The French call it raison d’être, a reason to live. But when it comes to meaning or purpose, I love the Japanese concept of ikigai.
You see, ikigai combines two words, iki (to live) and gai (reason). Ikigai is the feeling you get when you accomplish or fulfill a goal or pursue your passions. But it goes deeper than that. Because ikigai not only describes having a purpose in your life, it describes being motivated.
At the end of 2020, I asked my email subscribers what their number one issue was when it came to taking charge of their health or fitness. Overwhelmingly, the number one answer was motivation (or the lack thereof).
How many times have you felt there was something you needed to do, and didn’t do it because:
- you were tired
- it was too hard
- people would laugh at you
- you’d look stupid, etc.
You have the inspiration to do something. But the drive to get up and do it isn’t there.
That feeling leaves you with one of life’s biggest questions: How do you get motivated?
You can Google “how to get motivated” and you’ll find a plethora of resources. Articles from some of my favorite writers like Mark Manson or James Clear will pop up at the top of your search.
Still, I’ve always felt there’s something missing from those articles. Mark and James will give you tools or action steps for creating motivation. I’ll do that at the end as well.
But what if you read those and still have no freaking clue what motivation is? What if you want to better understand how one moment you can be motivated and the next not? Why does it work that way?
Well my friend, pack your bags because we’re going on a trip. And it’s a trip to a glorious vacation spot known as Hotel Motivation.
So, What is Motivation?
Before we step into Hotel Motivation, let’s define what motivation is per the English dictionary. The dictionary defines motivation as, “an influence; a strong reason to act; a stimulation or force.”
In a way, motivation is a messenger. It tells you what to do.
“Hey, you, get off the couch and get some exercise because you sound like a clogged-up vacuum walking up stairs.”
Psychologists have been studying motivation for decades. And like most things in life that involve learning, there are dozens of schools of thought that study human motivation.
But the main school of thought that I’ll be pulling from in this article is self-determination theory (SDT). According to SDT, there are three types of motivation:
Many within the school of SDT classify motivation as a continuum. Per the dictionary, a continuum is, “a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct.”
And sure, motivation fits this definition. It’s how I started referring to motivation while writing this. But then my hetero life mate, Tanner Baze, made a remark that motivation is a lot more like an elevator.
So welcome, my friend, to Hotel Motivation.
All three forms of motivation will be covered below. And I’ll provide some examples that will make it easier to grasp how these types of motivation show up in your life. So let’s start with amotivation.
The Lethargic Ground Floor of Hotel Motivation
SDT defines amotivation as, “the state of lacking the intention to act.”
Amotivated people do nothing at all or act without intention. This is what you could call the “ignorance is bliss” stage.
But since we’re using the idea of Hotel Motivation here for better understanding, think of this as the lobby.
You can walk around the lobby and never desire to check-in to a room. Maybe there’s a coffee shop here where you grab a cup o’ joe every day. Or maybe there’s a sandwich shop where you grab lunch with colleagues.
Hotel Motivation isn’t a hotel for you. You could be aware of what this hotel does or you could be completely oblivious to its true function.
Basically, when you’re on the ground floor at amotivation, you may be clueless or unaware of a needed change, you may not feel competent to do anything, or you might even expect a terrible outcome.
- You may “think” about working out or changing your diet, but you don’t actively join a gym or buy a book of recipes.
- Holy crap you need to organize your desk. You know it needs to be done. It would help you feel less frazzled at work. But you have zero interest in doing anything to fix the cluster fuck that is your desk. The whole thought overwhelms you and there are a million other/better ways to spend your time.
- Thinking about working out intimidates the hell out of you or you worry that you’ll look stupid and clueless and wind up on some gym fail Instagram page
- Or you may have zero interest in changing your behavior(s) because you think it means you can never eat pizza again or that you have to “live” at the gym.
In amotivation, you might “think” about change for months, even years, but you never take the steps necessary to move forward. You remain in the world you know, only vaguely or occasionally contemplating a change.
How do you feel at this stage?
You might feel apathetic, insecure, resistant, or you might have no clue how you feel because this thing you’re supposed to care about doesn’t amount to a hill of beans to you.
Overcoming your apathy or fear or insecurity can take a long time. Some people never overcome this stage and never opt to make a change. Others may only make this change because “something” happens to them (in the frame of the Hero’s Journey this is their inciting event).
So what happens if you do decide to make a change? What if “something” does happen and wakes you up out of your dreamlike state? Where do you go next at Hotel Motivation?
