How do you stay motivated?

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Every day, tons of people out there are struggling with motivation - or rather, the lack of motivation. They have a deep desire to do more and be better but they simply lack the motivation to do so.

As a result, they end up living mediocre lives where they know they have “potential”, but they never chose to pursue said potential. They settle into the same routines and find themselves wishing for more than they have received.

There has to be a better solution, right?

My answer to the motivation problem

I know, I know. You’re probably asking me right now, “How do you stay motivated?”. My answer is simple:

I don’t try to simply “stay motivated”. I take action and the motivation follows.

People seem to think that it works the other way around, that we have to wait for motivation to come our way in order for us to act. But that couldn’t be further from the truth!

Motivation is not some mystical energy that just magically appears all on its own. It’s a force that must be created through action. Because of this, the only way that one can really be motivated is to act. If all you do is spend your days lost in wishful thinking, the motivation you’re looking for will never come.

I know it can be hard to think about this in abstract terms, so let’s look at a common example:

Why is going to the gym SO dreadful?

It’s a problem most of us have probably faced before. You know you need to get to the gym, but every time you think about going, a deep dread settles in your gut over the idea. Deep down in your heart, you know going to the gym and getting some much needed exercise is the right thing to do. But it’s the absolute last activity you want to commit to!

So, what do you do instead of packing your gym bag and heading over? You look for distractions. You check your phone for new notifications. You read useless articles on the internet. You grab a snack from the refrigerator. Every mundane, thoughtless task is suddenly extremely interesting and demands your immediate attention.

Before you know it, you’ve killed an hour or two. By this time, going to the gym is an even more daunting task and that dread in your stomach has only grown! There are a million other things you would rather do, things you simply must do instead of getting your workout in. You “need” to complete all of these other tasks and you rationalize to yourself that you don’t “need” to go to the gym.

“I don’t want to go right now. I have so many other things I must do!” you lie to yourself.

It can be impossibly overwhelming.

Here’s the good news: you’re not the only person who feels this way! Everyone—even the most successful of people—feel that same sense of dread when they have tasks to accomplish. Everyone else also knows they have things they have to do, but struggle as they don’t want to.

Guess what? They do what they have to anyway.

Don’t overthink it

Last night, we had a huge dinner at the hotel’s buffet. The food was extremely impressive even for a buffet, so I ended up grabbing multiple plates throughout the course of the meal. There was an open bar as well and somehow I ended up drinking 4 glasses of wine! To top it all off, we ended things on a sweet note with a delicious dessert.

The meal from start to finish took close to 3 hours. By the end of it all, I was stuffed yet satisfied. 😊

When I finally got back to my hotel room, I promised myself that I would go to the gym in the morning. Even though it seemed like a daunting task, I committed to a quick 20-minute sprint workout: 1 minute on, 1 minute off the treadmill. 10 reps for a total of 20 minutes. Nothing fancy, but I couldn’t abandon my fitness on a whim.

Besides, that huge meal meant that I would have a lot of fuel in me for a killer workout!

I went to bed with plans to hit the gym at 7:30am. I set my alarm for 7am and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

The next morning, my alarm jerked me awake at exactly 7am. I managed to pull myself up but frankly, I had no desire to leave the comfort of my bed. I especially didn’t want to head down to the gym to sprint. I was still exhausted, feeling a little heavy and a bit lethargic from all the good food and wine. I simply didn’t want to go.

So I convinced myself I didn’t have to go. And I snoozed the alarm. 😴

Fifteen minutes later, the alarm woke me up again. Once again, I hit the snooze button.

Another fifteen minutes passed and the same routine all over again: alarm screaming in my ear, the snooze button so tempting. There was a voice in my head screaming, “NO.” It wanted me to turn off the alarm and roll over, drift off back to sleep.

But my heart had other plans. It wanted me to get my ass up and go.

So, what to do? Do I listen to my brain or do I listen to my heart?

The answer’s obvious: my heart.

I couldn’t let myself wallow in bed and think about how much I didn’t want to get up. Instead, I dragged my ass out of that bed, got dressed, and trudged down to the gym. It took every bit of willpower in me not to turn back and dive under the covers once I reached the gym, but I knew I had to keep going.

Within 5 minutes of being on the treadmill, that little voice nagging at me to sleep shut off. My brain stopped fighting me and I sprinted my heart out. I was totally in the flow and forgot about how groggy I was. By the end of my workout, I could hardly remember why it had been such a fight to get down to the gym in the first place!

The takeaway: motivation comes to those who take action.

Motivation is what happens when we have a deep desire to take action and we actually follow through on that desire. If you want to gain motivation, taking action is necessary. I realize this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make.

When you act, you build momentum. The momentum propels you forward and you want to take even more action. That action builds more momentum and so on, so forth. It’s a virtuous cycle: a positive feedback loop.

If you find yourself lacking motivation, take a look at your actions. If you aren’t acting, it’s time to kick it into gear. Before long, you’ll find yourself with more motivation than you know what to do with!

On the other hand, zero action means zero momentum. If you refuse to act, you’re creating a space to be filled with negative things. Oftentimes, this space is full of thoughts: thoughts about how or why or when you should act. Your brain overanalyzes what you want to accomplish. You find yourself thinking about all the ways the action you need to complete sucks and all the ways that you could fail.

Fear and anxiety start to kick in. At this point, you’ve actually created negative momentum and you start to dread whatever it is you wanted to get done in the first place. You begin to backslide.

The longer you sit around and wait for motivation, the less of it you’ll find.

Of course, not every situation requires you to dive in immediately without thinking about the actions you should take. For example, let’s say you need to have a tough conversation with a romantic partner about ending your relationship. You’re afraid of hurting them, afraid of hurting yourself. This fear saps your motivation and leaves you with no desire to follow through on the conversation, even though it’s 100% necessary.

What should you do? Should you let this conversation continue hanging over you like a storm cloud until you get so fed up, you just jump into it without really thinking things through?

No!

In this scenario, thinking about how best to carry out the conversation is actually helpful. Forethought will keep you from hurting anyone’s feelings any more than is necessary. There’s a huge difference between thinking about how to complete an action vs thinking about actually completing said action. You can spend weeks, months, or even years thinking about actually doing something and never getting anywhere. You have to be conscious with your thoughts: if you find yourself straying away from critical thinking and into dread territory, it’s time to stop stalling and act!

Let’s go back to the scenario at hand. Set the date and setting you plan to have this conversation with your partner. Having a set time and place will keep you accountable. Don’t let yourself back down on this commitment—shying away just means cheating yourself.

After you have this commitment in place, then - and only then! - should you start thinking about the action itself.

By planning ahead and making a commitment, you’ve essentially shifted your thought process. Instead of “Ugh, I don’t want to have this conversation,” you’re now in the mindset of “Alright, what will I actually say during this conversation?”. It’s a matter of unproductive vs. productive thinking.

See the difference? 😊

Conclusion

The “secret” to motivation is action. If you find yourself feeling unmotivated, chances are its due to inaction. If you want to find your motivation, you need to kick yourself into gear and start acting!

It doesn't matter how big or small this action is. In fact, I recommend you keep it small. We often want to "get as much done" as we can, but this is a bad approach because it depletes us of our willpower. Instead, you should take just enough action to build momentum but stop right before it starts to feel burdensome. That way, you have the desire to come back and do more later.

With that being said: stop reading! Whatever task you’ve been putting off, now’s the time to do it.

Now is your time to take action.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also find this article on motivation helpful (written by Ed Latimore).

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Why am I sharing my travel stories?

Founder & CEO of TruStory. I have a passion for understanding things at a fundamental level and sharing it as clearly as possible.

Preethi Kasireddy
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