The Secret About Motivation You Need to Know

The Secret About Motivation You Need to Know

Motivation is one of the most talked about topics in therapy, and that’s because it is one of the most important factors towards change.  Whatever change you’re trying to make in your life right now, I’m willing to bet the topic of motivation has come up.


The Secret to Increasing Your Motivation


Take the concepts of MOTIVATION and ACTION.  Motivation being the thing you need for change and action being the change you want to make.  Which one of those things do you think comes first, motivation or action?  Go ahead, take a second and think.  Do you have your answer?  Between motivation and action, which one happens first?


If you said “motivation,” you answered like most people.  Most of us believe that in order for us to make a change in our life, we have to first feel motivated.  However, this isn’t quite accurate.  It might surprise you to know that “action” actually comes first!  To be more specific the relationship looks like this:




To translate, a little bit of action leads to motivation, which leads to more action.  Kind of mind-blowing, right?  I first read about this surprising relationship between action and motivation in Dr. David Burns, “The Feeling Good Handbook.”  It’s been years since I read the book, yet I find myself reflecting on this concept frequently.  Most of think motivation comes first, which leads most of us to wait for motivation.  Which leads to waiting and waiting and waiting.  Because spontaneous, fall-out-of-the-sky motivation rarely happens.  Yet most of us think that’s how it happens, so we sit around waiting for the motivation fairy godmother to “poof!” and make us motivated.


The trick is taking a small to moderate amount of action, even if you don’t really feel like it.  This moderate amount of action will typically lead to motivation, which will then lead to more action.  It’s crucial to take that small step, often when your motivation is at zero.  I typically tell people, if you take that small to moderate step and you still don’t feel motivated, you can take a break.  However, 9 times out of 10, you’ll want to keep going.


I practiced this ACTION → MOTIVATION → ACTION concept with my dissertation, one of the most draining, daunting, and overwhelming tasks I’ve ever taken on.  I would know I needed to work on it, yet I didn’t feel like it, I didn’t feel inspired, I didn’t feel in the right space.  So I’d wait.  And wait.  And wait.  And guess what?  I never felt like working on that dang thing!  So I started to use the action first rule.  I’d force myself to sit down, no distractions, no excuses, and work, for 45 minutes.  I’d tell myself, “45 minutes of hard core dissertation cranking, and if you want to quit after that, you can.”  Amazingly enough, after about 45 minutes, I’d usually found my groove and was motivated to keep going.  On the one out of ten times that I didn’t feel motivated, I’d let myself off the hook and go at it again later in the day or even the next day.


It’s amazing how many different ways this concept can be applied!


Are you waiting to feel motivated to organize your home? Pick a closet, start organizing, and keep going for 30 minutes.  Then see how you’re feeling.  If you’re in the zone, keep organizing; if not, admire what 30 minutes of hard work got you!

Are you wanting to start walking in the evenings?  Challenge yourself to walk for 15 minutes.  If you’re done after that, ok.  If you’re motivated, keep walking!


Are you wanting to increase connection with your partner, but not really feeling it?  Set aside a small chunk of time one evening and put away phones and other distractions.  I bet you’ll start to notice a shift after a brief period of connecting.

Are you wanting to change career paths but lacking motivation to get started?   Block off an hour this weekend to update your resume or research what you need to go back to school.  If you’re out after an hour of work, pause for the evening.  My guess is though, that you’ll be motivated to keep plugging away!


If you are waiting for motivation…STOP!  It isn’t falling from the sky or being delivered via messenger any time soon.  Challenge yourself to take intentional action steps, stick with it a bit, and then soak up the motivation that follows!


I’d love to hear what things you’re waiting to feel motivated about and what action steps you’re going to take NOW!


One comment

  1. Yes yes yes. I use for help with this. I say I have to do 1 tomato (25 minutes) and then I can switch tasks if it’s still feeling too hard. Almost always I just want to keep going.

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