Home It's All Mental “Motivation As We Know It Isn’t Motivation At All”

“Motivation As We Know It Isn’t Motivation At All”

by Erika Nicole Kendall

So, on this post, this happened:

I can vouch for this. Motivation as we know it isn’t motivation at all.

I write and I run. Writers spend more time bemoaning their lack of motivation to write than actually writing. It’s far easier to whinge into the ether than to pick up a pen and just *write*.

Runners spend far more time bemoaning their lack of motivation to run than actually running. It’s far easier… you see where I’m going with this.

If we wait around for this magical ‘motivation’, we’d be waiting a hell of a long time. Back in 2008, I became a massive gym bunny because I was ‘motivated’ by heartbreak. And when I was happy again, I stopped going to the gym. My last big ‘motivation’ was training for a half marathon early this year with a team of people, and raising money. And when that was done, I struggled with my running.

Truth was, I wanted to lose weight anyway, but decided to row/run/lift my feelings away instead of eating them. In the second case, I needed to be prepared for a race, and to get people to see I was serious so they’d give my team money. So I agree that ‘motivation’ as we know it is a myth. That wasn’t motivation; it was context.

You have to find a constant source of inspiration in yourself, and that can’t be found in one circumstance or feeling. Those things have a nasty habit of changing.

When you want to sit on the couch and eat Skittles for dinner, or wait for inspiration to strike, chances are you’re thinking about how you could be actually DOING THE DAMN THING instead of talking yourself out of it. And you probably feel a bit guilty too, but that’s still not enough to make you stop and do the right thing.

I’d say that if you’re thinking about doing it, then you’re already in a state of being motivated. Awareness of a need or want to change, and desire to make it happen.*That* is motivation. Hoooowwwwever…

If you’re waiting for the rocket-powered insatiable urge to do it – that thing we wrongly call ‘motivation’ instead, which gets us off the couch – it’s not gonna happen. I think what people really want to know is ‘OK, I have that desire; how do I turn it up to 11′? I’d suggest that you don’t. You can’t operate on full throttle all the time, but you do have to step (or vault) over the hurdle marked ‘I Don’t Wanna’ consistently and often enough to make your action-to-change a habit.

Stop thinking in terms of motivation, and think in terms of DOING. And, like my fellow writers and runners, your best bet is to stop thinking so much and just take action. You don’t need anyone else to affirm your reasons why!

I have to thank Ruby – clearly both a writer and a runner – for sharing this because she said, rather succinctly, what I’ve been scribbling in my journal for almost a month, trying to figure out how to say it.

Think of how much I love yoga. I mean, I love it. Think of how much you love your favorite thing, then double that love. That’s how much I love yoga. I sleep at night cradling my yoga mat.

Not really… well, maybe… whatever. Let’s not talk about that.

But even still, if I stop to think about whether or not I should roll out my mat and get to work, chances are… I won’t. I already knew I should’ve – that’s why I had the inclination to roll it out and strike a pose in the first place. Stopping to think about whether or not I should was simply the set up for me to talk myself out of it. I suspect a lot of people face this exact same situation, and it plays out this exact same way.

I’m also mindful of the “I exercised my feelings, not ate them” mentality too, but – again, just like Ruby said – what happens when you’re no longer feeling those feelings that compelled you to work out? You still need to be active for your health, no? You still need to be able to just get up, roll out your yoga mat, grab your weights, put on your kicks, grab your blades, whatever it may be today and head out the door. Not because you’re motivated to “show your ex that he shouldn’t’ve dropped this fine piece of chocolate,” and not because you need to workout your feelings instead of eat them. Can it be a better coping mechanism for pain than eating? Absolutely. You just also have to have a backup plan for how you’re going to get up off of your tail and go after everything is said and done, and you’re no longer hurting.

