Why motivation is becoming a negative word on the internet

  • Motivational speakers, who are known to guide their followers through various life problems ranging from heartbreaks to career advice, promote self-help and entrepreneurship through small internet videos.
  • While these motivational speakers, who live by hustle culture, have amassed millions of followers, there is a counter-subgroup emerging on the internet.
  • This subgroup includes content creators and internet users who believe that motivational content comes across as ‘privilege deaf.’
  • We speak to these content creators and mental health experts to find out why ‘motivation’ is becoming ‘demotivating’ for some internet users and why there’s a growing aversion towards hustle culture and motivational speakers.

In a room full of around 100 people, a young woman takes the centre stage. She opens up about her recent breakup and how it was difficult for her to move on and find happiness again.

A motivational speaker, who claims to have ‘failed and surged in search of success and happiness,’ tells her to give herself a pep talk. He says, “You can look at one problem through different perspectives. If you dislike someone in your family, ignore their flaws. Train your mind to look at their positive attributes instead. In your mind, not on the outside, look at the world’s problems lightly. Be a warrior from the outside and a monk on the inside.”

These motivational speakers, with no formal degree in mental health, aim to guide their audience through all challenges in their life ranging from mental illness, relationship advice, and financial advice on how to become rich. They claim to have “risen above the rat race” and have challenged the age-old myth of “life is tough.”

Much like Viru Shahastrabuddhe of the Bollywood movie “3 Idiots”, for motivational speakers, “Life is a race. If you don’t run fast, you will be like a broken
anda (egg).”

Why motivation is becoming a negative word on the internet

So, they ask their audiences to live and breathe by
hustle culture, which is about grinding away, working harder, stronger and faster, and even sacrificing your sleep for work.

This sleep-deprived race to attain power, money and success, comes at a cost. It can put your mental health and
physical health at risk.

Growing movement against hustle culture on the internet

However, anti-capitalism memes and videos are taking over Instagram and
Reddit to counter hustle culture. Internet users across the
world are calling out motivational speakers for promoting hustle culture and for the toll it takes on their mental health.

A community on Reddit called ‘
anti-work’ with 1.9 million members is also aimed at calling out capitalism. Their recent post about hoping to see American socialite Kim Kardashian work for minimum wage got more than 108,000 votes.

Why motivation is becoming a negative word on the internet

Closer home, Mumbai-based Md Anas, a comedian and content creator, has made many parodies of motivational speakers. In one of his popular parodies, which was recently picked by a
media platform, he denounced motivational speakers and their glorification of hustle culture.

Words like ‘motivation’ and ‘hustle’ only worked for him back in the day, he says. While he loves creating content and making people laugh, and that drives him to work hard, he has dissociated himself from the hustle culture.

“One major problem with motivational content I believe is that it comes across as privilege deaf. Saying something like you have the same amount of time as a billionaire refutes the idea of physical, financial and mental struggles that people go through. Having said that, a lot of people looking for answers will find solace in general motivation, particularly teenagers or early college-goers,” says Anas.

Psychotherapist Rhea Gandhi recently took to
Instagram to explain why people are instantly demotivated when they hear the word ‘motivation.’

“The pop psychology narratives around motivation on the internet are exhausting: motivational speakers, motivational quotes, motivational videos and the list goes on and on and on. Hustle culture makes us believe that motivation needs to be constant or something is wrong with us. It doesn’t allow us space to be human, to grieve, to love, to stand still. It makes us believe we should always be moving. But motivation is an inside job. It’s illuminated when we stand still and reflect. It is in stillness and relationships that we can see ourselves. Find our own resources. External tools last days, if not minutes.”

She added that we feel inspired when we look within, instead of following society’s ideas of what we ‘should’ do.

Budding content creator and stand-up comedian Soniya Kalyani, who gave up her corporate job to pursue content creation, didn’t appreciate unsolicited advice that came from people around her and on the internet. “Coming from a middle-class background, I have seen so many people bombarding me with advice on ‘do this, do that.’ But the reality is I don’t need the
gyan (advice). I lack the resources to execute [my ideas] and access to connections, which amplifies your growth much faster.”

Ergo, she feels that motivational speakers should stay away from the topics they don’t understand or try walking in their audience’s shoes.

