Motivation is a myth

Motivation is a myth


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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.


Ths second one's a fun little article written by my younger brother on the topic of motivation that you might like. It takes an interesting view that I’ve found quite helpful since he first mentioned it to me.

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