THIS, I believe, is why so many of us say “just do it” or “it’s in you.” Because, quite frankly, at the end of all the drama, the emotions, the whining and the excuse-making… it is, in fact, in YOU. It’s about YOU getting up off the couch. It’s about YOU getting dressed and heading out. It’s about YOU still doing what you need to do to get the body you want and to maintain it. After everything is said and done, it’s about you making that decision.

Like I said before, “motivation” is a completely made up concept. It’s what we use to explain why there are people in this world who willingly run 15-20 miles for fun, while we hang out at home. It’s just not as big a deal as we try to make it. And, even if it were, no one should be waiting around for it. Just don’t think about it… just get up and go. I promise you’ll be happier for it.

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Savannah September 19, 2011 - 10:55 AM

Thank you Ruby and Erika! This is exactly what I have been struggling with. There are days that doing the 4 am workout is a no brainer…and days when I just get up and lay on the couch. I am working on being consistent instead of always having to be motivated. This was a great post!

Stefanie September 19, 2011 - 11:52 AM

I’d say that if you’re thinking about doing it, then you’re already in a state of being motivated. Awareness of a need or want to change, and desire to make it happen.*That* is motivation.


Thanks for that. I have a lot of good ideas that come to mind on a daily basis. Put it into action. One step at a time, right?

Dina D September 19, 2011 - 1:51 PM

I used to work with (and date but that’s another story for another day) a trainer and he used to tell me all the time to stop worrying about motivation and think about my life, my health and my reality. For a long time I had no idea what he meant, but then after years of struggling with a thyroid disorder and still working out even though working out never led to visible results I realized what he meant. Ultimately, our motivation is short term. Like you said, if you are already thinking about or wanting to so something, you’re motivated. When it comes to fitness, eating right, being healthy, etc, you want to get to a point where it just is what it is…Where you don’t need motivation to get there. It’s part of your life and what you do to keep yourself healthy. If you’re always looking for motivation, then you’re always looking for the “why” of what you’re doing. If you’ve reached your goal weight, your goal size, your goal look, your goal ______ then your “why” can get cloudy. It’s at those moments that doing what you do because it’s just a part of you becomes important. You won’t necessarily have motivation to fall back on during those moments. In my experience, it has to become about being able to dig into yourself and just do it as you said. That’s exactly why people say, “Just do it”. Motivation isn’t always there, inspiration isn’t always there, but you, yourself and you are always there.

Rachel September 19, 2011 - 4:49 PM

I think about this in a similar fashion as I do all other things that are important to the daily (yes daily!) maintenance of my life. I don’t need to feel motivated to sleep because it’s just something I do. It helps me maintain balance, energy and leaves me feeling ready to face the day each morning. I also don’t need to feel motivated to eat, or brush my teeth, or shower –> these are things that happen daily that I don’t need to be conscious to do. They just happen because it is ingrained in me that these things are important and necessary for me to carry my day out as I would like it to. It can be more difficult with exercise and healthy eating, but it takes time to teach children to like and enjoy vegetables, to take care when washing behind their ears, lol, etc etc. It’s the same with us as adults, it takes time for things to become habit, but once they are, you’ll find yourself feeling ‘off’ or ‘disoriented’ when you miss a workout or stop eating clean. These feelings keep us in check and BECOME our motivation to get back on track. If we can just get to that point, that’s all the motivation we need. Best of luck everyone!

kelley December 16, 2011 - 8:48 AM

Oh I love this read.I agree totally. Wish I weren’t typing on my phone so i could write a paragraph long response. But now….I am ready for my morning Zumba whether I feel like it or not!!!

