Motivation is Overrated- How to Get Things Done Without It

Many people struggle with the issue of “Lack of Motivation“ as they like to call it.

They say “I’m not motivated today” or “I can’t seem to motivate myself” to do such and such project. I kept struggling with this issue myself, wondering what it is that keeps me from being motivated to do certain things.

In order to figure out where the problem might lie and how to begin resolving this so-called “Lack,” I decided to delve a bit deeper into this issue. I thought it was important to know exactly what motivation actually meant. I simply looked it up on Wikipedia and it states among other things:

“Motivation is a psychological feature that arouses an organism to act towards a desired goal; elicits, controls, and sustains certain goal-directed behaviors; it is the purpose or psychological cause of an action.”

It seems to me that the above phrase actually hinders us from overcoming the problem. If it is a psychological feature, is it possible to override this feature when it’s not working? Does the above definition of motivation actually give us a valid excuse when we can’t get something done, by blaming the “lack of” motivation?

If the above definition is in fact completely true, then I think it makes me sense for us to “do the thing” first, and then maybe we can analyze the motivation behind it. We don’t need to have the “chicken and egg” debate here.

I say doing the thing comes first, and after that you can say you were motivated to do it and figure it out from there.

If we apply this method we don’t “need” to identify the motivation first, in order to do something.

In fact, we are not “lacking” motivation at all, we have a lot of it for multiple different things that concern our life every day such as eating, sleeping, resting. We do these things without thinking much about motivation. And yet, if you look back- you always have the proper motivation for eating, sleeping, resting… etc.

If you say you’re lacking motivation it simply means you don’t care enough. Which is not a bad thing – but seems to be difficult for most people to acknowledge.

It’s almost like a scapegoat, an excuse to say “I am lacking Motivation today.” If the phrase we used instead was “I don’t actually care enough about this thing I supposedly want or need to do – that’s why I’m not motivated to do it”, we would already be half way on solving the issue.

The only valid description for such a situation should be “Motivated” or “Not Motivated.” (There is no category for ‘lack” of motivation.) For whatever you want to do you will find yourself in one or the other category.

Saying that Motivation is “missing” is almost the same as saying I’m not Motivated with a slight and very important difference. The word missing creates the bridge and is easily replaced by the word “lack” – which also means missing but it does not mean “Not.”

It implies something is missing at the current point in time but can be gained back – if I just try hard enough. This is a problem. If you’re not motivated to do something, stop making excuses for it, and check your premises. Figure out if this is really what you want.

Changing the phrase in this way dilutes the meaning in a way that we lose focus of the actual problem. Now we focus on something that’s lacking – and we are programmed to think that we have the ability to gain anything that we are lacking if we just try harder.

This also somewhat implies that motivation is a skill. If I “lack” it, if I don’t have it at the present time, I don’t need to worry – I just try hard enough and create it – or “gain it back” – if it was there at some point.

This is also confirmed by a simple Google search. Searching “Lack of Motivation” some 19 Million entries come up. The first ones are all about how to solve the lack of motivation.

So if we can’t create motivation, if motivation is either there or not, if we accept that what we want to call a temporary “Lack of Motivation” is actually the absence of motivation, then we start to realize that the real problem lays somewhere else.

If we can’t come to terms with it and we can’t be honest to ourselves saying we don’t have any motivation for a certain task it’s almost impossible to fix.

Motivation is a powerful psychological process. To think that we can have some at some times, or a little of it or that we can have it sometimes and not have it at other times totally makes no sense to me. I personally believe that its either black or white, 1 or 0, yes or no, when it comes to Motivation.

In our modern society we don’t like the idea that there is something we can’t have.

That there is something that we can’t get, create or force. This leads to the dilemma that people seriously think that you can create Motivation. They are in fact so caught up in the creation process that they keep themselves busy this way, never actually achieving anything in the process.

I’m not saying blog posts about motivation are wrong or harmful – not at all. The issue is that they either get you down by telling you all the horrible reasons for the “Lack of Motivation” or they try to inspire you with stories and examples. None of them can get you truly motivated on the inside.

You can’t get motivated from an outside source only you yourself can do it. So stop searching for it. You can get inspired to try new things but that has nothing to do with Motivation.

What these posts actually doing is inspiring the readers. For a short amount of time people are inspired and hyped up, ready to get going on their project, imagining themselves finishing it and getting on it finally, and after a couple of days it’s gone.

They mistake inspiration for motivation – inspiration being the outside source that we consume in order to reevaluate our spiritual, creative and imaginative part of ourselves.