This Motivation Elevator is Going Up
From amotivation you move into the first floors of extrinsic motivation. Early SDT practitioners broke down extrinsic motivation into four distinct categories:
- external regulation
- introjected regulation
- identified regulation
- integrated regulation
But those sound really super complicated and you’re probably thinking, “wtf do these words even mean!?”
Good thing Dr. Maarten Vansteenkiste of Ghent University in Belgium exists. He took these fancy sounding terms and broke them down into something dweebs like you and I can understand.
Dr. Vansteenkiste broke the four categories down into two easier to grasp concepts: mustivation and wantivation.
Let’s start with mustivation. Because who doesn’t go through a day where they feel like there’s something they “must” do even if they don’t wanna.
The first level of mustivation is something I’ll call Mu1: it’s an action you take because you’re afraid of the consequences.
You’re not doing this thing because you want to per se, or because you inherently feel a duty to do so, but because you’re afraid of consequences. Sometimes, but not always, there may be a threat causing you to do this thing that you “must” do.
- At a doctor’s visit, he tells you that you’re pre-diabetic and encourages you to eat better and workout more, or you’ll have to start taking medicine.
- Someone you care for dies of a heart attack and suddenly you’re faced with your own mortality.
- The law states that if you exceed the speed limit you’ll get pulled over and receive a ticket, of which you must pay a fine (and probably also pay more for insurance as well).
Mu1 is something that you do because something or someone else told you to do it — or else there will/could be consequences.
So how do you feel when an action is at the Mu1 stage?
Usually you’ll feel some anxiety, tension, and you may even be dissatisfied with what you have to do; but it’s better than the alternative punishment. You can stay at Mu1 for quite some time; if there’s nothing that sparks you internally to move to the next stage of mustivation.
Because of This You Morph to the Next Level
Mustivation continues after Mu1, what we’ll call
MewTwo Mu2. How does this shift happen? It usually happens because of some shift internally.
You do something because inside you feel you must and/or are expected to. Again, there could be a threat here you’re reacting to that has consequences, but the reason(s) you decide to take action comes from within.
Think about it this way: Mu1 becomes Mu2 because of something important to you.
- Your doctor encourages you to workout as your blood work shows you are pre-diabetic. So you reluctantly start doing so. You continue to workout and eat better and shift into Mu2 because it’s way cheaper long term than paying for medicine every month.
- Someone you care for died of a heart attack and you don’t want that to happen to you because you don’t want to leave your family behind and you’d feel ashamed or guilty if you did.
- You do the speed limit because you don’t want to have to pay a $300 ticket, which would make you feel really dumb.
Yes, there are consequences at Mu2, but they’re more internalized — they leave you feeling emotions that consequences at Mu1 do not. You may still feel anxiety, tension, or dissatisfaction. But you’ll also feel something more personal at Mu2.
It’s not so much about the work you did or didn’t do, but what doing that work can or could give you — what that change can do for you (or your life).
So if motivation is an elevator, does that mean you can go from Mu2 back down to Mu1?
This is why the elevator analogy works so well for motivation. There are times where you’re not the one pressing the buttons of the elevator. You have goals and are ready to accomplish them, but then life decides to hop on the elevator and take you back down.
Think of life like some asshole kid who hits every button on the elevator because he thinks it’s funny. Or just for shits and giggles hits the “emergency stop” button and then you’re stuck on the elevator going nowhere.
And this is where the analogy isn’t 100% great either. Because once an elevator’s button is hit to go up, it goes up; it won’t go back down if the button for the next floor is already lit. But, that’s not how life always works.
Sometimes you want to go up, then shit gets in the way and sends you back down. This is where many people get demotivated and either give up or just assume it’s never in the cards for them.
3 Ways You Get Demotivated
Who do you spend the most time with in your life? Think hard about this because the answer isn’t your family, your friends, or the people you work with. It’s you.
You spend everyday with you. Most specifically you spend every day with the voice in your head. And this voice, your ego, has crafted and created the stories you’ve come to believe about who you are.
Some of those stories may be true. Some of them may be influenced by what people you admired told you about yourself as a child — you’re dumb, too loud, sound like a dying cow in a hail storm when you sing, you’re fat and lazy, etc.
And some of those stories you’ve told yourself for years may be complete fabrications your ego has created to keep you safe.
Here’s the good news, these stories don’t define you. They can be changed.
