Have you ever felt disappointed with yourself after you wasted a day binge-watching Netflix? Or, have you ever been stuck in a rut after a lazy weekend turned into a lazy week or month? If so, I’m guessing you struggle with motivation.

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Feeling a lack of motivation is frustrating. Deep down, you feel the desire to lose weight, get out of debt, or pursue a dream, but for some reason, you never take action to make it happen.

This feeling of frustration only gets worse when you see other people achieving their goals. Perhaps your friend lost 20 pounds, or your co-worker recently quit to run their startup. To top it all off, it probably feels like another teenager is selling a billion-dollar startup every time you turn around.

If this sounds like your life, you’re not alone. Studies show that up to 53% of Americans struggle to feel motivated. And for many, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse.

So, if you’re tired of always feeling unmotivated, this article can help. In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll teach you how to get motivated, so you can start building the life you want.

The Unmotivated Mindset

There’s a common belief that we are either motivated or unmotivated. With this mindset, anyone who’s unmotivated feels stuck, unable to take action until motivation arrives. But, this belief is both untrue and unhelpful.

Thankfully, there’s a better way to think about motivation. This alternative view can help you get out of a rut.

An Alternative View Of Motivation

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever spent an entire day doing nothing? Maybe your day consisted of sleeping in, eating junk food, and watching TV.

If someone asked why you did nothing, there’s a good chance you’d blame a lack of motivation.

But here’s the hard truth. You are never not motivated. Instead, you always have motivation. Let me explain.

Although it might feel like you did nothing, the truth is you did something all day. You slept, ate, and watched TV. And you did those things because you felt motivated to do them.

It’s important to understand that motivation is the driving force behind all behaviors, not just productive behaviors. During your lazy day, you slept because you were tired, ate because you were hungry, and watched TV because you craved entertainment. Simply put, without motivation, there is no action.

Your likelihood of taking action is proportional to the amount of motivation you have for that action. For example, if you just finished a big meal, your motivation to eat a sandwich is low. But if you’re starving, your motivation to eat a sandwich is high.

Action vs. Motivation Graph
Action vs. Motivation Graph

When you choose Netflix over the gym, you’re not unmotivated. Rather, your motivation for relaxation and entertainment is greater than your motivation for exercise.

So you aren’t unproductive because you lack motivation. You are unproductive because your motivation to do unproductive things is greater than your motivation to do productive things.

Productive vs. Unproductive People Graph
Productive vs. Unproductive People Graph

This fact may be a shocking realization, but it gives you power. Knowing you always have motivation means you don’t have to wait for motivation to show up before you take action. All you have to do is increase your motivation to do the right things.

Getting Motivated Begins With Honesty

Our society has determined that motivation equates to wanting six-pack abs, successful careers, and millions of dollars. For that reason, many people want to feel motivated to work long hours, earn more money, or get in shape. But they never ask themselves if that’s what they want from life.

Unfortunately, there’s one big problem with these types of goals. They’re easy to want but hard to earn.

For example, take the desire to be rich. Wanting to be rich is easy. Most people want a lifestyle of financial freedom, first-class flights, and fancy things.

But, few want the lifestyle required to earn those things. Apart from winning the lottery or having a trust fund, becoming wealthy is hard work. It often requires years of long days, repeated failures, and financial risks.

This dynamic creates what I call a want-don’t-want imbalance. In this case, you want lots of money, but you don’t want to do the work to earn it.

Want-Don't-Want Imbalance Graph
Want-Don’t-Want Imbalance Graph

A want-don’t-want imbalance leaves you feeling frustrated for not having what you want and disappointed in yourself for not taking action. You’ll continue to feel this way until you correct the imbalance.

The best way to correct a want-don’t-want imbalance is, to be honest with yourself. It’s important to understand and accept what you want. If you want an enjoyable lifestyle more than you want to be rich, that’s ok. If this is the case for you, let go of the desire to be rich.

When you accept that an enjoyable lifestyle is more important to you than making money, you can stop beating yourself up for not being rich. You can also stop feeling unmotivated every time you choose to watch a sunset instead of working overtime.

This lesson applies to any goal. You can’t expect to have a lot of motivation for things you don’t truly want. Doing so is asking the impossible.

In short, if you want the result, but don’t enjoy the journey, then find another journey.

The Two Types Of Motivation

When it comes to getting motivated, two types of motivation are important to understand. Those are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation

We are intrinsically motivated to perform a behavior when we find the behavior itself rewarding. For example, you may play soccer because you find it fun and enjoy spending time with other people.

Intrinsic motivation comes naturally. It’s easy to feel motivated when you love what you’re doing. When you are honest with yourself about what you truly want from life, you’ll find yourself doing things that are intrinsically motivating.

What’s intrinsically motivating varies between people. Some love reading, while others enjoy chess.

The most successful people often align what they do with what they find intrinsically motivating.

People who love running win marathons. People who love organizing have a color-coordinated closet. And people who love progress and overcoming challenges become entrepreneurs.

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Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation helps you do things you don’t want to do. You feel extrinsically motivated when given the opportunity to earn a reward or avoid punishment.

For example, you likely did your chores as a child not because you enjoyed them but because you wanted to earn your allowance and avoid being grounded.

I believe that extrinsic motivation should be used as a short-term solution.

As a short-term solution, extrinsic motivation can help you:

1. Get through a rough patch. You might love your job but be experiencing a temporary lack of motivation to work. Extrinsic motivation can help you get back on track.

2. Do things that are necessary but not enjoyable. Doing your annual corporate taxes might be a good example. You may not love doing your taxes, but you do them because they are a necessary part of a business you love.

