Monday Motivation: Weekly Cycles


Every week has its Monday.


I know that sounds pretty obvious and maybe even a little stupid, but it’s important to remember. Our lives run in cycles, and one of the cycles our lives run through is the weekly cycle.


You start out on Monday, and the thing about Monday is that everybody hates Mondays. Honestly, if we talked a little less about how much we hate Mondays we’d probably hate Mondays a little less.


But after Monday comes Tuesday. Tuesday’s kind of weird, because it’s still early in the week but it’s not Monday. Tuesday has a bit of an in-between feeling, where you don’t quite know how to feel about it. (To my knowledge, nobody has strong feelings about Tuesdays.)


Then there’s Wednesday. It’s hump day! Wednesday is the turning point. It’s as if all week up to this point you’ve been climbing a mountain, but from now on you’re going to be headed downhill. There’s a real sense of relief when Wednesday ends.


(In fact, the only downside to Wednesday is that some people get a little too enthusiastic about the whole “Hump Day” thing, and it gets to be kind of grating.)


Next comes Thursday. Thursday is a little like Tuesday, in that it’s not particularly distinguished in any way. To use a mathematical analogy, Thursday is what you get if you take the average of Tuesday and Friday. There’s the meandering quality of Tuesday, combined with a vague annoyance at the fact that it’s still not Friday.


But sure as ever there comes the big day: Friday! There’s nothing like the feeling of a Friday evening, just sitting back and anticipating a nice, relaxing weekend. I’d go so far as to say that the Friday evening anticipation is the best part of the week.


Because Saturday comes along, and it’s great. You go camping, or hiking, or in the winter you look out the window and wish global warming would hurry up. But here’s the thing about Saturday: it’s never quite as good as you imagined it being when you were looking forward to it on Friday. The sun’s a little too bright, or there’s rain, or you can’t meet up with your old friend on account of a death in the family.


Whatever it is, something happens so it’s not perfect.


And last of all comes Sunday. For some of us that means a day of church activities, and for some of us that means a second attempt at a perfect Saturday. No matter what, though, Sunday ends pretty much the same way: Sunday evening. When Sunday evening comes around, you feel down. The weekend’s dried up, and there’s Monday, dead ahead.


So Monday comes back, with all the responsibilities and all the worries that were put on hold for the last two days. The next round of the cycle begins, and the wheel keeps on spinning.


Well, what about it? What’s the big deal about all this “weekly cycle” stuff?


The point is that if you’re anything like me, there’s part of you that fights against this cycle even though it’s inevitable. It’s that part that wants to get everything that’s good in the process without having to accept anything that’s bad. We want our whole week to be Friday evening. We hardly realize that the whole joy of a Friday evening comes from the sudden release of pressure after a week of hard work.


So we fight the inevitable, or at least we resist it in our minds. But as we all know, time is going to pass. There are going to be unpleasant times and pleasant times, moments of dread and moments of breathless anticipation.


You know that already, though. I’m not saying anything here that hasn’t been said a million times before. So what am I trying to tell you? What point am I driving at that isn’t so obvious?


Just this: you’re going to feel this resistance on Mondays. It’s part of the way the week works. There’s nothing wrong with you for partially fighting against it, and there’s nothing wrong with the week for being the way it is.


I think there’s a part of us that wants to take Monday as a personal insult, as if it came around to ruin our day and ruin our fun. But the fact is, life doesn’t work that way. It’s just the nature of things. You don’t get the good without the bad.


You have to pay for Friday evening with Monday morning, in other words. As long as you’re resisting Monday morning, there’s a part of you that’s not accepting reality.


Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you have to accept reality. I’m not trying to preach. If you want to accept reality, you can accept it. If you want to fight it, you can fight it. All I’m saying is that you should be conscious of what you’re doing.


Because there’s a way in which you can say that really getting annoyed on a Monday morning makes the weekend that much sweeter when it comes. Emotional states are conditioned by their opposites, so if you’re going to experience the highest joys you’re going to have to accept the lowest misery. In that way it can be quite healthy and good to let yourself get a little down in the dumps on Monday. Just know what you’re doing, and you’ll be fine.


The fact is, motivation is a funny idea. You can motivate somebody in one of two ways: either you tell them a lie they want to believe but can’t keep up for very long, or you tell them the truth in such a way that they see their place in reality and accept it.


You’re a human being. That means you’re a limited being. But you’re a limited being with a specific role to play in the life of the human race. No matter how much you’d like to fight against that role, and no matter how much it feels like an imposition on your personal freedom, it’s a real, meaningful role.


It’s a meaningful role, and it’s a role that only you can choose to play to the best of your ability. Even on Monday.