Kalyani was on the brink of burnout when she decided to take a break. She says that the words ‘motivation’ and ‘hustle’ have developed negative connotations because social media portrays that you are supposed to feel motivated and hustle constantly.

“I don’t believe in the word motivation. You have to train yourself to be disciplined. While trying to discipline myself, I did face severe burnout twice. Now, if I feel I am on the brink, I take a break and I go a little easy on myself. Trying to show up every day sometimes gets exhausting, so I allow myself to rest.”

As of April 10, 2022, there are more than 29 million posts with #hustle on Instagram, #hustlehard has attracted 4.3 million posts and #sleepisfortheweak has seen more than 226K posts.

On why the word motivation has become demotivating for internet users, Life coach Sidhharrth S Kumaar says, “The word ‘motivation’ has transformed itself to be demotivating due to the pressure of following a blind race in all situations and circumstances. This blind chase of motivation or motivational speakers, infuses a thought in mind that everyone is the same, and we need to perform and be supercharged in all situations and this, in turn, leads to performance anxiety and stress causing irrecoverable losses in life.”

Does the internet’s popular hustle culture have consequences?

According to Microsoft’s work trend index
report, which surveyed over 6,000 employees across eight countries in October 2020, India had the second-highest percentage of workers facing increased burnout among Asian countries at 29%. India also came out on top with over 41% of workers citing the lack of separation between work and personal life as negatively impacting their well-being, resulting in increased stress levels.

While hustling for some is a matter of survival, the constant need to achieve ‘more’ has become an obsession on the internet.

Dr. Jyoti Kapoor, founder of mental health and wellness service Manasthali and senior psychiatrist, says that while motivational speakers have their hearts in the right place, the state of mind of the person who is listening may or may not be receptive at that point in time.

“If we are being forcefully motivated when we are already feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, we may associate our feeling of helplessness to the motivational argument itself, thereby developing a negative reaction. It also happens in relaxation exercises, if they are started when a patient is too anxious, they become more anxious while trying to do the exercise to relax,” explains Dr. Kapoor.

A World Health Organization
report released in March 2022 painted a rather grim picture. The health body said that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 25% jump in anxiety and depression cases across the world.

It went on to say that more than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression, which is the leading cause of workplace disability. It estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy around $ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

Did the global pandemic give a push to the anti-hustle movement on the internet?

During several lockdowns that country went through, it almost felt like someone was telling you to push even harder on social media.

Avantika Mohan, a lifestyle content creator, who says she is guilty of talking about the hustle culture in the past, now feels that ‘what works for her doesn’t necessarily have to work for anyone else.’ The problem with hustle culture, she says, lies with the idea that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day.

“While everyone has the same amount of time, it is important to understand that everyone does not have the same resources or even the same end goals,” she declares.

Adding how the dislike toward motivational speakers grew after the lockdown, Mohan says, “The pandemic saw a huge shift in how people perceive hustle and that was a push towards the aversion to motivational speakers because of the worry of a future that came with the pandemic. A huge reason for this aversion was constantly being ‘motivated’ by someone to give our best. Someone who is a stranger, someone behind a screen and someone who does not have the same struggles as us. Most motivational speakers talk about seizing every second and every opportunity only to not factor in the individual struggles and the lack of resources and that hustle is not the only way to grow, or earn respect.”

Kerala-based parenthood and lifestyle content creator, Nuziha (@nuzihajmal), feels that the pressure to constantly hustle became too much for her after the pandemic.

“The school of thought about working hard to achieve the best results never says only work hard. Hard work, even if done for a few hours, with sincerity and discipline can yield the best results. This school of thought was quickly replaced by motivational speakers talking about bringing a hustle culture to life. This increased even more during the pandemic with people being constantly told to do more with their time since we were all in lockdown.”

Nuziha’s partner Ajmal points out that each journey is different. “Our work demands us to be constantly online and we see a lot of creators and motivational speakers on Instagram talking about how being always hands-on at work is the only way to bring success. However, it is important to understand before preaching that the struggles of everyday life differ from person to person.”

After the pandemic, if there’s one good thing that happened, is that personal lives took more precedence over jobs and the growing movement against hustle culture in India is just the beginning. In the US, 65% of
Gen Z is planning to leave their job this year and join the
Great Resignation. The ripple effects of the great resignation are already felt in
India and are expected to grow


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