The Motivation Hoax

There are many motivational aphorisms which have passed from supposition to accepted fact without containing even a grain of truth. The Motivation Hoax by James Adonis sets out to disprove axioms like ‘the more you sweat, the luckier you get’ and ‘success is a journey, not a destination’. While this book achieves its measurable goals, it falls short of providing a genuine understanding.

James mixes together scholarly extracts and a more readable style with skill and occasional wit. He rebuts each supposition through well researched scholarly studies while his framing and own asides prevent these extracts from bogging the book down in academic language. These rebuttals are fine, and probably necessary in our societal context.


But the book fails on a more structural level. With each chapter dedicated to disproving a particular aphorism, there is no guiding narrative, no overarching story. It feels like material better suited to a series of weekly blog posts than a book. The style of rapid fire supposition, rebuttal and pithy revision rapidly becomes tiresome, particularly within a solely negative framing.


This disconnected style also contributes to the biggest problem of The Motivation Hoax. It never asks why. Between all the scholarly disapproval, Adonis never contemplates why people buy into these pervasive myths. Never considers why they are so readily repackaged and resold, why they remain so ubiquitous in media narratives and pop culture. Never formulates a critique of the self-help industry beyond its factual incorrectness.


While there is some value in a singleminded refutation of the inspirational nonsense which surrounds us, The Motivation Hoax left me unfulfilled. It would provide more value to those who are enamored with self-help, particularly with the adroit manner in which it deploys academic studies to debunk their myths. But I already know that changing my thoughts won’t change the world. Without considering the wider context in which these aphorisms have germinated, the story is left incomplete.


The Motivation Hoax was written by James Adonis and published in 2018 by Nero. I purchased my copy new from the surprisingly decent Relay at Canberra Airport. This post is part of the Book Nook series.