How to Really Motivate Yourself to Do S**t

Motivation is a huge problem for people. I know because they are always telling me it is. People be saying shit like “I’m just not motivated!” Or “I need some motivation” (this is one of my faves, because you can’t, I assure you, go out and pick up motivation like you are getting some eggs, but people be saying it anyway).

But even though people are always telling about this problem, I’m not buying it. I call bullshit on the problem of the missing motivation.

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When I challenge The Unmotivated about this, usually by pointing out that they definitely achieve things and that probably happens as a result of being motivated in some way, they usually scoff at me. Rude! They often say something like, “Well that makes sense, and sure, sometimes I can get myself motivated to do things, and actually do them, BUT only using extrinsic motivation.” Okay, they don’t say ‘extrinsic motivation’ that is life coach talk. But they do say things like, I can get shit done IF: “I’m held accountable” or “There is a deadline” or “I have an upcoming event / bossy friend yelling at me / money on the line” So, basically describing extrinsic (outside of ourselves) motivation (maybe motivation... maybe not).

What’s the damn difference between extrinsic motivation and tricking / forcing yourself into doing shit? If you know the answer, please HMU. It seems, to me anyway, that it’s all under the same umbrella. I believe that true motivation is intrinsic motivation - the drive that comes from inside of us to get us to do (and keep doing!) the thing. (Or multiple things, if you’re really a go getter.)

But people really resist intrinsic motivation by telling me things like “Well, that doesn’t work for me” or “I don’t think I have that” (it’s not a third nipple, people!) or “It would be better if there was an app for that” (Spoiler Alert: there almost certainly is an app for motivation, but it is, by nature, extrinsic). Why do they do that? Is it just to make me sigh loudly ever so often? I hope not! 

I’m not going to beat around the bush, because there’s probably an app for that too, so I’ll just come out and say it: discovering the deep down source of your motivation, your true intrinsic motivation, is a pain in the ass, totally worthwhile, life changing process. Extrinsic motivation is easy: those apps, your bossy friend, having a deadline - those are all easily available for the using, and they don’t require much thought on your part. And it’s not wrong to use those things. But they are best used as bolsters to help support and maintain your actual, I mean intrinsic, motivation. 

Motivation naturally waxes and wanes, and if you know this fact going in, you might be less of a shithead to yourself (I sure hope so anyway!). You might be plugging along with a fairly new habit, and really doing it this time when all your kids and spouses and pets get the flu at the same time. Unhelpful! And gross! But also, there’s a great example of competing demands for you. Is it a sign of a ‘weak constitution’ if you lose that motivational feeling? No, it’s a sign you are a damn human being. 

So, then what to do? Do you have to stop doing the thing altogether? It depends. Maybe you can find a way to keep doing it, even though you don’t feel very motivated. Or maybe you take a wee break and then actually get back on track because you started with intrinsic motivation and you know how to get yourself focused on getting this shit done. Unexpected shit that derails us happens to us all. This flu, too, shall pass and your motivational feelings will change in kind. 

Or maybe you’ve been at something for a while and it feels easy. You are doing it very well, but notice you are going through the motions and not really engaged. You just don’t feel motivated. Maybe you are bad at this long term gains thang. Maybe you are a project starter and then quitter. Or maybe you are just bored and restless. When things are too easy or familiar, we can disengage. (And the opposite applies when we make things too challenging, as well). The problem could be with the level of challenge and not with your motivation. 

Motivation can be a fickle thing. But the good news is that you already have the power to get to the deep down important part of your motivation by finding out why you really want to do that thing and focusing on what you discover, instead of giving up your ‘locus of control’ to other people, apps or deadlines. And if you know your big why, you can use it to pump up your motivation when you need to. Those extrinsic motivators can be more helpful now, so sprinkle around to help ensure you get shit done in the moments when your intrinsic motivation slips away and you just don’t feel like it. 

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Tool: The 5 Whys

I have to say, up front, that this tool can be a bit tedious to run through. It’s like explaining something to a toddler, but instead of something it’s your own life and instead of a toddler, it’s you. So it can cause a mild brain ache. In my experience, clients are always kind of annoyed doing it and then so happy about their eureka moment that they forgive me immediately and shower me gifts of dark chocolate (okay, that last bit hasn’t happened yet but I’m floating it out there so the universe can help make it happen).


Here’s how you do it, along with an example from my own life: I want to read more.

  1. Why do I want to read more? Because my goal is to read 39 books this year

  2. Why do I want to read 39 books this year? Because my I set a goal to read the same number of books as my age each year

  3. Why do I want to read the same number of books as my age each year? Because I believe that if I read that many books, plus one more each year for my advancing age, I will be that much wiser as I get older

  4. Why do I want to be wiser as I get older? Because I want to keep my brain healthy and stay up to date with knowledge about the world and feel like I’m in the loop

  5. Why do I want a healthy brain and to be knowledgeable about the world? Because I want to enjoy my life fully all throughout my life span, and be excited to share my knowledge with people

See, shit gets deep. Apparently I want to read so I am a happy, healthy, chatty old lady one day. That’s a way bigger motivation than ‘39 books’ which is not untrue… it’s just not the deep down WHY!

Pro Tip:

If you’re not motivated to do shit you really need to get done, make sure you schedule it as early into your day as you possibly can. If you can’t get to it right after waking up, try to get it in as soon as you can. That way, it’s off your mind, and you can bask in the glory of having done that shit for the rest of the day. And, who knows, maybe starting the day with that win will help motivate you to do other shit? 

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Remember:

Motivation doesn’t always come before taking action and kicking ass. Getting yourself to take a little tiny bit of action and kick a little tiny bit of a tiny ass is usually just as good, if not better, for getting the motivational juices flowing. Accumulating little wins is what makes you want to repeat the things that got you those wins, and that repetition is how you build a habit. Habits are easier to maintain in the long run because they run on repeated action (easy), not on motivation (hard). Then you can use your energy to fuel motivation for other things, like not telling your boss she’s a jerk or helping your uncle learn to not be racist. 

Need help sussing out your unique blend of intrinsic motivation?

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