“I’ve lost my motivation for the sport.” In all the years working with athletes, this is one of the most common issues I’m confronted with. It’s an issue people the world over are faced with, and not just in sports.

There are some who finally get up the motivation to start up an exercise routine, but then two weeks later, they’ve already lost the motivation and are falling back out of it. Some finally find the motivation to start eating healthy and being mindful of what they consume on a daily basis, but then a month later, their motivation has worn off and they’re back to eating junk food and drinking buckets of soda.

It’s an issue Magic players face as well. There are those days when you know you should playtest and prepare for an upcoming tournament, but you just can’t seem to muster the necessary motivation to get that going. On a larger scale, there are times when you simply lose your motivation for the game altogether, and the fire just isn’t there like it once was. When that happens, the common answer people give is that you should “take a break from the game” and get away from it for a while.

I don’t advise that. Taking a break from the game when you can’t find the motivation to play isn’t going to solve the problem in the long run. It will act as a salve in the short term, but the underlying issue still hasn’t been dealt with. It’s putting a band-aid over a bullet wound. You’ll eventually come back, but then you’ll also eventually run into the same issue again at some other point down the road.

So what causes us to lose motivation? Well, understanding the answer to that starts by understanding that people never actually “lose” motivation. It simply gets channeled into other things. For example, let’s say that there’s a person who sits on a computer all day watching funny videos on YouTube and doing nothing else. In that situation, most people would say that that person is unmotivated because they’re not doing anything except sitting around and watching YouTube all day.

But that’s not true. It’s actually the opposite. That person is very highly motivated. The problem is that they’re highly motivated to do something unproductive.

Let’s do another example. Let’s say there’s a person that has the day off from work who decides they just want to lay in bed all day and watch TV, despite knowing that have things they need to get done and errands they need to run. Again, the common misconception is to say that this person is unmotivated. Also again, that’s not the case. It’s the opposite. That person is a highly motivated person. They’re simply highly motivated to lay in bed all day and watch TV. It’s not that they don’t have motivation. It’s that their motivation is channeled into doing something other than getting things done and running their errands.

The simple fact is this: Motivation is always 100% present in every person, every day. Motivation is not something that comes and goes and that you either have or don’t have. No one “loses” motivation. You always have it, it’s always there, and it’s constantly dictating the decisions you make and actions you take on a daily basis. When someone says they don’t have motivation or that they’ve lost it, what’s really going on is that their motivation has been channeled away from the thing or things they want it to be channeled into and diverted into other things, but it hasn’t disappeared.

Every single decision you make, whether it’s deciding to playtest and prepare for an upcoming tournament or deciding to lay in bed all day and watch TV, is dictated by motivation. All decisions have a motive. That also includes inaction. At the end of the day, inaction is still taking an action. Doing something inactive and unproductive requires you to make the decision to do something inactive and unproductive. And that decision to do something inactive and unproductive is fueled by some kind of motive.

That brings us to the heart of the answer: What is that motive? Where does motivation come from? All motivation comes from one thing: Desire. It’s the desire you have for something that gives you the motivation to make certain decisions and take certain courses of action. Depending on what you desire, that’s going to determine where your motivation gets channeled. Think of it like this: Desire -> Motivation -> Decision -> Action.

Let’s go back to the example I gave of the person who sat on their computer all day watching YouTube videos instead of doing something more productive. That action was taken by that person making the decision to sit on their computer all day and watch YouTube videos. That decision was fueled by the motivation to achieve their desire of one of two things, or both:

  1. Feeling the pleasure they get when they watch YouTube videos.
  2. Avoiding the feeling of pain they experience when they don’t get to watch YouTube videos or when they have do something else that doesn’t make them feel good.

Action/inaction comes from decision. The decision to take action or inaction is fueled by motivation. Motivation is borne out of the desire for something. And all desires boil down to achieving one or two things, or both: To gain pleasure or to avoid pain.

When you decide to play video games all day instead of playtesting and preparing for an upcoming tournament, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the motivation to playtest. It means that you have the motivation to play video games. The desire you have to receive pleasure from playing video games outweighs the desire you have to experience the pain of going through a tedious, boring testing process to prepare for a tournament. So you avoid testing and decide to play video games instead. It’s not that you didn’t have the motivation needed to playtest. You did. It was simply that the motivation needed to playtest was diverted and channeled into playing video games instead through your desire to receive pleasure from that activity rather than experience the pain of the other.

When you decide to stop playing the game of Magic altogether and do something else with your life, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have the motivation to play the game. It means that you have the motivation to do other things. The desire to receive pleasure from doing other things with your life and avoiding the pain of playing Magic motivates you to decide to take a different course of action and pursue something else. It’s not that you don’t have the motivation needed to play Magic. You do. It’s simply that the motivation you need to play the game is being diverted and channeled into pursuing other things in your life through your desire to receive pleasure from those other things rather than experience the pain of continuing to play Magic.

Whenever you feel like you’re having issues with your motivation in Magic, there are a couple of questions you want to ask yourself: 1) “How does Magic make me feel?” Does Magic give you feelings of pleasure? Or, does Magic give you feelings of pain? As I mentioned earlier, all human decisions to take action or inaction is motivated by the desire to either achieve pleasure or avoid pain. If you feel like you don’t have the motivation to play Magic, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost your motivation for the game. It simply means one of two things: Magic is currently making you feel pain, or there are other things that you’re channeling your motivation into that give you a greater sensation of pleasure than Magic.

That leads me to 2) “What is it that I desire?” Do you have a desire to playtest? Do you have a desire to practice and prepare? Do you have a desire to grind tournaments, research the game, and dump resources into sustaining it? Or do you simply have a stronger desire for something else outside of Magic that’s outweighing the desire you have to devote yourself to the game?

If you feel like you don’t have the motivation for Magic, the root of the problem is always in your desire. You either don’t have the desire to experience some portion or all of the game, which is motivating you to quit and find other things to do. Or, you simply have a greater desire to experience something else instead and your motivation is being channeled into that.

That is the answer to the issue of, “I’ve lost my motivation.” It’s not that you don’t have the motivation. The motivation is there. The motivation to playtest, prepare, practice, play, learn, grow, improve, and progress within the game is there within you. It’s simply being channeled away into other things by your desire to either gain pleasure from something else, to avoid some kind of pain that Magic currently makes you feel in some form, or some combination of both. Stay tuned for next week’s article, as I’ll be continuing to delve into motivation and discussing how you can get your motivation channeled back into Magic.