A Kick in the Pants

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +
by Katherine Gotthardt, M.Ed.
My parents used to say about people who weren’t motivated to do something necessary, “They’re fine. They just need a kick in the pants.”That was the censored version, the one my mom demanded. My dad had other ways to say it that she didn’t approve of. We grew up with a certain amount of acceptable censorship because my mother didn’t want us “talking vulgar.” Except we lived in Massachusetts, so it was “vulgah.”

“Mom, is ‘butt’ a bad word?”

“Kathy, don’t be vulgah.”

So “pants” it was. Never mind that it seemed to be okay to kick someone. Life is full of contradictions.

Eventually, I settled into my independence and into speaking the way I felt most comfortable – which was often vulgah. I don’t think I thought too much about self-censoring until I had kids. That’s when I quickly learned I didn’t want my kids to sound what I was taught to be disrespectful, so I edited my words, at least until they were adults. At this stage in life, I’ve reached a comfortable, happy medium, somewhere between both my parents’ versions of acceptable diction.

What motivates you to make life changes, or at least try?

For some changes, the motivation might seem obvious. “I want to lose weight so I can be healthier.” Or, “I want to change jobs so I can earn more money.” But what about the more complex things, the not-so-obvious, the quiet, underlying cause of action? What is really kicking you in the pants?

To get to these deeper answers, I suggest an activity I used to have my students do. I call it the Why Circle.

The premise is simple. You know how little kids ask “why” about everything? You do something similar. You keep asking “why” like a little kid until you get to a place where all the answers come back to the one before, in a circular manner.

So, for example, you say you want to change jobs to make more money. Why?

I want to afford more of the things I like.


They make me happy.


They make me feel free.


Because I don’t feel trapped.


Because I’m not poor, and being poor makes me feel trapped.


Because when I was little, we were poor, and we were stuck in a bad neighborhood.


Because my parents couldn’t get good jobs that paid enough.

You see how this works? You’re digging to the very essence of your motivation now, the real reason behind what propels you.

Why is this important to know?

Because when the going gets tough, you’ll need something more solid to fall back on, something more than, “I want to make money,” or “I want to wear a little black dress to the cocktail party.” There’s more to it than that. There’s more to YOU than that. Figure out what it is, and you’re more likely to stick to the path that gets you to your goals. Because in the end, even the most superficial among us are not truly superficial. There’s a reason behind the motivation. Find what that is, and you’ll find even more motivation. And that will inspire you to continue your journey.

What is that

against my back?

The flat palm

of a convincing breeze

that urges idle swings to sway,

creaking old chains

in the empty playground.

Kinetic energy—

it makes the world go ‘round.

There is no better way

to stay ungrounded.

Okay. Now fly.

Until next time,


This article is part of a series taken from my book, Get Happy, Dammit: Staying Inspired and Motivated in an Often-Unhappy World. Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved. Learn more at www.KatherineGotthardt.com.

Comments are closed.