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February 25, 2019

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Ever wonder why you stop doing things when you don't feel like doing them? You've been suckered by the motivation myth! What can you do to combat it?

How many of you have relied on motivation to get things done? Deciding to do something based on how motivated you are to do it is actually a trap. If you don’t “feel like” going to the gym, you’re probably not going to go to the gym.

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Why are we so obsessed with motivation nowadays? Phrases like “I’m feeling motivated today!” are rampant among wantrepreneurs, New Year's Resolutionists, and corporate America.

Keep reading to find out why we shouldn’t listen to the motivation myth—and why it’s not how success happens.

Traditional Definition of Motivation

Google's definition of "Motivation" is so vague and riddled with holes it's not even funny.  

The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way [or] the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

It’s such a broad way of thinking about motivation, and that’s part of the problem.

I can feel excited to write in the morning if my brain didn’t shut up from all the ideas during the night. But sometimes it’s hard to sit in front of the computer and put words on the page.

If I didn’t write when I didn’t feel like writing, I would produce very little.

If I’d relied on motivation to write 52,000 words for my book during NaNoWriMo in 2018, I would not have a novel in the middle of rewrites.

Relying on motivation saw this blog on hiatus for the first year of its existence.

How Most People Approach Motivation

Most people wake up every day and wonder what they need to get done.

Sometimes they feel an external pressure to do it, like a deadline. Other times, it’s internal pressure, such as feeling bad if you don’t do "such-and-such" thing.

But sometimes people only do what they feel motivated to do.

  • Feel like going for a run? Cool. They go for a run.
  • Feel like watching the entire fifth season of Archer in one sitting? There’s the entire day down the drain, but you’ll be laughing the entire time. Tradeoffs, amirite?
  • Feel like working on a big work project, but then lose the momentum in the middle of opening the file? Oh well. I guess you’re not working on that today.

See the problem?

If you always did what you feel like doing, then odds are you’ll miss out on a lot of the things that actually move the needle of progress.

Sure, you might be full of a lot of motivation early in the year in the aftermath of resolution-setting, but once life settles back down… Motivation is fleeting.

Once it’s gone, it’s gone, until it comes back. And you can’t ever predict when it will come back.

What Motivation Isn’t

Motivation by itself isn’t something that moves you forward.

It doesn’t accomplish your goals or make you successful. It can provide an initial boost, that little push of movement, but it does not sustain the momentum or actually make any improvements in your life.

You know what does that?

  • Habits.
  • Routines.
  • Commitment.
  • Discipline.
  • Being willing to feel like ass when you're working hard for the result that's worth it.

Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Motivation

From what we’ve seen so far—and by what most of us have experienced with motivation—we know that it’s not reliable.

If everyone fully relied upon motivation, nothing would ever get done!

Sure, there are some highly motivated people and 90% of job descriptions will imply that you need to be motivated to do your job 100% of the time to qualify.

But that’s just not the reality.

You do your job because you have to. If you’re doing it because you want to, you’re among the minority. And even so—there are probably aspects of your job that you don’t enjoy doing, but you do them anyway. It's 50/50, always.

Is that because of motivation? Or is it because of something else?

Is it willpower?

Forcing ourselves to do things through sheer will can work—but not in the long run.

It’s not the same as motivation, but you shouldn’t rely on that either. Willpower is actually a finite resource that depletes as you make decisions throughout the day.

Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

It’s why, when you get home from a long, hard day and realize you have nothing for dinner, it’s easy to order takeout even though you know that’s the last thing you should put in your body.

Ever wonder why you stop doing things when you don't feel like doing them? You've been suckered by the motivation myth! What can you do to combat it?

Do This Instead

Since motivation and willpower are not the end-all, be-all solutions that we once thought they were, what do we have left?

I listed them earlier: habits, routine, commitment, discipline, and being willing to feel the negative feels when you're in what Ruth Soukup calls "the messy middle."

They sound simple, but habits take longer than 21 days to establish, routines can get messed up, and commitments to yourself mean little unless you’re an Upholder or a Questioner of the Four Tendencies.

What have you historically relied upon motivation or willpower to do? Think through it completely.

  • Do you only go to the gym when you feel like it?
  • Do you only work on your book when inspiration strikes?
  • Is your workload suffering because you can’t seem to motivate yourself to care?

In all of those cases, habits, routine, commitment, discipline, and the willingness to feel discomfort can help.

You can make it a habit to go to the gym three days a week and committing to it means you do so regardless of how you feel. Especially if you feel like ass.

Morning and evening routines can establish clear boundaries for those time periods, and dictate what you do and when.

Many people, including me, have found that implementing routines has brought a measure of control and calm to their lives.

Whenever my routine is interrupted or thrown off—oftentimes during travel—it affects how I feel about my day.

Recommended Reading

There are a few books I recommend everyone read to learn more about habits, routines, and commitment.

  1. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

Habits, during their formation, initially draw from the decision bank of willpower. After about 80 days, they stop drawing willpower and become automatic.

  1. The Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod

The more intentional you are about your morning, the more successful you are. Hal details six practices high-achieving people perform every morning that are simple enough for everyone else to do, too: meditation, affirmation, visualization, exercise, reading, and writing.

  1. The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen breaks down four personality types based on how you respond to expectations, both internal and external. The four tendencies are Obliger, Upholder, Questioner, and Rebel.

You can take the Four Tendencies quiz to determine your type, but often people can identify theirs just by reading the description of each.

I’m definitely an Upholder, and I don’t need a quiz to tell me that!

Do You Rely on Motivation?

How do you get things done? Is it all based on what you’re motivated to do, or have you developed habits and routines that support the pursuit of your goals?

Do you need help to figure out how to use habits, routines, commitment, discipline, and the willingness to feel discomfort to your advantage? 

If the answer is "YES!", then I want to invite you to sign up for a free 60-minute coaching consultation call with me. We can discuss what it would be like to learn these tools and how to use them to create the life of your dreams.

About the author 

Inspired Forward

Mindset & accountability life coach, writer, podcaster, and full-time analyst in the power industry. I'm passionate about showing people that how we think determines our realities.

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