of thought that makes total sense in theory but is sometimes difficult to relate to, because it talks in very macro terms, and oftentimes about someone else’s life. We are given an example of someone very successful, a person on the Fortune 500 list or someone who came from nothing and achieved enormous monetary success. We do feel inspired by the story. And in some cases, we even strongly relate to this person and make an instant connection. But more often we struggle to find a specific dot that connects to our own concrete lives at this very moment. It is not obvious how the person got from A to Z.

After watching the video, we still ask ourselves ‘So what specifically should I do now, right now?’ More often we gain more insight by reading a person’s biography, watching a personal interview, or talking to a friend about their journey to success because they contain more specifics. The beginnings, the small successes, the setbacks, failures, as well as how the person overcame their specific challenges.

That being said, motivational videos do deserve a place in our lives. It can be the thing that kicks us into gear to start figuring out how to sort out our lives and achieve our goals. It can also be the cherry on top, which we look at with amusement, which concludes all the efforts we’ve already made to get motivated from the inside. It can serve as a non-judging mentor who spurs us on. Motivational videos only become dangerous if used as a crutch. If we spend endless hours watching them and try to derive a sense of safety from them. If we continue to live in an imaginary world of hypothetical success and don’t get active and move in the real world.

Enough said I’ve finished my blog post, and now it’s time for a motivational video.

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