Why Motivation Sucks and How to Succeed Without It

Minute Read

But what is Motivation anyway?

Psychologists have a number of theories on where motivation comes from, whether it’s the Drive Theory, Arousal Theory, or the most popular one of all, the Humanistic Theory.

In the end, they all try to do just 1 thing – describe why a person does something. Our Motivations come from a set of extrinsic and intrinsic  values. These values create the external, and the internal motivations we need for everyday life.

However, when we’re trying to lose weight, start a company, or get good grades, we sometimes put too much weight into the motivational side of things.

For some, they’re addicted to motivation like Lindsey Lohan was to coke.


No Kids, I’m Not Talking About That Kind Of Coke.

No matter what you’re trying to do, you probably rely on  an innate ability to immediately motivate yourself to go do that. Keep in mind, this is not procrastination in it, of itself. We start something because there is typically an immediate short-term reward. If I go watch this TopGear review of this Porsche Carrera GT , then by golly I just motivated myself to get back to work and earn more money!

Unfortunately, GTD (Getting Things Done) isn’t that simple. Our motivations can last us anywhere from a few minutes, to a few weeks. It doesn’t matter too much though, because eventually you’re going to end up back where you started.

Interestingly enough, motivations don’t last because of the way we humans think. From a very young age we’re actually programmed to look at the negative side of life.

Ever wonder why the news is always negative?


Oh Honey Check This Out, 23 People Were Murdered.

In large part, this makes us all negative nancys. Sure some people say they look at the glass half full, but fundamentally, we are all born to think negative.

This negativity is there for a reason, to help us stay alive. Thankfully, most of us aren’t dealing with dangerous predators on a daily basis. This however makes our modern lives today, a lot more difficult.

A negative perception does a fantastic job at killing our internal motivations, because we start to think of all the effort we have to devote to that goal.

Positive people are more likely to be more successful (go figure), because they stay more motivated in the long run. However, you don’t necessarily need to be a positive person to master your willpower.

At its core, willpower is the real reason you can prolong a task, way beyond the initial motivation. Motivations come from our reptilian side of our brains to serve our immediate self-interests.


I’m Guessing Caveman Never Had To Write A Term Essay.

Because of this, your immediate emotions can temporarily override your immediate negativity on almost anything – as long as the consequence is severe enough. In essence,  if our cavemen ancestors couldn’t perceive the greater motivation in dangerous situations (like running away), over the dissatisfaction one would get in having to physically exert themselves – then we wouldn’t be here today.

The problem here is that motivation simply doesn’t last if the immediate danger doesn’t stay high enough to do what we’re all programmed to do, stay alive. Think of all the caveman who stopped running after they thought the saber-toothed cat stopped chasing them; then POW! out of nowhere they become dinner.

Our motivations don’t work unless we can see the immediate short-term goal. Furthermore, some people just get hooked on motivation as a way to push themselves to carry out their goal. This isn’t the most reliable method because if you’re motivation to go to the gym everyday is dependent on reading quotes or reading other people’s success stories, then don’t expect that motivation to last very long.

However, motivation can be useful for short-term goals, or simply getting yourself to the start line. Contrary to common belief, most of our procrastination is actually just getting ourselves to begin working on our goal. This is known as the Zeigarnik Effect, where you are more likely to finish the task after you’ve already started it.

Just like those caveman though, without an immediate reward, we’re more likely to fail on our long-term goals. Just like many other common faults of human thought, this happens to be one of them.

You better finish that expense report by Friday, or else.
In the modern world, our motivations don’t have to deal with saber-tooth cats as much as they do our teachers or employers. The problem really starts when you’re trying to meet a personal goal, which instinctively doesn’t have the same level of external motivations available.

With any personal, or business goal you need to learn how to do one of the following:

A. Continue to use external stimuli such as a motivational poster, movie or speaker.
B. Learn to use Willpower Properly.

Too many people fail to understand just what willpower is, and how it is a finite resource that can be limited starting with what you choose to wear for the day. You might have heard Obama chooses to wear the same suit everyday, which is probably a good thing for all of us.


Totally Go With The Blue One, No .. No Wait I Mean The Red One.

So what are you saying exactly?