Summer January 6, 2012 - 10:33 AM

Oh my! Ouch! I really needed to read this today. After years of getting on and off the track (mainly because of my on and off relationship with my husband – another story!) and using my relationship as a motivation, I just need to do it. Most days I don’t have energy and I whine and complain that I don’t have any motivation. Well now I know I do have motivation because I am constantly thinking of exercising, eating right, organizing and umpteen different things. I just need to do it. But, therein lies the problem. Doing it. How do you “do it” if you have no energy? How do you just push through? Where do you even start if you have so much to do? What is the first step?

shethinksoften February 2, 2013 - 2:51 AM

I had a talk with a friend yesterday about not feeling motivated. I have no reason to not live healthy. I have new workout shoes, music, new water bottle, etc. The problem is that I am not eating right or be active. I keep saying I need energy and I need to feel motivated. Not doing anything. My friend (who is working on getting certified as a trainer after losing over 100 lbs too) went off of me because I kept giving excuses to why I was not eating right. My normal excuse is because I am a picky eater and I do not eat all of the different foods. I am a comfort food eater and that is not going to get the fat off of me. Reading this article really put everything she said and everything I already know in perspective. I PLAN to go walking on the treadmill tomorrow. Even if it is just 30 minutes…I have to start somewhere. I am doing the same thing…expecting different results. We all know that that is…

The BodyCare RN January 12, 2012 - 11:04 AM

Thanks for writing this. I had an a-ha moment! I’ve struggled to start my own business for this very reason…waiting for something to motivate me into action! Even when it came to our worst and my spouse was laid off for a year, that still didn’t put me into action. Somehow this article has turned on my lightbulb and had me realize that I do just need to do the DAMN thing! And not think about it…whatever it is, Thanks again!!

Keyea June 4, 2012 - 11:27 AM

Damn you! I’m going for my lunchtime walk now (b/c I’m just going to do it and I need to get up from this cubicle and move my legs). Great post!

Erika Nicole Kendall June 4, 2012 - 2:16 PM


Kamea August 12, 2012 - 11:21 AM

My goal is to eat healthier and cook more I finished a month of bikram yoga and a month of crunch. Overall I am eating smaller portions. Then I stopped eating foods with corn syrup, juice for the most part and agave nectar. My next month would be working out at the Monkey bar gym in the epic hybid training center. Then next month is boxing and swimming. My biggest problem is figuring out the calories I need to lose weight and sustaining enough energy. This problem is messing with sticking with my goals. My final question is how do you stay fit on a vacation?

Habibah Sulayman August 25, 2012 - 9:29 AM

Thank you for sharing this again–I have been on this weight release journey for five long years with some great success!! My mother had been ill almost as long and I can honestly say that she was a bigger part of my reason for pushing myself. In my mind (although I know it doesn’t make sense) I thought that if I got healthy it would somehow equate to her getting better. Well she passed on June 4, 2012 and I feel like my bottom fell out from under me on that day. I never realized how big a role she played in this journey–so now I feel like I am drowning in this place again. Trying to find another reason to get started again–to push past all of the excuses why I can’t or shouldn’t be worrying about this right now. Just take sometime to grieve and learn how to find my new normal without her. I am sitting in my hotel in St Thomas, VI where I’ve been for work for the past two weeks and this same thought is what I’ve been wrestling with. Where do I find the motivation to get back on the saddle again???? And this article helped me answer–there is no such thing. I just have to start again and everyday that I keep choosing to start again is enough. Thank you so much for what you do!! I am the lady that asked you about the blender!!

Gail February 1, 2013 - 8:34 AM

I so agree with Rachel. I workout every day for the same reason I brush my teeth, make my bed, put on clean panties every day. It’s what I was taught (or taught myself) to DO, it’s what I’ve done for umpteen years, so that now I feel “off” when I don’t.

Renee H. February 24, 2013 - 9:44 AM

In college, (eons ago) while walking in a group to class a fellow student asked me what did I do to stay thin. I replied “nothing.” My friends who knew me laughed and said, she RUNS every day!! I honestly didn’t think of it as anything. It was something I did, and had done since age 9 because I LOVE it. I think that’s once something becomes that much of your routine, you don’t much worry about motivation b/c you really miss it when you don’t do it. Happy to say that now, pushing 50yrs old, running is still very much a part of my daily routine. I still LOVE it.