But, if you’ve gone around all your life telling yourself that you’re a failure and a fuck up who can’t get anything right, then you’re never going to think accomplishing a goal is possible. Because, ya know, you’re a fuck up.
Overcoming these negative stories is part of the journey. Showing yourself what you’re capable of, seeing results you never thought possible will do that.
Some people may need to reach out and find a therapist to guide them through some of the darkest and most difficult stories to overcome. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But when you’re trying to motivate yourself to do something the first thing that usually demotivates you are the stories you’ve told yourself for your whole life.
Wanna know the biggest killer of progress for my clients? It’s not cheat days or missing workouts. It’s their expectations.
Where do those expectations come from? Sometimes they come from what we did in the past; you lost 20 pounds a couple years ago and you tell yourself you can do it again. Other times, and most often in my line of work, they come from comparing ourselves to others.
You might see a before and after photo of a friend or a stranger and think, “They lost 50 pounds and they have a similar background/story as I do, so I’ll lose 50 pounds too!”
But after the same amount of time of following what they did you’ve only lost 20 pounds.
Clearly you failed. Or that’s what you tell yourself.
But here’s the thing, you still lost 20 pounds. You succeeded. What you did worked. You. Were (or are). Successful.
What you expected to happen didn’t happen. And sure, that sucks. We’ve all had experiences that didn’t go the way we hoped or expected. But you still made something happen. You took action and made changes. You succeeded.
Expectations are the anti-air missiles that you willingly shoot at your own plane.
Why shoot down your progress even if it’s not the progress you expected? What does that accomplish?
If you do that, I want to encourage you to quit doing that. And I want to also encourage you to disarm your expectations and stop shooting yourself out of the sky.
How can you learn to manage or disarm your expectations?
- Always look at far you’ve come, not how far you have “to go”
- Similar to what Hemingway said about writing, think about how you’re refining skills and mastering a craft that no one ever truly masters
- Ask yourself if you’re trying to “keep up with the Joneses” and if that worrying does any good for you
- Find peace with the fact that you’ll never be perfect and that’s okay because everyone stumbles and falls (think about a baby learning to walk)
And remember: the most important determining factor of success is what you do AFTER you fall down.
If you can learn to manage and wrangle your mental expectations, you will be successful; you’ll be a lot farther away from where you started. And isn’t that what we all want anyways? To be better than where we were when we started.
Progress is progress. Even if it’s small. Even if it’s not what you expected it would be.
As I sit here and write this article it feels overwhelming. It feels like I bit off more than I can chew. And what I see in my head for this piece feels impossible. I feel like a fraud and failure who should stop writing about motivation.
But even as I felt that negative voice emerging from the darkest Sarlacc pit of my mind, I typed the words you’re reading now. Because the only way to finish the article is to write it one section at a time.
And if I use the idea of SMART goals, I’ll build this piece brick-by-brick vs staring at a blank page and pounding my forehead against the keys trying to smash the words out.
SMART stands for, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound. If you were going to use SMART goals for something like eating healthier it might look like this.
I will eat a vegetable and lean protein source at each meal during my day.
I will create a checklist that hangs on my refrigerator and will check it off each day for each meal that I have a veggie and lean protein source.
I will start by eating a single vegetable at ONE meal for a week and slowly add veggies to each meal in the following weeks.
I will focus on being more conscious about my food selection, prioritizing lean protein and veggies at each meal.
I will be eating a veggie and lean protein source at each meal by February 28th, 2021
But let’s say you don’t get demotivated and the motivation elevator doesn’t send you back down; you keep moving up.
If we stick with Dr. Maarten Vansteenkiste’s breakdown of extrinsic motivation, eventually the motivation elevator moves from “mustivation” into “wantivation” (what I call Wa1 and Wa2).
So what’s the difference between mustivation and wantivation?
You reach wantivation when you begin to buy-in to what you’re doing. This is the point where whatever it is you’ve been working on starts to pay off in some way.
When you enter the Wa1 phase of motivation, you’re beginning to internalize what it is that you’re doing.
Maybe you’ve been lifting weights for a month and notice that you don’t end the day with as much pain as you once did. Or maybe you’ve been tracking your nutrition, losing body fat and realize you need to put a new notch on your belt.
These are moments where you begin to feel or see the results from your actions. And now you get that extra pep in your step to keep going to the gym and mastering your new nutritional habits.
