zenhabits : breathe

Why Motivation Doesn’t Really Matter

Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.

Have you ever really wanted to do something, but you just weren’t motivated enough to do it?

This is always my number one reason for not taking action, as I’m sure it’s probably yours too. If you’re not motivated, you just don’t have the energy or the drive to do what you need to do, right? Simple enough.

But here’s three of the biggest problems with relying on being highly motivated all the time:

  1. Maybe you don’t really care about what you’re doing. Maybe it doesn’t really matter and you’re trying to force yourself to do something you don’t want to do. In this case, your lack of motivation is your subconscious telling you “this is not important” or “this does not align with my values.”
  2. Energy comes in waves. And just as each wave has a crest, it also has a trough. Sometimes your level of motivation will be like a rushing tsunami. At other times, it will be a steady flow. These are natural rhythms and following these rhythms are important, because if you don’t, you will burn out.
  3. Sometimes you won’t be excited before you take action, but you will feed good after you’re done. Take exercise for example. A lot of people dread or loathe working up a sweat. They are not motivated beforehand, at least not enough for them to break through the mental resistance to the work that will be done. But, they feel awesome when they’ve finished exercising. Therefore, sometimes you can’t rely on being highly motivated before, sometimes you have to rely on being motivated after.

Does that mean that motivation is unimportant? No, it’s still important and it does play a role. But too often, it’s easy to get caught up in relying on being totally psyched about something before you do it.

You will not always be totally psyched.

And that’s okay. Does water get anxious when it reaches a depression in the earth? No, it is completely content in its state of acquiescence. When it reaches a hill it does not worry that it now has to travel faster and pick up its pace. It simply flows down the hill.

The way water flows is called following your natural rhythms.

The reason I first started looking at this different way of approaching my goals was because typical motivation hacks didn’t work for me. Sometimes they would work, and sometimes they wouldn’t. Sometimes visualizing success would be highly motivating and sometimes it would simply flunk with a dull thud. It was only when I allowed myself to let go, that I success started to come more easily for me.

I admit, this may seem hard to at first, but it’s a matter of trust. You have to trust your authentic self to guide you in when it’s time to take action and when it is time to just be.

Here are a few ways to practice this non-striving way of manifesting your desires:

  1. Practice listening to your intuition. A lot of us have a tendency to question the validity of our intuition. We favor our rational mind and its sure, logical method of explanation. Our intuitive mind, however, is just as valid. As Einstein once said “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Learn to honor your intuitive gift by practicing asking yourself questions and listening to the response you give yourself without trying to logically deduce the answer.
  2. Take time to ask yourself what you really want. We often get so caught up in the attachment to achieving our goals that we forget to listen to what we actually want. Instead of us creating goals as a means to fulfill our desires, we become enslaved by them. Whenever you feel that your goal is weighing you down, ask yourself “What do I really want?” and listen silently to the answer you receive.
  3. Accept that you won’t always be insanely motivated. If you’re waiting to take action until you’re incredibly motivated, you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself. It’s better to ease the strain by allowing yourself to be mildly interested or even in a state of dread. Allowing yourself to be in this state makes it easier to move past it because you’re no longer resisting it. When you resist the state you’re in, you perpetuate it.
  4. Tap into your flow. We all have times when we’re more creative or more energized, and we all have times where we feel like resting and recharging. For some of us, these ebbs and flows may happen at certain times of the day, for others it may be completely random. The point is to pay attention and exploit these fluxes of energy. By taking massive action when you are full of energy and by allowing yourself to relax when you are in a state of calm, you respect and honor yourself. You will accomplish more by following your natural rhythms than you would trying to force yourself.

There is a time for being productive and there is a time for resting. Just as in nature there is a time for activity and new life in the spring, and there is a time for rest and turning inward in the winter.

Just as nature knows that its perpetual growth is unsustainable, we must realize that expecting to be productive all the time, leads to burn out and being less productive.

Maybe it’s time we start listening to our bodies. I think the more we follow the way of nature, the more intelligently we live.



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