How to Understand Motivation and Use It to Your Advantage

Max Phillips

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"I don’t want to work out today,” I tell myself. “I’ve got no motivation.”

Sometimes, I just don’t want to do anything. Sit down, ignore any responsibilities, and compartmentalise. I’m sure you’ve been there too.

I hate to break it to you, but it’s bullshit.

Motivation is not some elixir successful people drink at 6 in the morning to complete the first of their thousand tasks.

It is at the very core of every single thing we do. Every action or decision we take is motivated by something. In that sense, it appears quite simple.

But then, “how am I still finding it difficult?” you may ask. Firstly, you must understand what the term truly means.

Here’s how.

Understand Your Desires

“In my experience, there is only one motivation, and that is desire. No reasons or principles contain it or stand against it.” — Jane Smiley

Defined as ‘enthusiasm for doing something,’ motivation seems pretty straightforward.

So, having ‘no motivation’ means you have an enthusiasm for doing something, which likely trumps the enthusiasm for another thing.

I am certainly not exempt. There are times when I haven’t trained because I tell myself I have ‘no motivation’. When, in fact, I desire watching TV more than exercising. In that sense, it is fairly simple.

But wait! There’s more.

For success, you must outline your true desires. That way, you can act on them accordingly, thus motivating every associated facet in your life.

Inaction is a short-term desire designed to protect your feelings. Understanding this will enable you to see your long-term goals and act accordingly.

For example: do you want to have the perfect body and be in the best shape of your life? If the answer is yes, then that is your main desire. Actions, such as healthy eating and regular exercise now have a purposeful motivator behind them.

Think of it as a growing tree. The main desire is the trunk, supported by the roots, which are the actions you take to get there.

Commit First, Get Motivated Later

“Committed action comes first, feeling motivated comes later.”— Dr. Russ Harris

It’s all well and good having a desire to do something. We all have ambitions in life. What’s lacking is commitment.

Let me break it down for you.

I joined Medium in September 2019. I posted 11 pieces between then and December.

So, in about 16 weeks, I had published 11 articles — not great for someone wanting to pursue a career in writing.

Fast forward to March, and I decided to force myself to commit to writing. The first few articles were a slug, but I kept going. The desire to be a successful writer motivated me to write.

The more I committed myself, the more motivated I became. Since 12th March, I have posted 13 pieces. Six weeks, 13 pieces. In under half the time, I’ve published more articles. And guess what?

I feel more motivated than ever.

In the prior 16 week period, I was telling myself I had ‘no motivation.’ The fact of the matter was, I was scared of the unknown. I wanted to take control of my feelings, so I opted to remain inside my comfort zone.

Controlling my actions has led to increased motivation, and good feelings have followed.

Discipline and Willpower Aren’t Real Things

In his book The Confidence Gap, Dr. Russ Harris states the two problems with believing in the “magic potion” for success.

Problem one:

  • We go off in search of the magic potion, reading books or doing courses to try and develop more willpower or discipline, instead of committing to action right now.

Problem two:

  • We decide that the magic potion is unobtainable and we give up on doing what matters because “we don’t have enough” discipline or willpower.

Discipline and willpower are ‘merely descriptive labels’ according to Harris. These people are committed to acting on their values and doing what it takes to achieve their goals.

Taking action supersedes elements such as discipline and willpower. Don’t let these labels affect your motivation. They aren’t relevant.

Recognise That Having No Motivation Is a Myth

“Action is the foundational key to all success.”
— Pablo Picasso

For many, the first stumbling block is motivation. A lack of it dispels you from following through with your desires.

Pushing out of your comfort zone is essential for success.

I was frightened at the prospect of putting my writing out for all eyes to see. “What if people think I suck?” I thought to myself. It doesn’t matter. I acted on my desire to write, and that is the most important thing.

Actions and motivation are somewhat like a car battery. The act of driving charges it up for continued use in the future. The electricity, like motivation, feeds back into itself. Once the battery is unused, it’ll die.

“Dreaming is fun. Future results are enjoyable to talk about. Present efforts are not.” — John Acuff

So stop putting that side project or new venture off and take action. Motivation will follow suit.

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