There are reasons to feel good about yourself and to do things to feel good. There are also reasons not to do things, especially those who will make you feel bad. The first thing you need to do when deciding to go to the gym is to realize what is motivating you to do so. Is it health oriented? Are you worried about your weight for your own wellbeing? Or is it a result of some tabloid or some drop dead gorgeous young model dressed strategically to flaunt all her thin and perfectly toned features? If it were the second example, i.e., the model, going to the gym would be a good action mixed with bad motivations (Making yourself feel bad by comparing yourself to a skinny photoshopped model is not good or healthy motivation). In that case your good action is made inherently bad. That being said, the best way to feel good about yourself is to make sure that your action and your intention are both things that make you feel good: i.e. good actions.

To explain, an action may be a good one but it is made bad because of the intention behind it. A bad motive is one that is unauthentic to you or made for reasons other than what are good for you. If the goal is to feel good about yourself and your motivator is based on insecurities or other objectives that do not make you feel good about yourself, you can hardly expect to end up with you feeling good about yourself. Intention is everything.

Think about Martin Luther for instance. He believed that all humans are inherently sinful because every action we ever accomplish, good or bad, is for our own selfish benefit. We enjoy helping an old lady cross the street with her groceries because it makes us feel like a good person afterwards. It has nothing to do with the fact that she was struggling across the crosswalk and we want to make her day a little easier. Or at least, that’s his argument. If nothing else, for him, we want that internal reward.

I’m not going to say Martin Luther is entirely correct in his argument. I believe it to be a little extreme, and that humanity is not inherently bad. But that is far from my point. Where Luther’s beliefs relate to my own argument is where motivation and action affect each other. We both agree that the intention is definitive.

For example, if I decide to read Dostoyevsky every night before bed, I have to ask myself why I have come to that decision. If it is because I want to benefit my own intelligence and to push myself to the challenge, then good for me (hypothetically of course). But if it is instead because I want to later be able to say that I have read Dostoyevsky, or it is because I want to appear academic or intelligent, then it is not so good. That is an unauthentic motivation behind my action, and inherently makes that choice somewhat pompous based on my intentions. If my intentions are pompous, so is the action. And even further, that would reflect that I myself am pompous, which I do not see as a positive attribute and it is one that I do not wish to emulate. Therefore, I must not read Dostoyevsky every night before bed because I am not internally motivated to do so.

In this light, I return to the initial statement. It is good to feel good about yourself. It is great to do things day to day to feel good about yourself. But you must constantly be checking yourself and your motivators for good incentive vs. bad ones.

I realize that this is highly existentialistic. And perhaps that was not my intention. But I am a big believer in mediating extremes. I think that many belief systems are founded on extremes because grey areas can get messy and filled with exceptions. So here is my advice. Make your decisions for the right reasons. Go to the gym if you want to. Go for a run if it is in your best interest and it will make you feel great afterwards. Don’t go because some asshole said you needed to. Don’t go because some skinny model is plastered on some billboard. Go for good reasons. Go for you. What could possibly be a better reason than that?

Edit: To make the message a little clearer 🙂