26 March 2010 8 comments

Stop looking for motivation

26 March 2010 · 8 comments

in Uncategorized

“I want to get this [insert project or goal here] done. But I haven’t felt motivated yet.”

A lot of us wait around for motivation to come. We end up waiting a long time.

The problem is motivation isn’t a cause—it’s an effect. And, like momentum (also an effect), it can serve to keep things moving once it’s in place. But we have to get it started. We do.

Motivation comes as a result of what we feel and think and do. It’s not a feeling in and of itself. We create it—a fact that scares the pants off of most of us, because we’ve often put all our “get things done” eggs in the “waiting for motivation” basket.

But it’s up to us—to our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Those three—thoughts, feelings, and actions—are like points on a triangle. They’re inextricably linked. Our thoughts affect how we feel, how we feel affects how we act, how we act affects how we think, and so on. And that triangle really, really wants to be equilateral.

But sometimes it looks like this…

or this…

Our brains and bodies are a delicate ecosystem that works constantly to keep those three things balanced. When they are, we hum along getting things done, feeling in control, and looking forward to challenges, both at hand and ahead. When they’re not, we lose steam, revert to old or bad habits, feel overhwhelmed, and berate ourselves for lack of willpower and motivation.

In other words, when one point on the triangle starts to pull out of balance, the other two follow along behind.

The problem is, we can’t see our triangle, we can only feel its effects…usually in the form of lost motivation.

Here’s the secret: motivation doesn’t come unless we tell it to.

Like many things, the answer  to “finding” motivation lies within the same framework that creates the problem. When we’ve “lost” motivation, or don’t know where to find it, the power to get it back lies fully within our hands: by putting the triangle back to rights (or rather, equilateral).

You always have three options: change your actions, change your thoughts, or change your feelings. Because the three are inseparable from one another, changing one changes the other two.

Try it. See what happens.

  • Great post, Tamsen. It's so true about the triangle, and how changing one affects the other. In a conversation with a certain lady this week, I noted exactly that: by changing the actions that we take, our thoughts and feelings (and motivation/confidence/etc) change in line.

  • My manta has always been, “Do it anyway.”

    Not the perfect moment? Do it anyway. Is it awkward to move forward? Do it anyway? Is it not fun? Do it anyway. Everything isn't quite perfect? Do it anyway.

    I know I stumble sometimes in remembering to *just keep going*, but when you see progress as your only option, you tend to make less excuses about your motivation.

    Love this post. Thanks, Tamsen!

  • Thanks, Gradon! I've used the triangle metaphor for a long time, but it was only a few weeks ago where it occurred to me that motivation was the result of balance, not the thing that created it. It's hard (and I speak from experience: I'm a master procrastinator) to realize that some outside force is not going to suddenly make things different for us. At the same time, it's empowering to know that we're always in ultimate control of what we do and don't feel, think, and act on.

  • I always find that motivation comes when I start moving forward with something. Then it's not about motivation anymore, it's about doing the best I can.

    Thanks for the reminder that it's all in our control.

  • It's one of my favorite topics, probably because I struggle with it myself, and (in the context of helping people lose weight) help a lot of others who struggle, too.

    “Do it anyway” is the perfect way to sum it up. We're wired to *not* change, so there's a natural resistance (well-described by Seth Godin in “Linchpin”) to doing so. Pushing through the lack of desire, or even the active desire to do the opposite of what needs to happen, is the indicator that the change you want is at hand.

  • You're welcome! Physics does, in fact, explain everything: a body at rest stays at rest; a body in motion stays in motion. We have to create the initial movement, get over the inertia.

    It's that first movement that takes the most energy. The rest is momentum.

  • “Is it awkward to move forward?”


    And I'm learning that mantra lately. It really helps me get over what I *think* is shyness.

  • I had an unexpected reaction to your post, Tamsen. I got a bit emotional, then reflective and finally, motivated…but not to comment. Not right away. Instead, I juggled the priorities on my plate to make sure my Dad was higher on the list. I took that initiative because, through Alzheimer’s, he has lost his ability to do so. He no longer knows what it means to be motivated, to initiate action, to step forward without being pushed. It’s a sharp contrast to the father I once knew, and it’s a daily reminder of the challenges ahead.

    I now realize that sometimes the points on the triangle just don’t meet. It’s true…our brains and bodies are indeed a delicate ecosystem that works constantly to keep our thoughts, feelings and actions balanced. But when something like disease disrupts that delicate balance, the first thing to go is control. Rather, the disease takes over and you’re often forced to live in reactive mode.

    I’m blessed with health and there are many things I wish to accomplish in this life. As long as I have control over my own thoughts, feelings and actions, I’m more determined to seize it proactively and apply my motivation towards progress. It may not always come in leaps and bounds, and it might sometimes be applied to others’ needs first, but bearing close witness to the frustration of not having that control gives me a sharp sense of responsibility to exercise my own.

    I too struggle with motivation on a daily basis, usually wasting precious opportunity waiting for more perfect conditions. I’ve learned a hard lesson in waiting and now I favor progress over perfection. I’ll take the baby steps, and occasional leaps, to get me where I want to go, and I’ll carry others with me if they need a helping hand.

    Thanks for this post, Tamsen. Your thoughtful reflection inspired something in me and I’m grateful for it.

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