“The standard approach seems to be to listen to a motivational speech or read an inspirational book and then feel motivated. It’s true, this type of passive inspiration can work. But this is only one type of inspiration … and I think it’s the weaker type…”
When we feel overwhelmed or get less motivated, we tend to procrastinate. We usually lose motivation when we need it the most unfortunately.
What is Motivation indeed?
What is motivation, exactly? Scientists define motivation as your general willingness to do something. It is the set of psychological forces that compel you to take action.
Here’s a more useful definition:
The author Steven Pressfield has a great line in his book, The War of Art, which I think gets at the core of motivation. To paraphrase Pressfield,
At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.
In other words, at some point it is easier to change than to stay the same. It is easier to feel insecure at the gym than to experience self-loathing on the couch. It is easier to feel awkward while making the sales call than to feel disappointed about not taking action. Each choice has a price, but when we are motivated it is easier to take action than to remain still.
This, I think, is the essence of motivation. When we feel motivated, we want to take action. When we don’t feel motivated, we want to remain the same. Somehow we cross a mental threshold—usually after weeks of procrastination and in the face of an impending deadline—and it becomes more painful to not do the work than to actually do it.
Now for the important question: Is there anything we can do to make it more likely that we cross this mental threshold and feel motivated on a consistent basis?
The Myth of Motivation: How to Get Motivated?
One of the most surprising things about motivation is that it often comes after starting a new behavior, not before. We have this common misconception that motivation is something that precedes action. We believe that motivation originates in a passive state and then we follow through with some type of action.
The standard approach seems to be to listen to a motivational speech or read an inspirational book and then feel motivated. It’s true, this type of passive inspiration can work. But this is only one type of inspiration … and I think it’s the weaker type.
What is I think is far more powerful is active inspiration. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.
You have probably experienced this phenomenon before. For example, going for a 30-minute run may seem overwhelming before you begin, but if you can muster up the energy to take the first steps, you’ll often find that you become more motivated to finish as you go. In many cases, motivation rises as tasks near completion. In other words, it’s easier to finish the run than it was to start it in the first place.
This is basically Newton’s First Law applied to habit formation: objects in motion tend to stay in motion. And that means getting started is the hardest part.
This is also a far more gracious and forgiving way to view your behavior. So often we judge ourselves and assume that if we have the motivation to stick with good habits, then we must lack willpower or have some weakness. Instead, the philosophy of active inspiration reveals that you don’t lack some magical component of willpower, you simply need to take action and let motivation follow accordingly.
So how do we make getting started easier? Let’s talk about that now.
Why Successful People Don’t Wait for Motivation
In his popular book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, author Mason Currey notes that many of the world’s great artists follow a consistent schedule.
- Maya Angelou rents a local hotel room and goes there to write. She arrives at 6:30 AM, writes until 2 PM, and then goes home to do some editing. She never sleeps at the hotel.
- Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon writes five nights per week from 10 PM to 3 AM.
- Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 AM, writes for five hours, and then goes for a run.
The work of top creatives isn’t dependent upon motivation or inspiration, but rather it follows a consistent pattern and routine. It’s the mastering of daily habits that leads to motivation and creative success, not some mythical spark of genius.
How to Get Addicted to Taking Action
William James, the famous psychologist, is noted for saying that habits and schedules are important because they “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action.”
An article in The Guardian agreed by saying, “If you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.” And there are plenty of research studies on willpower and motivation to back up that statement.
Want to know how to be motivated every day? Stop waiting for motivation and inspiration to strike you and simply set a schedule for doing work on a consistent basis.
Daily Routines: The Power of the Schedule
During a conversation about writing, my friend Sarah Peck looked at me and said, “A lot of people never get around to writing because they are always wondering when they are going to write next.”
You could say the same thing about working out, starting a business, creating art, and building most habits. The schedule is the system that makes your goals a reality. If you don’t set a schedule for yourself, then your only option is to rely on motivation.
- If your workout doesn’t have a time when it usually occurs, then each day you’ll wake up thinking, “I hope I feel motivated to exercise today.”
- If your business doesn’t have a system for marketing, then you’ll show up at work crossing your fingers that you’ll find a way to get the word out (in addition to everything else you have to do).
- If you don’t have a time block to write every week, then you’ll find yourself saying things like, “I just need to find the willpower to do it.”
Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits. This is the difference between professionals and amateurs. Professionals set a schedule and stick to it. Amateurs wait until they feel inspired or motivated.
This post is adapted from jamesclear.com.
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