Motivation is a myth


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.

All the very best for the week ahead!


PS: Underneath the links will be a ‘personal update’ section where I share stuff about my life that may/may not interest you. If it doesn’t, that’s okay – please don’t feel like you have to read it 🙂

PPS: A massive thank you to everyone who replied to last week’s email with thoughtful comments/questions/useful links. It was nice chatting to you via semi-long-form email, and it’s something that I’m always up for if you ever fancy a chat about the stuff mentioned in the newsletter / anything else tbh 🙂

Screw motivation, what you need is discipline. – WISDOMINATION

This is one of these situations where adopting a different perspective immediately results in superior outcomes. Few uses of the term “paradigm shift” are actually legitimate, but this one is. It’s a lightbulb moment.

And here’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.

The Pilot and the Plane

The defining struggle of my life has been discipline — doing the right things at the right time. Through this lens, my past year has been a trail of abandoned gym plans, half-baked projects, and decision paralysis.

Update about personal stuff

It’s been an interesting week. Final OSCEs start on Tuesday (ie: in 2 days), so it’s been a fun balance of revising + hanging out with friends and enjoying our final few weeks of university + cranking out YouTube videos to try and capitalise on the recent subscriber growth for the channel (15.5k at the time of writing, which is a ridiculously high number that I still can’t really believe).

In the midst of all this, my friend Molly and I were looking for flats around Cambridge to live in for the next 2 years while we work as junior doctors. And quite excitingly, we found one that we loved. My brother, Taimur, and I will be joining forces via a joint mortgage to buy the flat, and Molly will (hopefully) be living with me while we’re both working at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. So far, our offer’s been accepted on the flat, and we’re in middle of sorting out mortgage paperwork, chatting to a solicitor, paying stamp duty and all these other things that feel very adult-like that I never imagined doing even a few months ago.

I think having our own place will be a really interesting and potentially challenging experience, and it’s something that I’m definitely planning to share on the vlog. The main concern at the moment is doing it in a ‘this is new and exciting’ sort of way, rather than the clickbait ‘BOUGHT MY FIRST HOUSE AT 23’ style which you often see on YouTube.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently – option A would involve vlogging moving out of university, moving into the new house etc etc which is all well and good, but not really mentioning the fact that we’re buying rather than renting and skirting the issue of finances altogether.

Option B involves the same general vlog content, but being more honest about the finances/challenges (“we’ve bought this place, it depleted our life savings, this is scary but exciting etc”). I think I personally prefer option B, because it’s more authentic, and because personal finance / investing is a favourite subject of mine that I want to start making videos about at some point. However, the thing that worries me about option B is that it would open us up to sentiment like “wow you show offs, stop flaunting your money around” etc etc.

I don’t know. What do you think? Option A vs Option B? Or if there’s an option C I’d be delighted to hear it.

This has been a far longer email that I’d originally anticipated. If you’ve read this far, then (a) sorry, and (b) thanks! Hope you liked it. This is still very much an experiment – it’s very odd that there are 400(!) people who have signed up to get this weekly email.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – just hit <reply> and your email will land straight in my inbox. Please forgive me if I don’t reply immediately for these next few days. My mum’s been like “Ali, you have your whole life to send email newsletters and make videos on the YouTube, just don’t do it 2 days before your final exams”. She probably has a point.

Have a great week!

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