How Do We Get and Stay Motivated?

“Why bother. There’s nothing we can do.”

That’s what my highly educated coworker with two young children said when I told him about my neighborhood sustainability group and our activities. This position of resignation pains me deeply because it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Transition Town movement is about choosing to act now in a planful, mindful (and even joyful and playful) manner, rather than waiting to react later when faced with the most painful circumstances. The Transition movement is the antithesis of resignation and helplessness. It presents a kind-of hope when facing a set of facts that can seem hopeless.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to act, especially here in the U.S. where the weight of a culture of consumption and selfishness is enforced at every turn by businesses, politicians, media, and even families and some churches.

Because of this pressure to conform, the question of how to stay motivated for small and large personal change is always high in my mind. How do I stay the course on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis? Especially when we “don’t have to change yet,” but are instead choosing to be proactive? I believe there are a few things that can and will help me.

Keeping my motivating factors in front of me every day.

  • I have children. I care deeply about what happens to them — and to all children. I want them to have a life worth living: not bare survival against a hostile climate, not hunger and thirst, not disease from environmental poisons. I want them to enjoy the natural beauty I grew up with here in Minnesota. I want them to experience belonging and community, not the breakdown of society. I think I need to put pictures of my kids and my nieces above my recycling bins.
  • I am a Christian and the sense of awe and wonder I feel when surrounded by God’s natural world is definitely a part of my religious identity. I have traveled throughout the U.S. and I am awed by the magnificence of this beautiful and diverse planet that we have been given as stewards. Stewardship is about responsibility not waste, greed or abuse.

Striving to maintain a proper attitude, to guard against apathy, depression or resignation. This is tricky because the more we know, the harder it is to remain positive and engaged. There are a couple of things that are helping me right now.

  • A community of like-minded people. That’s why I’m really appreciating our neighborhood sustainability group.
  • A supportive partner. I know people do things with unsupportive spouses but what a lot of energy that must take. I appreciate how my partner works to make things into a game. We can have fun with it.
  • Realistic expectations. I can’t change everything and what I can change may or may not make a difference, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. I think of it this way: if a doctor told me my child had cancer and the chances for a cure were 40%, 30%, 20%, wouldn’t I still do everything I could?

In my house we have a poster with the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a man who knew something about facing overwhelming evil. It reminds me that we do what we can and then we must leave the rest to others and to God.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
And there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

We truly are prophets of a future not our own. We are at a turning point in history. The actions we take today will directly influence the kind of future our children will have, and whether our grandchildren will have a future at all. Knowing this gives me a sense of urgency that is essential for motivation.

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