I’m saying that we’re using motivation for all the wrong reasons. It’s like banging your head against the wall. It gets you no further to your goal and can often be the reason you don’t continue with your original goal. Like any drug, the more you use it, the less effective it becomes. Every time you attempt to use motivation, you’re just getting high off the temporary “F*ck Yeah!” emotional state.

The key, is not to master, or use external motivation. Would you be surprised if I told you that external motivations aren’t necessary to help carry out your goal? We all start with an internal motivation, whether that’s to be happier, be more fit, or have more money. It’s this internal motivation that drives us to perform the actions required to reach our goal. So we simply need to learn how to put a little WD40 on our motivations to get them rolling on their own with far less friction. This is done by mastering, yes – your willpower.

If you can exercise your willpower muscle, with just one task at a time, it will grow stronger. You’ll have more strength to force yourself to stay on task, without having to use fear as a motivator. The best part though, willpower is much more effective at helping you accomplish your long-term goals than motivation could ever hope to do.


Chill Babe, I’m Saving My Willpower For Later.

Take our caveman for instance. After enough running from the saber-tooth cat, he might try to think of a way to defend himself. What if he invented the spear?  I’m sure it required a bit of willpower, hard work and determination to make one at first. Nonetheless, his willpower was high enough to overcome the discomfort of figuring out how to make one.

So how do I make my willpower stronger?

There is a ton of advice on how to increase your willpower. Everything from visualizing the success you will have if you complete the goal, to simply just getting started. For me, it was realizing that procrastination is an emotional feeling, and I’m better than that. By forcing myself to simply get started, I’ve been able to transform my life into accomplishing my goals much quicker than I ever could have anticipated. While I’ll cover willpower in greater detail in a later post, I wish to cover an important, yet commonly overlooked motivator.

Tell me already!?!?!

Stop hanging around the wrong people. You see, the human mind will always constantly check itself against the world around it. If you’re hanging around drug dealers, chances are you’re going to become one. If you’re hanging around CEO’s and young professionals, then you’ll have a stronger internal drive to accomplish your own goals.

Survival of the fittest is the instinct that causes this. Internally, our brains are wired to keep us alive by any means necessary. Counting it stays in the moral constructs of modern society, it will try and be better than the people immediately surround it. We however, need to give it the proper environment to help spark that internal fire to accomplish our goals.

There’s a saying: “You Become Who You Surround Yourself”. The origin of this, and everything else like it (ie. you are what you eat) came from a guy named Jim Rohn. His original saying was “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

In fact, you should really watch him talk about this in the video below. In short, the only way you can fight the hardships is by having the right people by your side.

Of course there’s many other things you could do to increase your willpower, but this is something we tend to forget. This is a very passive motivator that doesn’t require too much effort, and builds up momentum the longer you work on it. Put effort into associating yourself with people who are more successful than you, and it will fire up an internal drive to be better than everybody around you – because we’re all self-interested beings at heart.

Another way of looking at this is when you go see a motivational speaker. You get fired up, ready to go back home and accomplish your goals. This motivation obviously doesn’t last, but the motivations your closest friends give can have a greater, much more lasting impact.

So What should I do?

  1. Ask yourself who are the 5 people you spend the most time with? Write those 5 people down and then ask how much time you spend with those individuals.
  2. Look at each persons life, what they do and how ambitious they are. Are they successful, optimistic, happy?
  3. Evaluate each person and what effect you think they have on your life. Many effects are subconscious, so don’t fret if you can’t think of any. Either way, we all have a “gut” feeling and this can help us ask whether that person has a positive or negative influence on our life.
  4. Now you need to decide if there is anybody you should cut, or decrease the time you spend with. This is never an easy thing, but if your goals and ambitions are important to you, then this is an absolute must. It’s extremely important to surround yourself with the right people so your brain can properly compare itself to beings around it.
  5. If all of a sudden,  you find yourself with a lack of friends, go check out meetup.com and join some clubs, or organizations that interest you. It’s a great way to find new friends, and meet successful people who can help spark that internal drive to help accomplish your goals.
    While this is not the only step to accomplishing long-term goals, it is nonetheless an important one. By influencing the people we associate ourselves with, we can hack our mind into helping us create better habits, and achieve greater success.