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Motivation is a Myth

Ali Abdaal
Ali Abdaal

Hey friends,

I’ve had a lot of messages recently from (mostly) students asking about how to motivate themselves, especially during exam season. The quandary goes along the lines of “I know I should be studying, but some/most days I just can’t seem to find the motivation. How are you so motivated to get xyz done?”

I used to have problems with ‘motivation’. I don’t anymore, because I’ve fully internalised the notion that motivation is a myth. In fact, I think we’d all be much happier and get much more done if we scrubbed the word motivation from our vocabulary altogether.

Here’s a quote from one of my favourite articles on the subject:

Motivation, broadly speaking, operates on the erroneous assumption that a particular mental or emotional state is necessary to complete a task.

Put simply, motivation is waiting until you feel like doing something before doing it. Discipline on the other hand, is doing it regardless of how you’re feeling about it. Here’s another fun quote:

At its core, chasing motivation is insistence on the infantile fantasy that we should only be doing things we feel like doing. The problem is then framed thus: “How do I get myself to feel like doing what I have rationally decided to do?”. Bad.
The proper question is “How do I make my feelings inconsequential and do the things I consciously want to do without being a little bitch about it?”.

I return to this article several times a year to remind myself of its paradigm-shifting lesson. I’m working on a video where I dissect this concept of motivation in depth, and offer some practical suggestions about how to cultivate this thing called discipline that lets you accomplish pretty much whatever you want. In the meantime however, if you’re finding yourself lacking in motivation, please (a) read the article, and (b) attempt to remove the word motivation from your vocabulary entirely.

These days, the only circumstance in which I let myself even think about motivation as a concept is if a friend is complaining 'aarghh I just don’t have the motivation to work right now’. If I don’t know them very well, I reply 'yeah me too lol’. If however, I know the person well, I give them an unsolicited lecture about exactly why motivation is a myth, and why/how they should be cultivating discipline. If they’re still in the room by the end of this conversation, they usually think 'wow you’re right, I shouldn’t be trying to feel like doing stuff, I should just do it!’

So yeah, motivation is a myth. Trying to get yourself to feel like doing something useful is a fool’s errand. A 3-year old bases their day-to-day decisions on what they feel like doing. An intelligent student/adult recognises that feeling like doing something useful should have absolutely nothing to do with whether they actually do it.

Just my two pennies on this topic for now, with a much more detailed video on its way.

Have a great week!

Ali

PS: I was a bit lazy today, and so this was a recycled email from the 2nd ever issue of this email newsletter that I wrote on 22nd April 2018. I think the motivation thing is as relevant as ever :)


This week on Not Overthinking

Not Overthinking is the weekly podcast hosted by me and my brother. If you enjoy these emails, you’ll hopefully like that too. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Castro (my favourite podcast app) or any other podcast app - just search for ‘Not Overthinking’.

Book Discussion: The Wright Brothers | Not Overthinking

In this episode, we summarise "The Wright Brothers" by David McCullough. It's a biography of Wilbur and Orville Wright, best known for inventing the airplane. It contains timeless themes relevant to any and all forms of human endeavour, so in addition to being an amazing story about a turning point for the human race, there's a lot we can learn from it.

My Favourite Things this week

1 - Podcast - This interview between Rolf Potts and Alex Banayan became one of my favourite podcast episodes of all time. If you haven't yet, I'd recommend reading The Third Door, one of my favourite books of 2019, before you listen to this. It's incredible.

2 - Podcast - I also enjoyed this episode of Impact Theory where the host interviews Dave Asprey (who normally hosts the Bulletproof Radio podcast). It's packed with interesting and actionable tactics to improve our health and made me seriously reconsider several aspects of my own lifestyle.

3 - Podcast - This episode of Invest Like The Best featured Matt Clifford, founder of Entrepreneur First. Some interesting ideas about the history of ambition  along with lessons for anyone building a business.

Kindle Highlight of the Week

Let me repeat once more that great quote by Don Juan in Carlos Castaneda’s A Separate Peace: “The difference between a warrior and an ordinary man is that a warrior sees everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man sees everything as either a blessing or a curse.”

From The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber. Resurfaced with Readwise.

This week's video

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Ali Abdaal

Junior doctor, YouTuber, web designer, aspiring musician. Trying out this blogging thing.