Movies and Motivation

I am one of life’s great sentimentalists. I am deeply touched by the things I witness; sometimes inspired, sometimes saddened. One source of a tremendous emotional spectrum is movies. I love everything from the funniest comedy to the most terrifying horror movies although I must admit to being partial to historical dramas.

During the course of a single movie, and even moreso if we watch a variety of movies back to back, we are exposed to and experience a variety of emotions. These emotions are not necessarily the same for everyone but it is a sign of a good writer, actor and director that they are able to produce more-or-less the same emotional reaction in a significant number of viewers. A ‘comedy’ that humored some but left others crying and still others frightened wouldn’t be much good to anyone. A great comedy actor / director / director is one who can consistently make a significant number of people laugh and experience the emotion of joy.

As viewers we all have our favorite scenes from our favorite movies. There is something in particular about this scene that moves us in some way. It strikes a chord with us and we form some kind of identity with what is going on. I’m sure you have all experienced this and it is this emotional identification and its use for personal development that I want to focus on and discuss in further detail.

A lot of you reading this will already be familiar with some of the staples of personal development. One of the primary actions to take is to get yourself a plan of where you want to go in your life and (preferably) write it down and review it on a regular basis. For example, if one of your goals was to learn Chinese you would write that down on a card along with the actions you are prepared to take to realize that dream. Perhaps in the morning and last thing at night you would read your card and allow the goal to filter through your conscious mind and into your subconscious mind. From there your subconscious mind will begin to direct you as you pursue your aim.

Being aware of your goal is clearly important, but no less important is being aware of how you intend to achieve it. You may want to learn Chinese, but are you studying it? It’s going to be impossible to achieve your goal without some kind of action on your part. Taking action is where people often trip up. I can’t say I have ever met anyone who doesn’t have a dream. But very few are pursuing their dream. Why? Because taking action requires time, commitment and energy that are diverted from other tasks that, in the short term at least, may be more pleasurable. Learning Chinese would be great, but doing so means you can’t spend your time relaxing and having fun with your friends. Your time and energy are limited and so, therefore, is your commitment to something that doesn’t bring immediate pleasure.

Moving towards our target requires us to be something: energetic perhaps, or committed or a combination of the two. Or maybe we simply want to display characteristics for no other reason than it is attractive to us and is its own reward. I think all of us want to be happy for example. Why? Well, for no particular reason except that we just want to be happy.

Movies are a great source of the kinds of emotions and characteristics we may want to emulate. We have all seen great scenes in movies that depict an energetic and courageous hero, or the unbending heroine who remains committed to her cause despite tremendous difficulties. And nearly all movies have a happy ending, right? Just about any emotion that we may want to experience has been depicted in a movie at one time or another. The major emotions are revisited time and time again (love being a prime example) but movies are also becoming increasingly complex in portraying different emotions that we may not be exposed to as frequently as the more dominant ones.

Let’s backtrack a little now and review your goals. Take a look over your list, however long or short it may be, and start to consider the kinds of emotional states and characteristics you will need to emulate to achieve your goals. The list at this time does not have to be exhaustive as you will find the actual experience of pursuing your dreams very educational in terms of teaching you what mental states you need to be in. Chances are that whatever other emotions you will need to feel and characteristics you will need to display, you will definitely need to be motivated and inspired. These are the two we will focus on.

The next step is to search your memory bank for scenes from movies that have caused you to feel motivated and inspired. A classic example is from Dead Poet’s Society and Robin Williams’ ‘Seize the Day’ speech. Who didn’t feel a shiver down their spine when they heard those words? No doubt there are numerous other examples so as you recall them begin to make a list.

Once your list is complete the next step is to choose at least one of those movies and either rent it or (preferably) buy it (so you have access to it at any time). Set aside a particular time to view the movie when you will be alone and can concentrate on it completely. If you have the time I encourage you to watch the entire movie through as this allows you to put the particular scene into context. Do this at least once if possible and thereafter you can focus on only the scene in detail.

To begin with watch the scene a few times and begin to become aware in more detail of the emotions you experience as you watch. What is it that really moves you? Is it the words? The facial expression? The interaction between characters? The music? A combination of several things? Try watching without any sound. Try again with your eyes closes, only listening to the dialogue. Do the same thing and focus your attention on the music that is playing. Watch it and put all your attention on the main character. Then review it while you dwell on the supporting character. Shift your focus from one thing to another as you watch and re-watch the scene over and over.

As your awareness of the scene develops begin to tell it as a story. Verbalize it and try to capture the essence of what attracts you so much. Write your re-telling of the scene down in a notepad and keep it as a reference to review and improve upon as you continue to watch. Continue to analyze what motivates you so much by watching the scene.

As you begin to feel that you have exhausted all your insights begin a new exercise. Now imagine that you yourself are the hero of the scene. You are the one doing the inspiring. Close your eyes and mentally replay the scene with as much detail as possible. Include the music, the same dialogue, and the same reactions on the faces of those around you but now see yourself as being in the movie. You are the lead actor. It is you. Your face and your body, your words, your actions. Do this several times as you get used to the idea that you are participating in the movie. When you are comfortable begin manipulating the movie: move in to take a close up of your face as you speak your words. Make the colors more vivid. Turn the volume up on the soundtrack; turn the bass up or focus on the lead violin if you want to. Exaggerate the reactions of those around you. Continue to manipulate the imagery and begin to work into ‘your’ movie the elements that you find most inspiring. If you recognized that it was the words that inspired you the most then play around with them: make them boom, make them crisp, say them in your particular accent…make them your words. Continue to experiment until the scene – now with you in it – is the way you want it to be. Become conscious of the emotions you experience as you are in the scene. Commit those feelings to memory.

This exercise is never really complete and you can continue to return to it as often as you want to, but for now, repeat the same process but take on the role of another of the characters in the scene. See things from their perspective. Imagine you are one of Robin Williams’ students being motivated by this great teacher that has seemingly come from nowhere. Begin to change the imagery in a way that is more suitable to inspiring you. You can do this as often as there are characters in the movie.

This technique can be used to foster whatever emotional states or characteristics you desire to emulate. With time and practice you will begin to notice yourself changing. For an immediate burst of motivation, heroism, empathy or whatever you wish to create in yourself, you can quickly replay the scene in your mind with you in it reminding yourself that you are just as motivated, heroic or empathic as the main character of the story. With a little practice you will find this becomes second nature and something you can do very quickly and easily just before a big speech, a sports event, asking a girl out on a date or whatever action you are wanting to take.

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