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.
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?
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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.
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.
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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 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 TheRobertD.com.
Featured image by Leonardo Pallotad
Originally published 5/9/13 and updated 4/15/14.