Basically, your actions that carried you through Mu1 to Mu2 — the pain, strife, or self-doubt you had to overcome — have shown you their usefulness in the way of results. This invigorates you.
You feel more confident and empowered than you did when you started. Your competence level is increasing. You’re starting to become:
- that person who works out
- that person who reads consistently
- that person who takes responsibility for what they eat
You are becoming more like the ideal version of yourself you know you can be.
Wa1 may be a place that you’re in for a long time. In fact, it’s probably where many people spend the majority of time when they’re tackling any goal. I would even argue that for most of us it’s where we spend most of our lives.
- You continue going to the gym because you have found that exercise is useful to you living a better life.
- You track your food every day because you like the accountability it brings.
- Or maybe you read every day because you enjoy a good story or gaining knowledge or new perspectives.
However, there is one thing about Wa1 that I’ll offer as a thought. This is the place on the elevator that I believe you’re also doing things to avoid the pain you felt before.
You read because you don’t want to feel dumb around others. You workout and eat right because you don’t want to die of a preventable disease.
Wa1 is the place many of us stay because, yes, we’ve found working out, reading, or our job is useful and relevant to our goals. But it’s also a place where we do these things to avoid the pain we felt before.
People claim they want to get from Point A to Point B. But what they really want is to get as far away from Point A as they can. That’s a place of pain and suffering, a place of unhappiness. And once you get away from that place you never want to go back.
For many, Wa1 is the place they spend the most time working to improve and get better, but not because they enjoy it. They know they feel better doing the things that got them to Wa1 than how they felt before.
And it’s here where, again, it gets dangerous because there are a myriad of reasons that the motivation elevator may start going back down again.
4 Other Ways You Get Demotivated
I won’t dive too deep into this one. It’s really something that I think ties into the stories you tell yourself. If you’ve heard for years, or even told yourself, that you can’t finish things you start or that you always find a way to fuck it up, then you’re probably gonna self-sabotage.
When I’ve seen self-sabotage with my clients, it often comes from a place of anger and resentment.
Many times this comes from those who are Type-A personalities or perfectionists who have a hard time dealing with setbacks or failure. They self-sabotage out of anger/resentment for not holding up to their highest ideal.
For others though, self-sabotage has more to do with how they handle unforeseen stressors. If the world feels like it’s ending, why do your goals matter? Might as well enjoy that whiskey or entire pizza because it’s all fucked anyways.
When I see a client about to self-sabotage or when they tell me they feel themselves heading that way, I encourage them to write an email to their future self. Or to break out a sticky note and write this reminder: talk yourself into progress instead of excuses.
This may be the hardest because you may discover who you were in the past, and who you thought you were, were lies.
Who you think you are may be the single most powerful motivator and demotivator on Earth. This ties back into point 1 above in many ways, but it’s also deeper.
Call me altruistic if you want, but I think most people are inherently good. I think most people see themselves as good humans who want to make a difference. This is why so many of us as teenagers clutch to ideological belief systems that promote a greater good.
But life, and all the experiences of it, can quickly jade us. We go from being hopeful to resentful. We stop caring and become nihilistic towards others. The world is hard.
We live under our parents rule, then find that we can make our own and attempt to live in complete freedom; only to find out that unrestricted freedom isn’t all that great (we need rules for ourselves).
I love this quote from James Clear.
“We want the gold but not the grind.”
Losing weight, lifting weights, starting a business, becoming a parent, it’s all hard. You want the treasure that each holds, you just don’t want the struggle and pain that comes with it.
Hard truth incoming: you can’t get what you want without work. You have to change to change. Change only comes through struggle. This is why it’s important to learn to embrace the suck.
Most importantly, when things do suck, when it feels like you’re never gonna succeed or get past this, remind yourself that this too shall pass. Your brain wants you to think that you’ll never get better, that you’ll suck forever.
But that’s not true. If you lean into this discomfort and continue working towards better, you will get better.
The struggle makes the plateaus more enjoyable; you can’t enjoy being stronger if you did not struggle to lift heavier weight; you cannot enjoy success if you did not embrace and learn from failures.
Everything you do is a habit. Some of your habits are your own. Others were created and cemented into your being as a child.
How you make your coffee every morning is a habit. What you do to get ready for bed is a habit. And even the route you drive to work is a habit (ever had to change your drive to work and got super pissed about it?).
And your habits are harder to kill than Austin Powers. They’re even harder to change if you’re not aware of what you’re doing. Building that awareness, recognizing your own patterns, is no easy task.