Motivation on the other hand is something that comes entirely from within. It does not need outside sources to get strong. It is a process that entirely comes from inside you and is fueled by experiences and imagination – not inspiration.

So I would argue, reading a blog post can inspire you but it can’t motivate you. If it could, “Lack of Motivation” would not be an issue anymore in this world – all the people just need to read a couple of blog posts and the issue is solved.

Apparently that’s not what’s happening.

Many people also mistake Motivation with “will”, “want” or a “necessity” to do it. Wanting to do something because you think you have to, want to, need to – has nothing to do with Motivation. It’s totally independent from it.

Motivation is not at all needed to do most things. Just look at the general workforce – a lot of work and tasks are being one every day by countless workers all over the world, of whom many are not motivated at all about what there are doing, many of them even despise their occupation.

Still work is getting done.

So when Motivation isn’t actually needed why are we so paralyzed and frustrated and doing all these Google searches on solving this big problem we think we have?

The answer is easy. It’s because till now we still don’t know what the actual problem is.

We think we suffer from a disease called by too many people and sources out there, a “Lack of Motivation” and we accept it as that. We totally adopt this concept, when we actually suffer from a total different “disease.”

It’s a typical case of false diagnosis.

To come closer to solving the issue, let’s recap. We established Motivation is something you either have or you don’t have. You can’t create it by pure willpower and for many tasks you don’t even need it.

And you can lose it. That’s also important to note. Motivation can get lost. Which is, I believe one of the core issues why people even think about this issue. They remember a time when they were very motivated about a project or a specific activity or type of work and then it went away. Now they are chasing that feeling and trying desperately to get it back.

That feeling they had was special and they realized how special it really was when it actually went away and didn’t come back.

Everybody experienced this in their life. The question is who was ever able to force the motivation to come back. I argue nobody.

I’m not saying motivation can’t come back – it definitely can and it thankfully often does. I’m just saying it’s not up to your will power – it’s up to something else.

Many people in general feel unmotivated. That essentially means they don’t feel like anything they could possible do is meaningful enough to do it. Or fulfilling enough or worth it.

The emphasis is on “feel.” While they might know or think that something is meaningful they don’t feel it inside. Therefore they don’t do it, they avoid it, they are hesitant and procrastinate.

The first post I read about lack of motivation described heavy issues as a reason for it: depression, lack of confidence, procrastination habit, fear of failure. Putting those together implies you have to solve all or some of those issues first before you can even start getting any motivated. This creates a very dark and almost unsolvable scenario.

I would argue even if someone is depressed they have motivation for something. Even if it’s to eat and watch TV for most of the day. Or when you have low self-confidence you still find something you are motivated to do.

The issue here is that we don’t like that we can’t choose what we are motivated for and what not. We want to be motivated to go to the gym but instead we are motivated to play games. We want to be motivated for our occupation, the work or job we do every day and if we are not we simply don’t like that, because it makes it harder to do this every day.

So how do we solve the issue of not being motivated then?

Just accept it. You are not motivated to do this task or project – so what? Admit to yourself that you are not motivated, be honest and then move on. Often times you need to get this project or work done anyway, but since you don’t need motivation to do it you use will power instead.

It won’t be your best work but you will get it done. Which is better than not doing anything at all, being paralyzed. Motivation is a great motor and can help you to archive remarkable things but for the most part don’t freak out if it’s not there.

If you adopt the “I don’t need Motivation for this task” attitude you taking the fear out of it. It’s just a task, do it and then move on. Even if you are an artist and you have this painting to paint or this book to write or this post to finish, don’t worry about motivation.

Just start by acknowledging that you are not motivated but still do it and often motivation will come.

The reason why this might work is that motivation is something that comes to us usually after experiencing some sort of satisfaction or success. If you build a sandcastle as a kid because you were curious but then and all the kids loved it and you made a lot of friends, you are now getting motivated to create another one.

If you ride your bike and you realize that you fitness level is not bad since you’re passing all the other cyclists, but then suddenly someone comes and passes you- you might get motivated to train more and harder in order to get faster as well.

You see motivation comes from experiencing something that made you feel good or excited or even angry. These emotions- when they are strong enough for us to keep going with this activity- can lead to a passion. This is where we get obsessed with the activity.

They key here is that we need to do the thing first in order to get motivated. We can’t sit around and think about motivation. Motivation comes with doing. The more things we do the more we have a chance to find something that actually motivates us. Click to tweet this!