How Can You Be Free When There Are Things You MUST Do?


Most of the challenges we face in life are the kind that last a long time. A lot of them last your whole life long.


To show you what I mean by that, let me give you an example. You have to watch what you eat. Well and good, but here’s the kicker: you’ll never be done watching what you eat. You had to watch what you ate last year, you have to do it now, and you’ll have to do it next year. By definition and by its very nature, nutrition is the kind of problem that stays with you. Sometimes you’ll have a better handle on it than others, but you’ll always have to eat something.


You took a shower today. You’ll have to take a shower tomorrow too.


You mowed the lawn today. You’ll have to mow the lawn next week too.


You paid your bills today. You’ll have to pay your bills next month too.


Most of the challenges we face in our everyday lives have this same perpetual structure: no problem ever gets fully solved, everything degrades by degrees, and you always have to put more effort into the system to keep it from falling apart. In many ways, life is repetitive.


Now, you can choose to take this in one of two ways. The first is that you can say, “My God, what’s the point of it all? What could possibly be more dreary and boring than a life that’s made up of nothing but a lot of nested cycles ceaselessly repeating till it ends in the grave?”


Let’s be clear: I’m arguing against this view, but I don’t think it’s wrong. Because on its own terms it’s true enough. I think we can all agree that there’s something nightmarish about looking at life as a matter of being caught in a loop. And any person so inclined could find a virtually endless number of quite legitimate reasons to feel trapped somewhere in a cycle not of his or her own choosing.


We’re all caught in the cycle of our own language. We’ve all got a particular manner of thinking that we cycle through on a weekly or yearly basis. We’re all caught in the economic cycle of boom and bust. We’re all caught in the cycle of waking and sleeping. Election cycles. Daily cycles. Weekly cycles. Monthly and yearly cycles. Cycles within cycles within cycles, to the point that the whole thing starts to look like a Ptolemaic map of the universe with all its cycles and epicycles. Endlessly running through the cycle, the ouroboros swallows its own tail…


Is it any wonder the word “everyday” has taken on such a dreary and depressing connotation?


In the end, you can’t argue against this way of seeing the world. The facts are there to support it. Once someone has chosen to experience themselves as the passive victim of a malevolent universe with its cruel machinery, there’s no talking them out of it. They’ll always have plenty of excuses to justify their innocence and prove beyond any doubt that other people were given chances they didn’t have, or that they’re just too profound to do anything but suffer in a life that’s not worth anything.


Are they wrong? Well, no. Not objectively at least. But deep inside themselves they’ve decided not to accept reality on its own terms. And that’s an idiotic choice to make, by anybody’s standards.


Which takes me to the second way of reacting to the repetitiveness of life: you can choose to embrace it. That’s where freedom lies, really. It’s in choosing to do willingly what you have to do by nature.


Does that mean it’ll be any less tedious to get up at the same time every morning and go to bed at the same time every night? No.


Does that mean you’ll be bursting with joy when you floss your teeth, one by one, for the eight hundredth day in a row? No.


Does that mean you’ll ever get used to the fact that that lousy lawn won’t just sit still and stay mowed? No.


But when you decide that you’re going to choose to do these things, the whole character of the thing changes. Sure, you’re going to feel some irritation and resistance at the fact that you’re doing the same damn thing yet again. But it’s no longer the resistance of fighting against some external power that’s imposing its will on you; it’s the resistance of bringing the resentful part of yourself in line with the part of yourself that’s good and self-disciplined.


And that’s the value of consistency. When you consistently do something that’s good for you, it’s often the case that the best thing about it isn’t that you’re doing this whatever-it-is that’s good for you. It’s that you’ve formed a consistent habit and managed to turn that into a source of self-discipline.


Freedom is a funny thing. I think we’ve all got this spontaneous idea that freedom is the freedom to pick out the brand of chips you want, or something trivial like that. We think of freedom like it’s the opening up of a wide range of possibilities. That’s true as far as it goes, and I think the measure of a free country is that it opens up that range of possibilities. But the responsible use of freedom calls for a voluntary self-limitation. When external laws don’t bind you, you have to be a law to yourself.


That’s what consistency means: it’s the voluntary acceptance of the self-limitation that comes with discipline. There’s no strength without discipline, and there’s no discipline without voluntary self-limitation.


You can’t always choose to be enthusiastic about the everyday realities of your life. But you can choose to face the everyday realities of your life. Face them willingly and wholeheartedly, full of the awareness that this is your choice and you’ve committed to it without reserve. Over time, with consistency and self-discipline, you’ll mold yourself into the kind of person you can be proud of being.