There’s a study out there that talks about how 95% of diets fail. Why is that number so high? It’s that high because the diets that fail are fad diets that don’t focus on real habit change. They force you to suffer for a period of time or give you rigid, often ideological or nearly religious-like, rules that are topped with a heaping scoop of shame/guilt.
Changing how you eat is more important than changing what you eat; but it’s also the hardest thing to change.
What do I mean here? Surely eating broccoli is better than eating nothing but pop-tarts, Robbie.
Yes, eating more veggies and fruit, limiting liquid calories, not over-indulging in sugar every day, or topping your potatoes with three sticks of butter are no brainers. You know that’s what you should do.
But if you’re not doing those things now, they’re not a habit for you. And making them a habit takes time (and more than that 10,000 hour rule too).
Spending 20-30 years eating one way ain’t gonna shift overnight. Habits are LEGO blocks that you stack one on top of the other, and then, after lots and lots of stacking, you have something that resembles a plane, a truck, or the Death Star.
Onward to Wa2
Of course moving to Wa2 is a bit more complicated. Why? Because Wa2 is value-driven.
Meaning, you do something because it fits with your own deeply held values. And this is a hard place for many of us to get because most of us don’t know what we truly value. Figuring out what you value is a different article for a different day.
So let’s leave Wa2 at this: you shift from Wa1 to Wa2 when what you do aligns with the deepest sense of who you are and what you care about.
Welcome to the Sky Lounge of Hotel Motivation
The final floor of the Hotel Motivation is the great and powerful intrinsic motivation. Basically, you do stuff because it interests you or you enjoy it and you get deep satisfaction from the challenge; but what you get from this activity has nothing to do with anything external.
“At the far right of the continuum is the classic state of intrinsic motivation, the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions. It is highly autonomous and represents the prototypic instance of self-determination. Extrinsically motivated behaviors, by contrast, cover the continuum between amotivation and intrinsic motivation, varying in the extent to which their regulation is autonomous.” – Ryan and Deci [Deci & Ryan refer to motivation as a continuum, which, it could be viewed that way; but I think an elevator is more appropo.]
- You volunteer at a homeless shelter serving food on a major holiday, not because you want recognition for it, but because you feel compelled or called by something greater than yourself to help others.
- You read because you enjoy discovering new ways of thinking or find that your life is improved and impacted by the stories that you consume.
- You workout and maintain a healthy diet not because you’re trying to live longer (we’re all gonna die and you know that), but because you feel better when you do; and feeling your best every day helps you show up and be your best in your relationships, work, and quality of life.
A study in 2017 found that those who are intrinsically motivated showed higher levels of learning and performance, increased creative capacities, and significantly higher levels of general well-being.
One of the main reasons is because whatever it is that you’re intrinsically motivated to do is also interesting and enjoyable to you. If you hate math, you won’t be intrinsically motivated to solve a math equation.
For you to reach the highest floor of Hotel Motivation and stay motivated to do the things that you do, you have to enjoy those activities. And that’s what can make your trip on the motivation elevator such a long and arduous journey.
Meeting Your Basic Needs
Motivation is the critical variable to producing maintained change. So what does it take to get into and stay in wantivation so you can move closer to the top of Hotel Motivation?
According to SDT, there are three basic psychological needs every human being must obtain.
- Competency – possession of a required skill, knowledge, qualification, or capacity
- Autonomy* – growing naturally or spontaneously, without cultivation (and by cultivation I mean control.)
- Relatedness – the need to feel belongingness and connectedness with others (i.e., this is why you go out and buy supplements or gym gear when you start working out: you want to feel like you belong to “those” people.)
*[Autonomy is often portrayed as antagonistic to relatedness or community. It’s even defined in multiple ways with the idea of individualism and independence defining its meaning. Within SDT, however, autonomy refers not to being independent or selfish, but rather to the feeling of purpose/accomplishment that accompanies any act you take, whether it’s taken dependently or independently or collectively or individually. You do something of your choosing for the betterment of others or yourself.]
One thing is clear from SDT: meeting your basic psychological needs leads to improved well-being. And this makes sense.
When you choose to do something you like (autonomy) and that you have skill in (competence) you feel good about what you’ve done. You’ll also feel a lot better when what you’ve done supports or aligns with the beliefs of whatever community you align yourself with (relatedness).
