Today’s post started as my answer to a question on Quora that was asked, If you could give one piece of advice for a very smart but lazy guy to get off his butt and do something with his life, what would it be?
Here is an edited version of my answer just for the readers of Improve My Life This Year.
No one has to tell you to get off your butt and breathe. No one has to tell you to get off your butt and eat. Why? You fundamentally want to live. Whatever you need to do in order to leave just comes naturally without you expending willpower for it.
We tend to think about motivation as some kind of secret potion. Pour it over your head in the light of a full moon and boom! You’re motivated.
Similarly we tend to think of lack of motivation as some kind of deficiency in our character. “Did you hear about Tom? He’s [shudder] not motivated.”
Both these views are wrong. Again, motivated people don’t breathe more than unmotivated people. The truth is, motivation is more like a state we find ourselves in, rather than a magic potion we can purchase or a deficiency of character if we don’t have it.
Motivation is like hunger. It’s like pain. It’s like happiness. It’s like amusement. It is a feeling that describes our present state. You can’t will yourself to be happy (at least not long-term). You aren’t deficient in character if you are sad today. You probably had a bad day and we’d all be sad about that situation.
So what can we do? I argue that motivation is not the tool for success. Rather, it is the result of success. You feel motivated when you are doing things that matter to you. You feel motivated when you are making progress in your life. You feel motivated when you win. See? Motivation is the prize for being aligned with your true self, working on things that matter to you, and seeing results that you dream of.
So many people say, “I will start once I’m motivated.” No, you won’t. You’ll get motivated when you start, assuming what you are starting is right for you. If it isn’t then your first step is to find what is right for you. You can’t expect to be happy climbing a pear tree if you hate pears.
If you feel so unmotivated to do something, that’s a huge red flag it is the wrong thing for you. Or that it is the right thing, but you haven’t become aware of why it is because you haven’t seen the connection between this action and your true goals. I hate to shine my shoes until I realize how good freshly-shined shoes make me look. Then I’m motivated.
Long-story short. Don’t wait to start until you feel motivated. Feel motivated by starting and seeing results. If after you start, you still don’t feel motivated, examine your goals. Is this action bringing you closer or not? If not, start something else that is aligned with your goals. Motivation is not some mystical aid to your successful work. It is the feeling that comes from doing the right things for you.
If you are serious about increasing motivation, grab a copy of Daniel H Pink’s Drive. It is the single best book ever written on the topic of Motivation. Don’t buy this book if you want a pseudo-science “You can Do It!” type of cheerleading book. But if you are looking for a science-based understanding of how motivation really works and how you can be more motivated, then this book is phenomenal. Get Drive, read it, apply it, and you will improve your life this year. If you find it challenging to read books, be sure to check out our post on improving your reading habits.
To your daily growth!