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The Cult of the YouTube Motivational Video Bros

These guys depend on Jordan Peterson and Arnold clips to pump them up for the gym — and the office

Since he graduated two years ago, Matthew Hyde, a 24-year-old London-based business consultant, has hated his job. He commutes to the city from the suburbs, taking a packed, hour-long train to his office, before enduring a 10-hour, desk-bound workday. Worse yet, he’s on a “graduate scheme,” which forces him to work for this company for a minimum of five years in exchange for them paying his graduate school fees. In the meantime, he has to figure out how to get through the day. For some of his colleagues, relief usually comes in the form of alcohol, weed or cocaine. But for Hyde, the fix is far simpler: motivational videos on YouTube.

“I probably watch around two to five videos a day,” he explains. He’ll watch the first one in the morning, while he gets ready for work. He might also watch one on the way to work, “if the train is delayed, or the day is just shit.” Later, he’ll have motivational videos running in the background of his work computer. They allow him to see his work as a race he can complete faster and feel good about. “I see [the videos] as a way to break up the day,” Hyde says. “They don’t last long, and it’s like a hit of motivation to finish a task. Or when I’m lagging on a project, I’ll listen to a video and push myself to finish it.”

You’re probably familiar with the kind of videos Hyde watches. They have titles like “I’VE COME TOO FAR TO QUIT — Best Motivational Video,” “WATCH THIS EVERYDAY AND CHANGE YOUR LIFE” and “WINNER’S MINDSET — MUCH WATCH VIDEO!” Almost all of them have the same format: video clips, which range between 5 to 10 minutes in length, featuring a montage of men working out, athletes playing sports or business tycoons like Elon Musk showing off a new Tesla model, as epic orchestral music plays in the background. For example, “THE BEST MOTIVATIONAL VIDEO EVER — BE PHENOMENAL,” among the most popular of the genre with more than 28 million views, opens with motivational speaker Les Brown shouting:

“I’ve got a simple, simple question for you: Do you believe that one day you’re not going to be living in the world given to you, but you’re going to live in the world you dream of? You have to make every second count, you gotta go into the future and see it baby! And come back in the present, and take that big goal — that big reality and make it happen!”

In the comments sections, viewers swear these videos have “changed my life,” “given me more focus and energy than I’ve ever had before” and “helped me through the darkest periods of my life.” There’s even a subreddit dedicated to them: r/MotivationVideos (also the much smaller r/MotivationalVids). Within it, over 8,000 members, who call themselves “motivators,” regularly talk about “feeling pumped” after watching videos before going for a workout or making life decisions. Similarly, on fitness forums like bodybuilders.com, motivational YouTube videos aren’t only a frequent subject of conversation, but an inspiration to others to attain their own lifting goals. Some users even make their own videos as a way to get more subscribers and upvotes. 

God damn it, I get so pumped when someone makes a speech over inspiring music! I listen to this every morning. from MotivationalVids

Australian Ben Lionel Scott (800,000 YouTube followers and counting) describes himself as a full-time “motivational video editor/producer.” He posts at least three videos on his channel a week, and while he uses stock footage in them, he also has a premium service, where people can pay $5 a month to get more premium and exclusive versions delivered straight to their inbox. 

The boom in motivational YouTube video content has spurred other businesses too. Case in point: The U.S.-based Motiversity describes itself as “a new-age independent record label for some of the world’s best Motivational Speakers” and claims to have exclusive licensing deals with speakers like Billy Alsbrooks, Eddie “Truck” Gordon and William Hollis. On the website, you can purchase speech playlists with titles like “RISE AGAIN” and give them as a gift to “lift someone up.” 

“There’s definitely money to be made making motivational YouTube videos,” says Navid, a computer science student in Berlin, who runs the Grow Successful YouTube channel. His outfit is relatively small compared to Lionel Scott’s or Motiversity’s, but videos such as “Arnold Schwarzenegger Life Advice Will Leave You SPEECHLESS | LISTEN EVERYDAY AND CHANGE YOUR LIFE and “Jordan Peterson’s Life Advice Will Change Your Future | Incredible Motivational Speech” receive tens of thousands of views. 

 

Navid tells me that he started the channel because he “wanted to make content that people all around the world would find helpful,” believing that social media was “filled with negativity and people attacking each other.” He says people like him — namely, young men — turn to motivational videos for largely the same reason: “I wanted to remind myself that not everything is downhill in my life. Whenever I read the news, all I hear is about how everything is going bad, how Trump is doing bad things, how Brexit is going to bring the Nazis back. It’s really depressing, and I want to create something that people can feel better after watching.” 

Each video takes him anywhere from four to six hours to plan and produce, a short amount of time compared to a vlog, but still considerable if a motivation channel is to thrive. “There are a lot of channels that show up and produce a few motivation videos just to get clicks or subscribers,” Navid tells me. “That’s why you see a lot of motivational videos on YouTube — there are people who think they can make quick money doing it without putting a lot of work into it.” 

According to recent analysis, YouTubers can expect to make around $1 per thousand views, but the demand for quality has meant that making a significant amount of money requires more time and effort. “The proof of that is with the popularity of podcasts like the [Joe Rogan Experience],” Navid says. “People are willing to listen to two-plus hours of Rogan because he’s giving them useful and practical advice. That’s why Rogan is used so much in [motivational] YouTube videos, and it’s also something creators are noticing — videos aren’t just about feelings. The viewers want practical things to use in their life, too.” 

Hyde doesn’t necessarily think that watching motivational videos is going to change his life. In fact, he says, “I obviously can’t take a lot of practical lessons from a full-time bodybuilder in California when I work an office job and I’m way too tired to go to the gym most of the time.” But he adds, “The videos are a reminder of my life ambitions. And it’s always good to be reminded that I won’t be stuck in this office forever.”