- You like to cook and are good at it (competence), so you choose to cook dinner (autonomy) for your family who are happy to have a meal prepared with love and care by someone they love and care for (relatedness to your goal/values of being a good father).
- You shoot hoops with your kid(s) because you like basketball (autonomy) and have a good jump shot (competence) and it affords you valuable time with your progeny (relatedness to your goal/values of being a good mother).
Meeting your basic psychological needs isn’t easy, especially when you’re starting something new that you’re not very competent in or that may butt heads with something you currently hold as valuable to who you are.
This is why it may be hard as hell to get motivated in the beginning.
Whatever your journey may be, going to the gym, eating healthier, getting out of debt, starting a business, you’re not going to have all three of these basic needs met on day one.
In fact, at the start of your journey, you’re probably going to (or have to) do things you don’t like. If you can keep that ratio to around 80% of stuff you do like and 20% you don’t, you’ll probably stick with what you’re doing for longer.
But sometimes, to get to where you want to be, to move up the motivation elevator, you’re gonna have to push through the muck.
You’re going to remind yourself of the consequences. You’ll probably berate yourself for failing to achieve your goal or going off course. You may find that you hate doing the things you know you’re supposed to do, even if you know you’ll feel better once they’re done.
When you’re in mustivation you don’t feel compelled internally to do that thing you’re supposed to be doing. Your actions aren’t intrinsic yet.
But SDT acknowledges that extrinsically motivated actions can morph into intrinsic motivations as you identify with and fully assimilate these actions into who you are.
So yes, you can be extrinsically motivated and remain committed and authentic to your pursuits while you work on internalizing and assimilating those actions into who you are.
There’s a plethora of research out there that backs this up. You can start completely externally motivated, and as you become more competent and accomplish goals related to who or what you want to be, your actions eventually move up the motivation elevator and take you closer to the last stop: intrinsic motivation.
But there is a flip side to this. Excessive control, non-stimulating challenges, and lack of connectedness disrupt your inherent skills of actualizing your potential. This often leads to a lack of initiative and responsibility, which can result in distress and ill-being.
According to SDT, psychological need deprivation is a principal source of human distress and poor mental health. Basically, if you have no connection to what you’re doing or you’re doing it for reasons that you don’t give a rat’s ass about, there’s only so long you can do those things before you stop caring.
Once you stop caring or have no connection — no purpose or meaning — to what you’re doing, then you’re moving back down the elevator towards amotivation.
What you need to stay motivated isn’t always a specific reason or purpose, though those things are important. And you sure as hell don’t need some lame ass cliched quote by some famous person in a frame on your desk.
What helps you get and stay motivated is having your basic psychological needs met.
How do you get or begin to meet your basic psychological needs? You need an appropriate structure (or system) that allows you the proper development or movement up the motivation elevator, along with actions that help you stay engaged while you assimilate your competence into new skills, fusing those into who you are.
If your goal is to improve your nutrition, that system could be following a specific structured diet protocol like Paleo, Keto, Weight Watchers, or simply tracking your calories and macros.
But you need to choose something that doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out of your head because it turns your life upside down with what you can or cannot consume.
When it comes to exercise you could join a gym and download an online program you can follow (I have some here you can grab). Or you could join a CrossFit gym that comes with a built in community. You could buy a Peloton and use it. Or you could keep it super simple and walk 30 minutes a day until you feel more confident about doing something else. Whatever you choose, choose something that you enjoy at first and can easily commit to and build from there.
6 Ways to Take Action and Build Momentum So You Gain Motivation
One of the biggest reasons why people struggle to start or never move up on the motivation elevator is because they lack a plan. They have no structure to guide them on their journey. So when the going gets tough, they get going…..
….away from where they want to go.
Building that structure does not have to involve some elaborate plan either. There are simple things you can do to take action right now. Here are six of my favorite ways to build momentum.
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Keep a daily promise to yourself – Who do you spend the most time with every day? Yourself. You have to live in and with your Self every day.
How many times do you feel like you let your Self down? What would change if you kept a promise to your Self every day? Set one simple promise you can do for your Self every day.
Habit stacking – Basically, habit stacking is a process where you add a new habit after one you already do every day. Example, you do 10 push-ups after you brush your teeth; you meditate for 1 minute after you finish your morning coffee; etc. For more on habit stacking, check out James Clear’s article here.
Kiss the Frog’s Ass First Thing – Okay, so the Mark Twain quote is actually, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” But I worked with a woman who put it this way, “if the worst thing you have to do all day is kiss a frog’s ass, kiss his ass and get it over with.”