Bernadette Todd July 30, 2013 - 5:36 PM

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I spent the better part of yesterday and this morning lamenting to my BF that I had lost my motivation or my mojo to work out. I keep waiting for some sort of spark to magically arrive that will get my tookus off of the couch and into the gym…..and it never shows up. So I sit there….waiting. I honestly think, and it just hit me now, that maybe I never thought that Me was enough of a reason to get up and go. That my health and the condition of my body wasn’t enough reason, I kept searching for an answer or reason OUTSIDE of me. How sad is that? Isn’t that THE definition of low self-esteem? WOW. Just had a moment.

Ashley March 19, 2014 - 4:23 PM

my husband tells me this all the time!!! “just do it ashley” stop “thinking about it ashley”! Great post!

More & Again March 22, 2014 - 6:20 AM

I’m late with this, but a great book that touches on this is The Power of Habit. Anyone who is trying to get into (or out of) certain behavior should read it.

When it comes to starting behaviors (like, say, running/writing/etc.) the author (Duhig?) makes the point that, if you get it to be a habit, your body will literally do it without you thinking about it, and your body is hardwired to work this way – this is what makes habits so effective, but also extremely difficult to break. To your point, Erika (and the featured writer/runner), I’d wager that the people who are successful at, “just doing it”, don’t rely on motivation at all, they rely on habit.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 22, 2014 - 2:30 PM

I think you’re right, especially on the “adding exercise” aspect. There is a point where being active simply becomes de rigueur, but the question is “how do you get to that point?” What has to happen prior to that point in order to get you ready for it to be a part of your life?

More & Again March 22, 2014 - 2:57 PM

As the author (Charles Duhigg, not Duhig.lol) writes in the book, part of what creates and enforces habits are triggers. So, if someone wants to successfully get their body into the habit of exercising, they need to create a “loop” (a trigger, the behavior, and a reward). It does require being consistent to get your brain and body to officially register that “loop” as a habit that you don’t have to think about (I’ve heard of the saying, “three weeks to make a habit, three days to break it”), and prior to that happening, you’re pretty much at the mercy of your own will. (And, for that, I am at a loss for remedies.lol)

But, it might be helpful to the people who rely on extrinsic motivators to take the opportunity to create habit loops that can be triggered once the “motivation” is gone. Everyone else. . . I guess just has to climb that hill.

marie March 24, 2014 - 3:21 AM

I just came across this article on procrastination and I think it’s of value to read it. i guess waiting to be motivated = procrastination. The article explains how we let ourselves be distracted by the “Instant Gratification Monkey” (the pictures are hilarious!!!) and what we can do to solve this issue.

Rennie Griff March 26, 2014 - 1:45 PM

I really thank you and appreciate this article. I have not always struggled with my weight but I must admit that I have gained 40 lbs in 2 years just from being lazy…and this weight is in addition to the weight I had gained in my adulthood. I struggle with procrastination and just doing it. This was just the read I needed to help it sink in. I can’t fault anyone else for my lack. It is my duty to honor my temple.

Thank you

Dani January 22, 2015 - 10:45 AM

This is a great article!! It explains everything I already know but don’t want to tell myself. I’m looking for motivation to be as consistent as when you’re dealing with something. Every time I overcame that situation first thing to go is exercise. I thought the just do it motivation was fake and consistent motivation was something to archive. I have it all wrong. This article normalizes the fight to stay motivated & create habits. Thanks for sharing!!

Sandy January 26, 2015 - 3:48 PM

This is my first time commenting but felt I had to. This post is exactly what I needed to read today. I’ve been struggling the last couple of months to get back on the exercise bandwagon but keep making excuses. As an earlier poster said, it should be part of you… you don’t need to be motivated to do it (like brushing your teeth, etc)

So…in the midst of todays snow storm, I went to the gym at lunchtime for a hour. I will incorporate exercise and fun together to get me to my goal!

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