If you have to use extrinsic motivation as a long-term solution, you are likely not being honest with yourself. For example, suppose you need to use rewards or punishment to get to work every day. In that case, it’s probably time to start looking for a naturally rewarding job.

7 Steps For Getting Motivated

It’s important to understand that it’s normal to feel unmotivated to do productive things—even if you typically enjoy doing those things. With that said, here are five steps you can take to increase your motivation.

1. Start Small

There is a paradox in motivation. Most people believe that motivation precedes work, but the opposite is often true. If you want to feel motivated, there’s a good chance you’ll have to take action first. Here’s why.

When you take action and achieve progress, that progress makes you feel motivated. That motivation encourages you to take more action, leading to more progress and more motivation. This self-fulfilling cycle is the action, progress, motivation loop.

Get Motivated Using The Action Progress Motivation Loop
The Action, Progress, Motivation Loop

The biggest problem you’ll face when working with the action, progress, motivation loop is getting it started. So, to help yourself overcome this challenge, start small.

Commit to doing 5 minutes of work, running a quarter mile, or writing one paragraph. Oddly enough, once you overcome the friction of getting started, continuing to work past your initial commitment is often easy.

2. Get Better

We often find things more enjoyable and rewarding when we are good at them. So if you feel unmotivated to do something, ask yourself if you can get better at it. If so, dedicate time to practice or take a course.

Enjoyment vs. Skill Graph
Enjoyment vs. Skill Graph

As an added benefit, research shows that praise can increase intrinsic motivation. So if you can find a way to get some positive feedback, that can help. 1

3. Parent Yourself

While growing up, there’s a good chance that your parents rewarded you for good behavior and punished you for poor behavior. As an adult, you can create the same structure for yourself.

To do this, set up your own rewards and punishments. For example, you might reward yourself for achieving a goal by taking a vacation. In contrast, you might punish yourself for not completing a task by donating $100 to an organization you don’t like.

4. Make It Immediately Rewarding

We tend to prefer things that are more immediately rewarding. This explains why so many people choose the immediate reward of eating dessert over the long-term reward of eating healthy.

Unfortunately, most long-term rewards are threatened by an immediate reward. For example, the immediate reward of spending money threatens the long-term reward of a 401k. And, the immediate reward of sleeping in threatens the long-term reward of getting up early to start a business.

Working for months or years without a reward is challenging. So, to keep yourself motivated while working towards a long-term goal, remember to reward yourself along the way.

So if you’re trying to lose weight, reward yourself with a weekly cheat meal. Or, if you’re getting up at 5 a.m. every day to start a business, reward yourself by sleeping in on the weekends.

5. Continue Being Honest

Being honest with yourself isn’t a one-time exercise—life changes. What you want at 16 will likely be different than what you want at 40.

If you’re feeling unmotivated, take some time to reassess your goals. Make sure that what you’re chasing is still something you want.

6. Attach What You Are Doing To A Larger Goal

You may not enjoy everything you have to do in pursuit of a goal. As the saying goes, sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince.

Good grades often require long hours of study. Successful startups come with a daily mountain of email. And you might suffer a few broken hearts before finding someone to marry.

When you find yourself in a situation like this, keep the end goal in mind. Imagine how good it will feel to succeed and use that excitement to power through your dreaded task.

7. Suck It Up

This idea might sound harsh, but it’s true. Regardless of how many motivation-building ideas you try, there will be certain things that you’ll never feel motivated to do—even if you have to do them.

When this happens, take a deep breath, suck it up, and get to work. Because the sooner you finish, the better.

How To Overcome Problems When Following This Advice

Don’t Let Your Ego Get In The Way

Being honest with yourself won’t always be easy. That’s because you can want things for the wrong reasons.

For example, you can want a medical degree because you value learning and caring for others. But you can also want a medical degree because you fear disappointing your parents.

You can also not want things for the wrong reasons.

For instance, you can not want to become an artist because you don’t enjoy art. But you can also not want to become an artist because you fear failure and judgment.

When assessing what you want from life, ensure your ego isn’t calling the shots. If you ‘want’ something solely to avoid fear or make other people happy, you’re not truly being honest with yourself.

To avoid this problem, ask yourself what you would want in an ideal world. A world where people didn’t judge you, money wasn’t a concern, and you felt free to be yourself.

I know this exercise is unrealistic. That’s because there is no such thing as an ideal world. But that’s not the point.

The point of this exercise is to escape your ego’s influence so you can better understand what you truly want. Then, once you determine what that is, do your part to create the closest version of that life.

In A Nutshell

Here are the key takeaways from this article.

  • You are never unmotivated. Every action you take is driven by motivation. For example, you eat because you are hungry, and you relax because you are tired.
  • You aren’t unproductive because you lack motivation. You are unproductive because your motivation to do unproductive things is greater than your motivation to do productive things.
  • You’ll never feel motivated to do things you don’t truly want.
  • A want-don’t-want imbalance leaves you feeling frustrated for not having what you want and disappointed in yourself for not taking action.
  • The best way to correct a want-don’t-want imbalance is to be honest with yourself.
  • There are two types of motivation. Those are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
  • To increase motivation, (1) start small, (2) get better, (3) parent yourself, (4) make it immediately rewarding, (5) continue being honest, (6) attach what you are doing to a larger goal, and (7) suck it up.
  • To overcome common problems, don’t let your ego get in the way.

Books That Influenced This Article

The following book links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a book after clicking one of the links, I will receive a commission.

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  1. Jennifer Henderlong. The effects of praise on children’s intrinsic motivation: a review and synthesis. PubMed.gov. (September 12, 2002)


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