Basically, whatever it is you’re procrastinated about doing or afraid to do, is the exact thing you need to do. So stop your belly aching and do it first thing. Get it done and move on with your day.
Be Accountable to Someone – Why don’t you run around punching people in the face or stealing their wallets? You don’t do that because you’re a decent human being (I hope). But you don’t do that because if you did, you’d wind up in jail and where you’d have no freedom at all.
No, what stops you from punching random people or picking their pockets is the repercussions of your actions keeps you responsible. And that’s what accountability does too. When you have someone to be accountable to, you have someone to whom you are being held responsible; they provide support to the actions you tell them you want to take.
This is the biggest reason why my online clients see success when it comes to achieving their health and fitness goals. But if your goal isn’t about losing a few pounds or sticking to a workout regiment, find someone to whom you can be responsible: a friend, a therapist, a group, etc.
Answer How-to Questions and not What ifs – Don’t ask “what if?” What ifs are daydreams. They’re an easy realm to get lost in where you fantasize about the myriad of ways you “could” accomplish a goal. Instead, ask yourself how to questions.
How to questions provide you with more direct answers. How to get more active? Walk, run, lift, swim. Sure, there may be more than one way to skin a cat here, but each answer gives you something you can do; pick one and go with it. Don’t let a daydream of what you “could” do stop you from doing it.
Set Stupid Simple Goals – Don’t swing for the fences. Keep it super simple at first.
Wanna get in better shape? Make it a goal to get to the gym for a single day. Trying to improve your nutrition? Don’t start Whole 30. Eat one veggie at lunch today; don’t worry about tomorrow or next week or next month.
Wanna start a reading habit? Cool. Read one page. Yep, one page. Not even a chapter. Start with one page. Basically, make your goal so simple that it sounds funny to you. Because accomplishing that silly sounding goal will help you build momentum and feel like “oh that wasn’t that hard.”
448 Final Words on Motivation (yes, those are the exact words left to read)
You’ve just read a few thousand words all about motivation. Congrats! (Sorry, I don’t have a cookie for you.)
So what did you learn? Do you have a better understanding of what motivation is now? I hope so. I hope you better understand that motivation is a crazy elevator that feels more like The Tower of Terror at times. However, I want to share a couple of final truths about motivation as I wrap this article up.
Firstly, and most importantly, building momentum and increasing your motivation happens more easily if you’re meeting your basic psychological needs. So whatever it is you want to do, keep it simple at first so you don’t overwhelm yourself and feel like a failure out of the gate.
Secondly, there will be days you are not motivated at all. But it’s days like these where the momentum of your actions will carry you forward. So focus on what you do daily vs the outcomes. Tip: you will never regret keeping a promise to yourself.
Finally, and this is where I feel like I am repeating a ton of other people when it comes to motivation. But it’s also true, and the hard truths are often the ones we hate to hear again and again; but that we know deep inside ourselves is true.
Motivation isn’t a product. It’s a by-product.
It doesn’t show up and get you to do stuff. It comes after you get off your ass and do the shit you keep telling yourself you should be doing.
Mark Manson has this thing he calls “The Do Something Principle.” You can’t get what you want by sitting around and bitching about how you don’t have it. But you can get closer to that thing if you get up and do something, anything, that moves you towards that thing you want.
You can sit around and wish to be motivated to eat better or start a workout regiment. But where does sitting and thinking about it get you? It gets you nowhere. You stay in the same place you’ve been for months or years (the lobby of amotivation).
But if you got up and took a walk. Or ate one piece of broccoli at dinner, guess what? You have now moved, ever so small, towards your goal. That action leads out of the amotivation lobby and onto the motivation elevator; it creates momentum and that momentum leads to progress.
And that is where you find motivation. You find motivation after you do things, not before you do them.
You have to choose to leave the languishing lobby of amotivation and get on the motivation elevator. Or as a wise little green frog-looking puppet once said, “do or do not; there is no try.”
One final thing on motivation. Either you are going to choose when you start something or life will choose for you.
Because whatever it is you’re kicking down the road, whatever thing you keep saying “oh golly gee willikers I should start taking this thing serious,” it will come back to bite you in the ass. It always does. Every time. That’s life. So if you keep thinking about something you should be motivated to do and aren’t, stop kicking that can down the road. Do something, anything, that moves you closer to getting what you want today.