Motivation is Overrated and Relying on It is a Bad Thing


Motivation is a very fickle construct.  One day you feel on top of the world and able to accomplish anything.  Other dayys all you want to do is lay in your bed and cover up.  Although motivation is great and absolutely necessary if you want to accomplish anything worthwhile, the concept has been overvalued in the realm of personal development.  From making more money, to losing weight, to starting your own company, many people will talk about motivation being the primary driver in accomplishing these goals.  However, I don’t think that is the case.  Don’t get me wrong, motivation is vital and necessary to success.  But motivation overrated because it is not the most essential component of success.  It is being relied on too much as a means of achieving goals.

Why Relying on Motivation is a Bad Idea


If you are going to accomplish a goal, you are going to need a why.  Why do you want to accomplish that goal?  Why  is the goal important to you?  To answer these, you need to find your motivations.  Additionally, to start any goal, you need to be motivated.  In the majority of the cases, whether it be losing weight, or eating healthy, or waking up early, motivation is the main driver of action in the first couple of weeks.  But to reach your goals and keep going, relying on motivation will not get you there.  Motivation waxes and wanes.  I think Zig Ziglar said once that “[p]eople say that motivation doesn’t last.  Well neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend it daily.”  The idea behind the quote is that motivation is a short-term solution.  Relying on motivation (alone) will not help you reach your goals.   If you are going to rely on motivation for everything you need to get done, you will not get much done.

Like willpower, motivation is finite.  Do not get in the habit of waiting to be motivated or constantly trying to find motivation, in order to get something done.  High achievers do not wait for motivation.  They just do it.  I listened to a podcast by Hal Elrod and he said something that really resonated with me.  He said “motion creates motivation”, or something along those lines.

What to Do Instead of Relying on Motivation


So if you can’t rely on motivation to get things done, what can you rely on?  You rely on your habits.  That is why it is so crucial to form daily routines and habits.  My life used to be extremely chaotic, and I never knew what to work on.  I can go weeks or months without reading, exercising, and writing.  But as soon as my motivation comes back, I’ll get my act together, for a couple of weeks.  The inconsistencies in my life drove me crazy.  I tried to find ways to keep myself motivated; however, what I should have done was to try to find ways to make healthy habits so that I act every day.  It wasn’t until recently that I began trying to make habits out of almost everything in my life, bit by bit, one habit at a time.  I started getting up a little earlier.  Then I started getting some work done in those early hours.  Then I started to get more work done during the day.  Then I started exercising almost every evening.  Then I started reading every night.  Pretty soon, all these things that were inconsistent in my life became consistent.  They key is that I consistently acted on my goals, whether I am “motivated” or not.

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By relying on your habits, you are relying on automation to get things done.  Automation is efficient.  Motivation is not.  There will be days where you will feel extremely crappy and unmotivated.  Your motivation will not be there to bail you out on those days.  But your habits will.  Once your habits have been deeply embedded in you, you will act no matter what.  When you rely on motivation, you only act when you feel inspired.

I think the motivation/productivity paradigm needs to shift.  You do not need to be motivated to be productive.  Instead, you are motivated BECAUSE you are productive. 

If you do not have deeply embedded habits set up yet to take action and get things done, just get yourself to start.  If you want to get fit but don’t feel like working out on some days, just get yourself off the couch and drive to the gym.  Chances are, if you are the gym you will get your workout in.  If you do not feel like writing your book, just started writing for 5 minutes.  Chances are, you will write for much longer than 5 minutes.  These mini actions will trigger you to act.  Remember, motion creates motivation.  Start slowly with one habit at a time, ideally choosing a keystone habit, a habit that will act as a domino effect that will act as a vanguard and an anchor for your other habits.



About the author


Netflix enthusiast, horrible speller, jiujitsu hobbyist, weekend drinker, and occasional poker player. Favorite quote is "[o]ut of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars."

Sara - March 18, 2015

Have you done any research on this thought through another website or book or such??

JACQLYNNE - April 9, 2015

You got me right there…Motivation… i will surely work on habits to create consistency…

    Tri - April 9, 2015

    Yeap. Design your life so that the things you want to do become automatic instead of waiting for motivation to get it done. Cheers!

Steve - November 2, 2015

Wouldn’t you need motivation in order to create a habit?

    Tri - November 3, 2015

    Good point. Sometimes that is true. But I don’t feel you should rely on motivation each and every time you want to do something worthwhile. You need motivation to start, but you shouldn’t rely on it to keep going…is basically what I am conveying.

Linda - February 16, 2016

Interesting point of view…. it reminds me of the Nike slogan “Just Do It” which most of us who exercise will know as we all have woken up groaning that we don’t want to go to the gym but never the less stagger out of bed and just do it… half way in to it we start to feel better. Having played professional sport in my youth I often would feel on some days a complete lack of motivation but due to the habit of exercising daily would go out and do my routine…. having the meta cognition to see that part of me is feeling a bit sookie, I chat to that part and say well we don’t have to do it for as long but maybe we’ll feel better afterwards… in the end this creates not only a habit but the knowledge that I can get through periods of lack of motivation – quite powerful really…
Thanks Tri…

Dave - July 14, 2016

I agree with most of this article. And have done exactly that to create a good routine in my life. However, it’s very easy to be always striving, but never arriving. In the long term, it’s important to be able to be in the moment while you are doing all of these actions, whether you are motivated or not. In the long term if you aren’t in the moment enough, it doesn’t matter how much you accomplish each day, you will experience burnout. I have experienced it, and it isn’t fun. It isn’t fulfilling when you aren’t able to get in the moment during your routine. Your mind tries to distract you and get you somewhere else. Each person is different. So for some, the advice in this article will absolutely work. But if you are like me, it is a good step, but getting in the moment along with action is an absolute must.

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