Motivational speakers, the new form of “Banarasi Thugs”

“You can have anything you want in life” and “You were born to win” are the grand statements made by motivational speakers, but are they really helpful?

motivational speakers

“You can have anything you want in life” and “You were born to win” are the grand statements made by motivational speakers. Imagine the thirst of knowledge and insecurities in human beings that we keep watching and listening to motivational speakers who amuse us with good humor and convince us that in 60 mins (obviously paid) they can turn negativity in their listeners to positive motivation and drive.

In Pakistan, we have experienced the gold rush of these motivational speakers from every age bracket, having either limited or the highest education. They are people who love to socialize and cram other peoples’ inspirational stories into a limited duration format.

 Pauper to Prince

There is no creativity involved and the recipe to becoming a motivational speaker, life coach, trainer etc. is very easy – read some self-development books, watch international motivational speakers, learn the art of public speaking, a few team-building games and lastly, pitch your own Pauper to Prince story of how miserable you once were and then, viola, with a sprinkle of hard work and (some magic dust), today you are the most successful and happiest person on planet Earth!

Read more: Pakistanis enchanted by 11-year-old motivational coach

You attend one session or a dozen; the content remains the same without any context. As a participant, you will know which examples and “search your soul” techniques are going to be presented.

Most motivational speakers either copy other peoples’ content and or quote their own life examples since clearly there will be hardly any facet of life that they have not experienced.

During the pandemic, many local motivational speakers started talking about how to work from home, how to get maximum marks in exams, and even how to find an ideal girl for marriage! Talk about inspiring content.

 Motivational speakers are the new form of “Banarasi Thugs”

In Pakistan, these motivational speakers are the new form of “Banarasi Thugs” or Imposters. Sinclair Lewis mocked motivational speakers in his novel ‘Elmer Gantry’s way back in the late 1920s which still holds true – “Usually, a motivational speaker is a failed actor, or would-be politician, who spends her or his time motivating other people. This motivation usually consists of a boring speech, a bad stand-up comedy routine, or a sermon. Since sermons are free at most churches every Sunday, we wonder what people are paying for.”

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily

While one may feel “pumped up” for an hour, the adrenalin rush or “motivation” dies as soon one leaves the session and is back to the real world since our speakers use cookie-cutter approaches.

Attending a motivational session is like watching a porn movie – whatever you are listening to, watching, and experiencing is a fantasy and the reality is completely different.

Selling dreams

Do people really want to be motivated?

The truth is most of us are quite motivated because, heck, who doesn’t want to be rich and drive a fancy car or have a trophy wife or husband? All we need is to be empowered to unleash our own …. yes…. the magic word “potential”.

If you still haven’t been through the “magical experience” of our Pakistani motivational speakers, please catch a session or two on YouTube and watch them twist and turn facts and craft stories as though Socrates, Newton, Stephen Covey, Steve Jobs were their class fellows and shared all their experiences with them first hand!

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If you do a fact check, most of the incidents they share are wrong and not even true as their sources are Facebook or LinkedIn posts without any authenticity.

Motivation is complicated

Our motivational speakers think “motivation” is simple and linear. That by reading a few books (who really does that any more?), listening to them bragging about their own life or some other rich person’s life, watching some videos, people with different backgrounds and lived realities will get motivated and will become successful (is being a motivational speaker really a success?) like them if one follows their preached principles.

Most of their “secrets” revolve around speaking, thinking, and acting like them “Do as I did (or falana did) and you too will succeed” is essentially their mantra and motivational wisdom.

Better to spend time with yourself or those who truly inspire you rather than listening to those who only have plagiarized thoughts

There’s no proof that such speakers can cause organizational improvement in sales revenue, rejuvenated labor productivity, higher product quality, or low attrition rates, among other things. Universities, NGOs, UN agencies, and businesses think having these motivational sessions every month will help their students and/or employees. That after attending these paid-for sessions, they will be transformed and start giving optimum results. Unfortunately, external motivational speakers are too expensive and offer a poor return on investment.

I think this is one of the worst mistakes these institutions are making by “mandating motivation”. Zig Ziglar, a popular American author, consultant, and salesman said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.”

We outsource motivational drive which should have been exhibited by professors, managers, and leaders within organizations on a day to day basis. They know the organizational/institutional culture, touchpoints, and their employees/students (at least in theory they should) much better than an outsourced coach. Motivation is all about consistency.

Targeting insecurities

The more we become addicted to these motivational sessions, videos, posts, they are making us dependent upon them and the side effect is that we start losing our own motivational power and independent thinking. In fact, such strategies can often end up doing the exact opposite and demotivating and frustrating individuals as they are unable to get the promised results.

Read more: 11 Tactics on increasing brain power, memory, and motivation

Many motivational leeches usually breed on vulnerable, underprivileged, the sad, those who are genuinely the most disadvantaged. One could convincingly argue that happy people don’t need motivation. How many motivational sessions were attended by successful business gurus like Syed Baber Ali, Mian Mansha, Sadruddin Hashwani, Jahangir Khan Tareen, and claiming that they found their motivation because of these sessions?

On the contrary, one sees such coaches trying to connect with these businessmen, bureaucrats, and senior officials to give them an opportunity to train their workforce and that too for gratis to develop their own brand name, this is hypocrisy at its best.

The power of “YOU”

Two of the most powerful words that can move the world are “I am”. You are the only motivating force that can move “YOU”. Thinking that a motivational speaker or “life coach” can change your life is an essentially flawed assumption as that poor fellow is only earning his/her living by saying things you want to hear or what pleases you.

Read more: WATCH: Azerbaijan military turns to heavy metal music for war motivation

The journey of growth is self-searching, and you don’t need someone else to tell you what makes you happy or confused and how to achieve your goals for an hour and several hundred bucks. Better to spend time with yourself or those who truly inspire you rather than listening to those who only have plagiarized thoughts. Better yet, pick up a book for a change, spend time with your loved ones who always trust in your abilities and dreams, and make your life’s journey more meaningful.

Aneel Salman is a Behavioral Economist based in Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at aneelsalman@gmail.com.


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