Motivation: Not actually what you’re looking for

One of the most common complaints I hear from people seeking help from me in my capacity as a personal trainer or psychologist is that they lack motivation.  If only they had more motivation, they would be able to address that big problem – lose weight, get a new job, fix their relationships, achieve their goals.  It’s often easy to nod my head and say, ‘Yes, more motivation would help.’

But do successful people actually have more motivation?  When I take stock with a client at the end of their sessions, motivation doesn’t seem to be the thing they cite as the secret of success.  They don’t speak of finding a secret to tap into motivation, but other factors that are integral to their success.  Yet motivation holds a seemingly mythical level of notoriety in the minds of people who are stuck in some way.  So, do we need motivation, or is something else more useful?


What is motivation?  In simple terms, motivation is an impulse, a feeling.  Truth is we always have motivation, but for what.  I might be currently motivated to write this article, but if the sun comes out, I might be motivated to go outside instead.  If my phone dings, I might be motivated to answer it.  Or if I hit writers block, I might be motivated to have a scope at Facebook.  If we search ourselves, we will find that we are constantly barraged by a diverse breadth of motivations, impulses to towards behaviours.  And we will notice that we actually dismiss most of these impulses without much effort.  With the exception of those who suffer from certain psychological or personality disorders, people shift through impulses – their feelings of motivation towards actions – on a minute by minute basis.

So when we say we need more motivation, what we are asking for is that impulsive feeling to do something.  The problem is that motivation, like all feelings, passes.  It wanes and waxes depending on situations, thinking, attitudes, physical health and more.  On the other hand, our goals are most likely going to be things that won’t be achieved in the space a passing feeling occupies in our day.  Goals are usually achieved with consistent actions – small steps made over a period of time, often in the face of setbacks, failures and obstacles.

‘Obstacles don’t have to stop you.  If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up.  Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it.’- Michael Jordan.



Motivation doesn’t make things happen.  Action makes things happen.  When we crave motivation, what we are asking for is that feeling.  A high, a driving force that overwhelms us.  But what we need is a willingness to survive the grind.  We need an ability to make quality decisions based on long term priorities.  We need courage to face potential failure, discomfort, change.   So should we dismiss the feeling of motivation altogether?  Not really.  Although we cannot rely on motivation to get to our ultimate goals, when we are flat, a surge of motivated feeling can start the ball rolling.  That can be useful so long as we remember that we have to keep kicking that ball in the right direction, even when we feel less spiked with that motivated feeling.

What can ignite a desire to get going towards that goal when you’re in a slump?  Try these:

  • Get accountable to someone – when you want to achieve something, tell someone.  Choose a person who won’t be afraid to keep you on task, encouraging you when you need it and reminding you of your goal.
  • Spend some time being grateful – when motivation withers, we often become focused on what’s going wrong.  Instead of becoming too rigid and negative in your thinking, look for things that you are thankful for, no matter how small.
  • Take a break – it can feel counter-intuitive, but when you’re struggling, take your mind off it for a bit.  Do something else for an hour, let yourself breathe.  Sometimes solutions arise when we relax.
  • When all else fails, take one step – Every achievement is the culmination of many, many small steps.  Lack of motivation can come when feel overwhelmed, so just focus on the one thing you can do, rather than the other things that feel out of reach right now.

Published by jjohnsgreen

True health is about body and mind. I've helped people in all walks of life get healthier, happier and more successful through a focus on the interdependent relationship between our bodies, our mood and thinking and our behavior. I am inspired by the everyday human potential to do the amazing that exists in each of us. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Texas, 200 hr Yoga Teacher, Masters Weightlifter and Healer who is also Healing. I work with body image, eating disorders, complex trauma and performance issues. I'm a member of Houston Eating Disorder Specialists and I hold a certification as an obesity practitioner, National Centre for Eating Disorders, UK. I draw on evidence based approaches to help clients, including CBT and mindfulness-based practices.

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