Why Motivation is Not the Answer to Successful Habit Building

Motivation is overrated — stop trying to ‘motivate yourself’

I’ve got bad news for you.

Motivation is overrated.

But I also have good news for you -motivation is overrated. You can stop wasting time on ‘motivating yourself.’

Don’t get me wrong. Motivation is important to achieving any goal in life. Otherwise, you’re just drifting without a purpose.

But there is much more to motivation that simply being motivated or not.

Let me start with the myth of needing to boost your motivation. If you’re reading this post, you are probably seeking help with building better habits. Which means you realise you need help with habits. Which means you’ve done some research and thinking and came to this conclusion. Moreover, you’ve made that first step — you started reading and seeking better understanding on how to build habits.

That’s a lot, isn’t it?

So if you realise you have a self-development need, set yourself a self-development goal, and create a plan to achieve it, and start by deepening your knowledge on how to achieve it — to me, it means you are motivated to achieve your goal(s).

What happens next usually follows a well-known cycle of: starting with the best of intentions and full of energy. And then, after a while (days, sometimes a couple of weeks; or as it happens with 66% of New Year’s resolutions — a month or less), you’ll have a bad day, or your motivation will wane, and you’re back in your old habit.

Here’s the secret:

Motivation, by nature, is flimsy.

Studies showed that motivation, by nature, fluctuates over time. Those fluctuations depend on multiple factors that are often difficult to pinpoint and keep changing. It may be your mood, it may depend on what you’re doing, and may follow a pattern.

If it sounds like a lot of uncertainties to you — I’m with you. This is why my approach to the whole motivation thing boils down to this:

motivation is a must-have when setting your goals, but it cannot be relied on to achieve them.

The key to successfully using motivation to habit building is about

  1. Understanding what motivates you
  2. Ensuring your goal(s) are aligned with your motivation
  3. Using your motivation to build a system that will allow you to achieve your goals.

If you understand well what makes you tick and set your goals to match your motivation, you’re already winning by putting the right motivation fuel into your tank.

Putting the right motivational fuel into your tank

As long as you have a good motivation, you’re okay, right? If you want to start exercising to improve your health, or stop swearing for your children’s sake — that’s good motivation, isn’t it?

Well, as long as your motivation is aligned with what you care about, then you’re likely to succeed. If not — it will fizzle out sooner or later and you will end up not achieving your goals, however laudable those are. Just like Lilly, a client of mine.

Lily tried to lose weight for years.

She wanted to be healthier. She had tonnes of diet books and wasted a lot of money on gym subscriptions, swimming lessons, coaching, fitness devices, and apps.

However she tried, it only worked for a while. Eventually, she started having health problems. But even that did not help shifting weight too much.

It wasn’t until she fell and broke her leg and ended up in a plaster cast for weeks that she realised how much her poor fitness was affecting her autonomy.

In her head, her weight was not really a problem. Her poor health was a problem, but only when it started affecting her freedom of movement and her ability to control her life.

So for her — it was not about being healthier, or slimmer, but about autonomy — the ability to direct her life.

I’ve met many people who tried telling themselves they are motivated by things that didn’t really matter to them.

I’ve been there, too.

For many years I tried to fool myself I was ‘passionate about’ something. But what I really wanted was to keep getting better at stuff I found fun.

And I constantly needed new targets — because as soon as I achieved my goal, it was no longer fun. I kept looking for new things to do, and kept telling myself it was still in pursuit of that awesome purpose. My goodness, I did try to make it work for me. And because I can really talk myself into things, it did work. For years.

Until the carefully constructed structure started to crumble. I realised no matter how much I try to fool myself, to bend and stretch my motivation, it’s not going to change. I am who I am.

With my integrity dented and my intrinsic needs severely starved of attention I was forced to stop and reassess the situation.

Trying to match my motivation to my goal cost me a burnout.

Now, after a period of nearly 2 years, I’m recovered and… still pursuing the same goal, but for a different reason. And I’m totally and brutally honest with myself. My motivation for pursuing this goal is what it is and I’m not ashamed of it.

I pursue mastery for the buzz the state of Flow gives me; for the surge of ‘am I going to make it on time?’ for the sense of personal pride from overcoming my weaknesses and outsmarting myself.

You can only fool yourself for so long. If it doesn’t make you tick — it won’t make you tick just because you want to make it work for you.

Whatever lights your fire, make sure your goals match your motivation, not the other way around.

Be honest with yourself. You don’t need to disclose your motivation to anyone. As long as you don’t harm yourself or anyone else — this matter is between you and — you.

Why am I harping on about it?

Because if you match your goal to your motivation, it not only means that you will be fuelling your journey with what really drives you in life, but also — it means you will be setting yourself goals that take into consideration how much motivation you have.

If you only have enough motivation to run three times a week, setting yourself a goal of running every day will be stretching your motivation beyond what you have.

Be realistic measuring how much motivation you have. The smaller the step you push yourself to take, the more likely you are to take it. If in doubt, underestimate — you will be surprised with the results.

And that’s all that counts — starting yourself on the journey towards a better you.

See? With good understanding of your motivational drivers and smart matching between your motivation and your goals, you can avoid the big ‘crash and burn’ moments.

You don’t really need to ‘motivate yourself’ constantly, or ‘boost your motivation’ when you slip backwards.

But discount motivation completely. Use it to create your goal-achievement plan and to build the system. I will show you how.

This post is an excerpt from my new book Hack Your Habits — due to be published at the end of November. If you want to learn more about my Habit Hacking system — click here, grab a bonus post and start changing your habits today.

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Originally published at www.theshapeshiftersclub.com on October 12, 2016.