Not starting trouble

We all start with a high degree of motivation. The first few days or weeks are attacked with gusto. You start to believe that you can just keep going. Even if you are terrible at something, there's enough motivation and drive in you to keep you coming back.

But at some point, it all starts to crumble down. Because your activity, be it going to the gym or trying a diet, is a house of cards. It is not built on a sustainable foundation of habits and guidelines - because you are not aware of them yet.

This inevitably happens when the instant gratification stops. When the results stop coming by rather easily. When you plateau.

You wish you had more motivation to just keep going.

Extrinsic drivers of motivation

Motivation can be broadly clubbed into two types - extrinsic and intrinsic. As Steven Kotler puts it,

Extrinsic drivers are rewards that are external to ourselves. These are things like money, fame, and sex, and they're definitely potent. Money translates into food, clothing, and shelter, so the brain treats our desire for it as a basic survival need. Fame might seem trivial, but famous people often have significantly more access to resources - food, water, shelter, mates, and so on - so we're wired to want it. And sex is the only way for humans to win evolutions' game of survival, which is why sex sells and the bars are always packed on Friday night.

When the slowdown happens, our extrinsic motivation kinda empties. Or the other way around. But what happens is that suddenly things are hard to get around to.

What do we do?

Intrinsic drivers of motivation

We need to find an intrinsic driver for our motivation. Autonomy was what drove me when I started down this journey. I wanted to be in charge of my life, of my health and my fitness. Mastery continues to drive me today - to get better at the skills, to have the satisfaction of a job well done, the enjoyment of the journey itself.

Motivation, unfortunately, is not a tap you can turn on when you want to.

Wanting something really hard and a lot is not adequate.

You have to do the work. Obviously.

And to do the work, you have to want to do the work.

Which is where you think motivation fits in magically and solves it.

Those people who keep going to the gym - they have more of it. And you have less of it. Well, not really. Doesn't work that way.


Developing intrinsic drivers of motivation is not that simple or easy. Maybe I'll write a longer post about it some other time.

Slate It
Photo by Jakob Owens / Unsplash

For now, just know that your actions are what determine you.

If you keep saying you want to lose weight but are not able to, examine your actions.

If you keep saying you want to get stronger but don't see that happening, examine your actions.

It is the rare instance where you put in the effort (action) but don't see results. There, the solution is simple - get a better coach.

But most often, your action and your mouth are not aligned with each other.

But you already knew that

Watch the discrepancy between your actions and your supposed goal.

Break your goal into actions. Let's say you want to get stronger - the actions you will need to take are

  1. Lift weights at the gym, at least 3 times a week.
  2. Sleep at least 7 hours a night.
  3. Eat adequate protein and calories.

Find the discrepancy.

Professional bodybuilder posing

Captured By @VisualsByRoyalZ
Photo by Anastase Maragos / Unsplash

Then, either fix the action. Or question whether you really want the goal. Or are you just repeating what everyone else is. Does this goal TRULY motivate you? Does it stir something inside?

Until you find that, you cannot wake up your intrinsic drivers.

Don't depend on it

As my wife put it, you cannot depend on motivation.

But you can cultivate it. Much harder to do. Longer process. For that, start with identifying the right goal for you.

That said, there are quite a few things you can do to make it easier, to reduce the friction to act. Continuing with the "Get Stronger" theme, let's see what those could be.

To reduce the friction required to go to the gym, you can

  1. go to bed in your training gear. Or keep your training gear right by where your dental stuff is. As soon as you wake up and (presumably) brush your teeth, there it is. Put the clothes on.
  2. Have a workout buddy. Or better yet, buddies. They are gonna be at your doorstep in 5 minutes. Do you hit snooze or do you get up?

To sleep 7 hours every night, you can

  1. Work backwards and be clear about when you need to go to bed. If you need to be at the gym at 7 am, and it is a 15 minute commute - then you need to be up by (at least) 6.15 am. Minus 7 hours is 11.15 pm.
  2. By 10.30 pm, you should be done with all your devices. Your dinner should've been done quite a bit earlier.
  3. No devices in bed. No devices in the room, if you can.
  4. And if you find it difficult to go to sleep, practice breathing drills and not doom scrolling.

You get the idea.

You cannot depend on motivation to get the job done. It might magically exist for a week or a month. But most of our goals are much longer-term.

To get to your goal, act accordingly. De-couple feeling motivated and going to the gym.

Don't feel motivated? Okay. Go to the gym.

Feeling motivated? Brilliant. Go to the gym.

That's pretty much the secret.