Don’t Wait for Motivation

There are two types of people in the world. One type believes that motivation is an essential or even required part of taking action. The other type believes that action is best treated as a choice, with little regard paid to their motivational whims. Those who believe action is a choice don’t wait for motivation.

Every person is already motivated at all times, it’s just not always motivation to do the right things. When people talk about “getting motivated,” what they really mean is “change my motivation to something more productive.” And this is a key distinction because it prompts an important question—can motivation be transferred like this? If so, how effectively or reliably can it be done?

Here’s the fundamental problem with “getting motivated”: How do you change something that you don’t want to change?

You want to do X, but you wish you wanted to do Y. Or to put it awkwardly, you want to want to do Y. You desire the desire! I will use one example for the rest of the article, but this concept applies to all behaviors. This is just a very common one.

Example: Say you feel like watching TV. But you know that it would be better for your health if you got in a quick workout. You’ve introduced a competing desire. Now you desire to watch TV and work out, but for two different reasons. In Mini Habits, I talked about these two types of motivation—one is a reason to act (work out for wellness), and the other is a feeling to act (watch TV because it feels good/right). 

You have a better reason to work out, but you still feel like watching TV. Some will try to convert their reason for exercise into feeling like exercising, but that feeling slot is already occupied (watching TV) and isn’t likely to change. This is the motivation trap.

The Motivation Trap

The motivation trap is the false belief that:

  1. You need motivation (feeling) before you do something.
  2. Motivation (feeling) can come by desiring it to come.

The fundamental problem here is that your motivation has already been determined by your circumstances, habits, and environment. You’re probably sitting down and relaxed. Watching TV feels like the most natural next step, which is why you’re most motivated to do it. When you feel like watching a TV episode, it is highly unlikely to change. This isn’t a battle of two equal desires. Watching TV genuinely seems to fit your situation better. Most likely, excuses to relax will dominate your thoughts and seal your fate on the couch.

People wait in vain for motivation or inspiration to hit them, and they do it day after day. They put in real effort, too, thinking about all of the things they want to achieve or the exciting results they could get. But it all fails because it’s tied to the flawed theory that motivation is the key to action.

And here’s the worst part… Sometimes, miraculously, you will be able to convert your reason to exercise into motivation to exercise (or whatever your target behavior is). But even if you happen to succeed, you get weaker.

Why Succeeding With Motivation Weakens Us

If getting motivated helps you sometimes, then at least those times you succeeded are worth celebrating, right?


Getting motivated to do X when you are already motivated to do Y is more difficult and less reliable than other techniques for action. Thus, any success with it reinforces the wrong idea; it attracts you to an inferior strategy.

Motivation seekers train themselves not to do anything unless they feel motivated to do it. That kills consistency. That rules out habits. It keeps them from real progress. How frustrating!

Believe me, I understand the appeal and logic of doing whatever you feel motivated to do at the time. I lived that way for most of my life. Forcing action isn’t a naturally easy thing to do, but it can be made easier and in time, it will feel natural. 

The results of escaping this trap are extraordinary. As you change, you will feel increasingly more powerful. Waiting on motivation makes us feel weak and powerless. So when you remove that artificial barrier, you’ll see all the possibilities of who you can become.

Read any of my five books for the best techniques to stop waiting on motivation. In my original book, Mini Habits, I shared the eponymous technique that first helped me detach from motivation seeking; it changed my life. I did one push-up a day, a goal so small that I could always force action. It taught me that doing a little was infinitely better than nothing, that it was always more meaningful than it seemed, and that I never needed to wait for motivation to act.

Some think that action follows motivation. The truth? Motivation follows action.

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