The Myth of Motivation

Last week I was reading an article on Medium when I came across this headline “There is no such thing as Motivation.” Although my brain realized that it was pure clickbait, I personally current resist clicking on the article because it seemed so counterintuitive. Everything that I had read recently suggested that we should work on things that motivate us and give us energy. Even my own systems for setting goals rely on working on things that I am truly motivated by. The time of day when I do certain things is dictated by how much motivation I have to do X, Y, Z. To my surprise this essay made a really good case for ditching this focus on motivation.

The main argument for this essay is that motivation is a bad fuel for pushing towards success because it is inconsistent. Motivation and more specifically your personal motivation level at any given point ebbs and flows depending on a myriad of factors like the people around you, news that you receive, your physiological state, and even the weather! Therefore, if you rely on motivation to push you through to accomplish your goals then in a certain way you’re leaving your success to chance. Your success is tied to the probability that you’re able to sustain your motivation at key moments in order to accomplish a given task over a given period of time. This might seem obvious but it is not.

The author briefly goes over the psychology of motivation literature namely Daniel Pink’s motivational duality that splits motivation into an intrinsic and an extrinsic component. The author tries to address this notion presented by Pink and others that intrinsic motivation (e.g. the work itself) rather than extrinsic motivation (e.g. money, title, benefits, etc.) should be what drives you. The author argues (and I agree with him) that intrinsic motivation is not enough because even if you love doing something some days you will inevitably not want to work on it.

It is precisely on those days when you don’t feel like showing up when doing so matters the most. We know that consistency is what sets successful people apart from everyone else. This brings us to the author’s solution to this problem.

The Solution

The author suggests the best way to address this issue is to build a robust system that builds on daily habits that you can do without even thinking about it. That way those habits instinctively kick in day after day without you having to rely on a daily dose of motivation to accomplish your goals. This might sound straightforward and it is but it is not something easy to accomplish (in my own experience at least).

Once you have your system of daily habits in place, the author suggests that it important to keep the following three things in mind:

  1. Focus: Choose your area of focus, ruthlessly prioritize it and dismiss everything else.
  2. Motivation is Optional: Motivation is great and if you feel particularly motivated any given day then that’s awesome! The more power to you because you will be able to accomplish more. However, if you don’t feel motivated that’s ok because with your system you should be able to cover a baseline and still make progress.
  3. Have Fun: Improving your life, hacking motivation and building systems is pretty cool but only if have fun while you do it(:

I will start applying this “motivation-less system” in my own life and maybe make a follow-up posts talking about my progress.

Note: I left out a bunch of stuff from the article because the point of this reflection is think about motivation not make a comprehensive review of the article. If you want to read the full thing here’s a link (: