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  • Motivation Is a Myth

  • If you want to get anything done, there are two ways you can go about it. The first, most popular option is to motivate yourself. The second, more unpopular choice is to just start working on the task with discipline. You might be surprised, but the second option is the best way to go about things.

    You are probably thinking, "How is motivation the wrong choice?" But instead, what if we have actually misunderstood the idea of motivation? What if we could reframe the idea and structure our lives in a way where we would never worry about the mystical energy of motivation again?

    Essentially, motivation is waiting until you feel like doing something before you actually do it. Discipline, on the other hand, is doing a task regardless of how you are feeling about it. Motivation is a myth, and I will explain why.

    Why Motivation Is Not the Spark

    For the people in the back, I will say it again. Motivation is not the spark! We think we need motivation to get anything done, when that really is not true. Jeff Haden, the author of The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win, compares motivation to a sugar rush that never lasts. Instead, there is only one recipe for gaining motivation, and that is simply making progress.

    Motivation does not lead to action. However, action leads to success, which leads to motivation. This prompts action, thus generating more success and more motivation. For those of you into the scientific version of the above explanation, this is essentially a positive, dopamine-driven feedback loop. Tiny doses of success give us the motivation, or dopamine hits, we need to continue.

    Motivation is the fire that burns after you manually coax it into existence, not the spark. Even more simply put, you do not need motivation to do something, just do the thing and motivation will naturally follow.

    So, how do we start making progress in the first place?

    Processes vs. Goals

    Success depends on our processes, not our goals. Just having a goal is not enough. Rather, our processes build the foundation for our successes. Therefore, we generate momentum and a positive feedback loop that maintains the fire of motivation. As Jeff Haden says, "If you dedicate yourself to working your process, you will make progress, and so success is inevitable."

    If your goal is to run a marathon, do not focus only on the goal. Focus on the process of running a certain number of miles or working out every day, and forget about the goal. When we are doing anything that is hard, we are going to be tempted to stray from the process. For example, my process for this blog is to write and publish one blog post per week.

    One way to keep ourselves, including myself, on track is to change our language. Instead of saying "I cannot," I try to shift my language to "I do not." What's the difference? "I cannot" is a decision we make based on external processes, or things outside of our control. We say this phrase in a lot of areas of our lives, even though we are in control of many of those situations. "I do not," on the other hand, is a more personal and identity-based decision rather than an external decision. If I say, "I do not eat unhealthy meals," I am reinforcing to myself that I am a healthy person and that is part of my identity.

    To wrap it up nicely, set a goal, forget about the goal, and focus on the process instead.

    Jeff Haden has many more tips in his book, and I highly recommend reading it. What do you think of this idea that motivation is a myth? Let me know in the comments down below!