If something doesn’t motivate us, maybe we just let it be and try something else. Humans change over time. Just because you loved something before but now you can’t motivate yourself to do that thing, it doesn’t mean you don’t love it anymore. It might just mean that something else entered your life that became more important to you.

So, are you motivated to comment on this post? Let me know your thoughts!


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Martin Labud

All around nice guy from Germany who is learning how to code, and raising two cats while traveling the globe. He is Co-founder of Tipabl, a social giving platform. Previously he worked as an Animator and Game Designer.

8 thoughts on “Motivation is Overrated- How to Get Things Done Without It

  1. Alysa

    Thanks for these refreshing words Martin. Glad you talked about motivation in SUCH a different light.

    I’m teaching stress and time ‘management’ class right now and am leading the group through the idea that some circumstances are just ‘stressful’ and need to be experienced instead of fought. The more we fight the stress, the more stressful those circumstances become. I’m sure that’s the same way with motivation!! The more people fight what they think is “lack of motivation” the less they get done.

    Love this quote: “You are not motivated to do this task or project – so what? Admit to yourself that you are not motivated, be honest and then move on.” Gahhhh. So good.

    I keep telling my class the same thing. You’re stressed because you’re caring for your father with Parkinson’s disease? Yeah. That’s stressful, be honest, and work through it. You work at Child Protective Services? Yeah. That’s stressful. Recognize it, don’t stress out that you’re stressing out, just keep moving forward.

    Can’t wait to share this post with a few friends.

    P.S. – Say hello to Jesicka for me!

  2. Kristy Moore

    Action is certainly the best way to figure out if something is important or not. Interesting points on inspiration v motivation – I loooove inspiration, but agree that it’s short lived without action. Indecision can be a big time waster too so great advice on just jumping in.

    I believe it applies to so many areas of life too. I wrote an article on indecision and missing out on travel this week after so many people kept saying they can’t decide where to go on holiday (then never end up going anywhere). Hope you’re feeling motivated today!

  3. Mary Beth Leisen

    Completely agree!!! If I waited for the inspiration to strike so that I’d make healthy eating choices, I’d weigh a thousand pounds. Instead, I try to eat healthy food, then feel good, and find that motivating to keep going. Sometimes, you’ve got to do the thing first, as you say. It’s hard sometimes to admit that we don’t care enough to do something because we make it mean something negative about ourselves. The truth is, there’s lots of stuff I don’t care about – and some of it is things that I actually have to (or rather choose to) do for one reason or another, like cleaning the toilet. I’ll never be motivated, but I sure do like a clean toilet. There’s something about accepting ‘what is’, rather than resisting things or waiting for something to motivate you. Thanks for the deep-dive on this – really enjoyed it!

  4. erica lawrence: naturopath - body ecologist.

    Love it!
    What a cool take on motivation: you either have it or you don’t, there’s no such thing as lack of motivation.
    Brilliant stuff Martin.
    I can relate to this line as well: They are in fact so caught up in the creation process that they keep themselves busy this way, never actually achieving anything in the process.
    Total bummer when this happens, but once you acknowledge this is happening you might even become motivated to finish it! (I’m speaking from experience here).

    And as you said, not all tasks actually need motivation to complete, instead use will power and just get the job done. Realizing something has to be finished helps to overcome that mental block.
    Very insightful post!

  5. Julie

    This is my absolute favorite thing you said here – “Motivation comes with doing. The more things we do the more we have a chance to find something that actually motivates us”. If I don’t live by this, I will spend all day in my head with indecision and get nothing actually constructive accomplished. Great Post!

  6. Hannah Danto-Dorafsha

    Very interesting perspective on motivation. It definitely got me thinking, especially about work. I feel I don’t have motivation there sometimes, so maybe it’s the will power that’s moving me to accomplish certain tasks. I can relate to the idea that if we first do something, without worrying about motivation to do it, motivation often comes out of that experience- but I’d never thought of it that way before.

  7. Susan

    ‘If you adopt the “I don’t need Motivation for this task” attitude you taking the fear out of it. It’s just a task, do it and then move on.”‘ I love this so much, Martin! It is my understanding that motivation is associated with the brain chemical norepinephrine, so you’re right: You either have it or you don’t. A person can take medication to raise their level, but they will still assign motivation based on emotion.

    As a person with narcolepsy, all of my neurotransmitters tend to run low, though I do take medication and stimulants that help with that. And often I have no motivation to do anything at all. At those times, I need to take my medication and use will power to get things done. Also, I ask my husband all the time to drag me out of the house to go do something, because I know that once I’m out there I will usually have fun and be happy I did whatever we did.


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