Motivation < Action

We’ve somehow led ourselves to believe that we can’t act unless we’re motivated to do so. It’s tricksy (like a Hobbit), because wanting to be motivated is so alluring (like the Ring).

Motivation is to action as reading about exercise is to being in shape. Certainly, both can happen, but simply being motivated accomplishes nothing while seeming like it’s accomplishing something.

Our problem is never motivation. Look at January 1st for everyone, ever. We’re all gung-ho about making changes at the start of a new year. Our problem isn’t a desire to do things, it’s just that most of us never follow through.

Being motivated to write articles doesn’t mean I’m going to write a single word. Feeling motivated to eat less vegan chocolates doesn’t mean I’ll eat less of them. Motivation feels important because it feels like action, but it’s not.

We attempt to motivate ourselves by getting excited about outcomes or thinking about how much better our lives will be once we are motivated. The issue isn’t that we want something, it’s that we think our desire for something automatically makes us more likely to achieve that something.

Motivation, even for mundane things like exercise or writing more, is theoretical. Whereas action is tangible.

When our theoretical ideas of wanting something take us further and further from putting something into practice, we get down on ourselves. We give up and often do the opposite (i.e. “I didn’t eat a healthy lunch today so it doesn’t matter if I have junk food for dinner” or “Why write anything now? I should have been writing for the last two weeks and be 10,000 words in already”).

The issue with motivation isn’t that we’re not motivated, it’s that we imagine that we need to be motivated in the first place, instead of just doing the work. With creativity specifically, it’s easy to get into the mindset of waiting for the muse, when really, the best way for the muse to pay us a visit is to start working.

Co-exist with the lack of motivation as you act on what you feel motivated to do. In the end, the motivation doesn’t matter at all, it’s the action that does because it’s the action that produces the work.

Action requires that we tell our minds to shut up. We need to stop telling ourselves to be motivated or feel down when we don’t act on our motivation sooner. We can’t argue with ourselves because even if we win, we lose.

Small actions often lead to bigger actions. Adding “write a book” to your todo list will result in exactly zero books ever being written. It’s too massive of a task to sum up in a line. If you actually want to act, you need to break things down a bit. Instead of “write a book”, add “come up with 3 ideas for a book”. This can be done by sitting down for 30 minutes and writing. Not writing well, not editing, not waiting until you’re motivated, but just sitting your ass in a chair and writing down ideas for 30 minutes. If you think too much about everything it takes to write a book and what can come from succeeding or failing after you’ve written it, you’ll talk yourself out of doing it before you even start.

Don’t let your brain talk you out of things! You can be smarter than your brain. You don’t need it or anyone else to motivate you to do something, you just need to shut yourself up and start doing it.

I don’t wait for motivation to strike, instead I get down to work. Motivation isn’t required for action. Frodo was the same, he acted instead of waiting to be inspired to act (with the help of Samwise of course). In the end he wasn’t powerful because he had or didn’t have the Ring, he was powerful because he kept taking action (and really, because he let Gollum defeat himself and fall into lava).