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How to Motivate Yourself to Do Anything

by Robert D. Smith
motivate yourself - guy on mountain

You know exactly what you need to do. You’re focused on all the positive outcomes that will result once you’ve finished that looming task. You’ve cleared your calendar so you can focus on completing this one thing.

And then nothing happens.

Why? Because you think you need motivation. You’re waiting on a spark, on inspiration to fly out of nothingness and smack you in the face.

Well, I hate to break it to you…but if this sounds like you, you’re going to be waiting for a long time. Possibly forever. Because here’s the reality—motivation, as you know it, is a myth. Here are three reasons why.

motivate yourself - guy on mountain

Why External Motivation is a Myth

1. Motivation never comes before productivity

Think about it. When do you feel more motivated? Before you start on a huge project, or after you’ve spent a little time really digging into it and getting more clear on your direction? 

Related Article: How to Turn Procrastination into Action

Starting something big and new always brings on a little nervousness. We tend to think things like, What are people going to think about this? Can I actually pull it off?

But once you take action and start being productive, the creative energy kicks in. You get excited, and you want to do more. That’s when the real motivation happens. So remember, productivity is not, as most people think, a product of motivation. Motivation is a product of productivity.

2. You control the way you feel.

William James, the father of modern psychology, has a quote that I remind myself of on a daily basis: “I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.”

In this case, we could just as easily say that you aren’t productive because you’re motivated; you’re motivated because you’re productive. 

Your ability to get motivated is not controlled by anything external. Sure, external things can motivate you for small chunks of time, but real, lasting motivation is only achieved when you pull it out of yourself with sustained, intentional action.

Related: The Difference Between Success and Failure

3. There are no secrets when it comes to motivation.

This is not the first article ever written on the subject of finding ways to motivate yourself, and it won’t be the last. Entire industries have been built on a foundation that says they have the magic secret that will get you off your butt and into action.

The simple fact is that the only secret in existence is what you’ve known all along—work hard. And keep doing it. Try it one way and get some feedback. Come back at it from another angle. Make a list, make a phone call, write an email. Break down all the “must-do” tasks into manageable 15-minute chunks and start attacking them with massive action.

If you do those things, you will never find yourself in a position where you’re searching for motivation. You will be in a natural state of perpetual momentum. And you certainly won’t need any motivational “secrets” to help you.

Related Article: Set Your Goals: The First Step to Success

The Takeaway

For over 30 years, I’ve had to hold back outburst after outburst as the New York Times best-selling author/speaker I manage, Andy Andrews, has been labeled over and over as a “motivational” speaker. Both of us, especially Andy, cringe when we hear that term.

Speakers, books, and audio programs can teach you, but they simply cannot motivate you.

So the next time someone tells you they have the secret to staying motivated, run! The secret already lies within you. It’s called doing something. Repeat after me—increase your productivity, then the motivation will follow. 


robert smith

Robert D. Smith is the author of 20,000 Days and Counting, a crash course in living each day with maximum purpose and intensity. He also writes about entrepreneurship, personal growth, and more at

Featured image by Leonardo Pallotad

Originally published 5/9/13 and updated 4/15/14. 

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Kyle November 24, 2013 - 10:19 pm

I have one problem with section 2. How do I get motivated if I’m not productive?

Tam September 21, 2013 - 8:57 pm

An excellent article. When I was a kid I read the Og Mandino books. His message was very much like your own. Don’t wait for motivation, act now ! Thanks for the great read

james ross May 24, 2013 - 1:42 pm

Great article! We always over complicate and over analyze problems in our lives.
Perfectionism causes procrastination then de-motivation and zero progress of your goal.
Just do it! Just start whatever it is you want to do and more motivation will follow!
Motivation just needs action however small to feed itself. Maybe it is just that simple!
Ok I am getting off the computer now and do something!
Thanks for the wise words,


Greg J August 10, 2013 - 10:09 pm

Haha, I love how inspired you seemed by the direction your comment went and how it concluded. This is very true about motivation, and when getting my business off the ground this year I had to ignore a lot of discouragement that was directed toward me due to my past life problems. 5 months of working to the point of a workaholic got me to where I am. A growing business.

Having been addicted to drugs in the past and hurting myself and others, I realize that addiction to work is unhealthy (not nearly as bad and hopeless as drug addiction feels), but you also have to realize that sometimes you have to make sacrifices, so long as you don’t fall into a perpetual state of self harm.

Don’t be discouraged by others if you feel confident in yourself. True success is not easily won, and I didn’t realise how much work it was until getting in good financial shape. From drug addiction and $12K in debt I paid off 5K, then borrowed that 5K at a low interest rate that was far less than profit margins of my business.

Good luck, and stay motivated. What you achieve will be something to be proud of when you see the success you create. Failure is just a lesson along the way. I still fail, but more often I succeed.

All the best!

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