There’s a bizarre and often misunderstood link between meditation and motivation. As a meditation teacher, I’ve heard many people comment that meditation is demotivating. The argument is that because meditation develops acceptance it inhibits change. This, however, is a misguided view, and indeed, meditation can be immensely motivating. It all depends which meditation techniques you use.
Many meditation techniques focus on cultivating acceptance for the present moment, such as mindfulness. Let me give an example. Let’s say we have been feeling depressed because we’ve put on weight (something I myself experienced years ago) we can use meditation to become more accepting of our reality. In this instance, meditation makes us accept the fact that we’ve gained weight. This is great for the depression side of things, because when we accept our reality we are less emotionally effected by it. However, it isn’t do good for actually losing that weight, because if we accept our weight gain, why would we change it?
The fact that meditation develops acceptance is why many people say it is demotivating. Indeed, many scientific studies have shown that meditation can be demotivating. One study  published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, found strong evidence that meditation reduces motivation and can potentially cause problems in the business world because people are less motivated to advance their careers. However, this study focused on mindfulness (the practise of consciously observing the present moment with a nonjudgmental attitude), which is just one of many different types of meditation.
Mindfulness is one meditation technique that could indeed be demotivating, because it is specifically focused on accepting the present moment. However, many other meditation techniques focus on different things, and lead to different results. And, indeed, there are alternative meditations that do create motivation.
Buddha himself was known to use meditation as a way to motivate himself. He would wake up every morning at 4am and begin his 4-hour meditation practice. During this practice, Buddha would perform two types of meditation that do develop motivation: Karuna and Metta.
Karuna (“Compassion”) and Metta (“Loving Kindness”) are two types of meditation that cultivate motivation. Both are about developing warm feelings of love, kindness, and compassion both for ourselves and for other people.
We know from significant scientific research that love and kindness are two highly motivating factors . When we are motivated by love and compassion (both for ourselves and for others) we become motivated to help end suffering and to enhance life.
After Buddha’s morning meditations, he would immediately set to helping people in his Sangha (community) precisely because he was so motivated. The principle is simple: recognise the way we and others suffer, and the ways we could be happier, and we will naturally become motivated to improve things. Just as Buddha used this simple principle, we can too.
Here’s how to use meditation for motivation to help yourself and to help others.
Using meditation for motivation to help others
To become motivated to help others, we need to cultivate feelings of love and compassion, and we need to recognise the struggles that other people go through. The best meditation techniques for this are Karuna and Metta.
To perform Karuna meditation, we begin by breathing meditatively in the traditional way that many people are now familiar with. Once the mind calms, we then bring into awareness other people and the struggles they face in their lives. Perhaps a family member is struggling with one problem or another. Bring this person to mind, recognise the struggle that they are facing, and then visualize yourself helping them. This will naturally motivate you to help the other person. You can do this for each significant person in your life, and indeed for society in general, and it will naturally motivate you to take actions to improve things.
Complement Karuna with Metta.
Where Karuna focuses on helping other people with struggles, Metta (Loving Kindness) focuses on embracing the positive aspects of other people and their lives. To do this, once again take a few mindful breaths. Now bring to mind the people in your life (one at a time). Imagine them happy. Imagine sending them positive vibes of love and kindness. Finally, imagine helping them to achieve happiness. This will motivate you to help other people to become happy and successful.
Meditation for motivation to help yourself
To use meditation for motivation to help ourselves, we follow the same principles as above. The only difference is that this time we meditate on our own suffering and our own happiness. Start by performing the Karuna meditation as described in the section above. Now bring to mind the struggles in your own life and the different ways you suffer. Now imagine supporting yourself through those problems. And finally, imagine taking actions that will help you to overcome whatever problems you may be facing.
For loving kindness, we again focus on ourselves. Imagine sending warm feelings of love and kindness to yourself. Imagine seeing yourself happy. Now visualize different ways in which you can create the happiness. Imagine helping yourself, and feeling wonderful for doing so.
These two traditional types of meditation will motivate you to improve life both for yourself and for others.
It’s unfortunate that so many people believe meditation is demotivating. And ultimately, it is because the majority of the media’s attention has been placed on mindfulness and not on the myriad other meditation techniques. Yes, mindfulness itself can be demotivating, because it is solely focused on cultivating acceptance of the present moment. But mindfulness is just one technique out of many (there are, in fact, several thousands different meditations in the world). If you have been practicing mindfulness and found it demotivating, try switching to an alternative technique, such as the Metta and Karuna methods that we discussed above. You will find that these methods fill you with positive energy and motivation.
AUTHOR: Paul Harrison
Paul Harrison is a mindfulness and meditation instructor in Hamilton, Ontario Canada, and the creator of TheDailyMeditation.com.