Struggling to Find Your Motivation? How About Creating it Instead?

create your motivation

We all have something important we’d like to be doing better than we’re doing it right now.

Pay off our debt. Start investing. Start a side business. Spend more time with our kids.

Every day we spend not doing that important thing is costing us time, money and happiness.

But the trick isn’t knowing we need to do the important thing. We all know we SHOULD be doing it.

The trick is actually DOING it.

How do we find the motivation to not only start doing these important things but to stick with them?

For me, the key is in turning the idea of motivation on its head. It’s a change in mindset that stops waiting for motivation to find us and instead sets out to create it.

The fairy tale of motivation

There’s a fairy tale out there about motivation and it’s killing our ability to make progress.

It’s the belief that we need to find motivation before we can take action.

That is, we think we have to FEEL motivated before we can DO the important thing.

The fairy tale makes sense. After all, we’ve all had those moments of intense motivation where it’s easy to get things done. Once we’ve experienced one of those moments, it’s only natural to think we simply need to find that feeling again to recreate that same level of action.

But here’s the problem. Motivation is just a feeling, and feelings are temporary.

We may feel incredibly motivated right this second, but what about 10 minutes from now? Or tomorrow? Or next week? Or next month? Is that powerful feeling going to stay with you through thick and thin, every moment of every day? Or is it going to behave like every other feeling you’ve ever had and fade in and out through the ups and downs of life?

See, feelings are not really in our control. Not totally. And if we’re relying on the feeling to create action, then we’re putting the power to make positive strides in the hands of something that can let us down.

But there’s another way.

What if we flipped the idea of motivation on its head?

So how can you be different? How can you consistently find the motivation to achieve great things in the midst of your fluctuating feelings?

By realizing that the conventional wisdom is backwards.

You don’t have to wait for motivation in order to act. You can act first, and through continuous action create all the motivation you’ll ever need.

Sounds pretty counterintuitive right? Sure it does. But let’s just think about this anecdotally for a second.

How many times have you found that it’s hard to change one of the routines or habits you have in your life? I know for me I just can’t stop biting my nails, no matter how hard I try. Why do you think that is? Is it because the habit is really central to us and our core values?

Or is it more likely because we’ve simply been doing it for so long so that it’s become an automatic part of our live? We keep up with it not because we summon the motivation to do it every single day, but because we’ve repeated it enough times that it gets done before we even think about it. And the fact that we barely even think about it is what makes it so hard to change.

Changing requires more thought and energy than not changing, so we just let it continue on.

See, that’s all “motivation” really is. It’s the ability to keep pushing forward with something no matter what. It’s really more like stubbornness than anything else, with past action serving as the impetus for future action.

And here’s the kicker: there’s no need to rely on feelings here. We can start acting today, no matter how we feel. And we can act again tomorrow. If we can string enough of those actions together we start creating all the “motivation” we’ll ever need simply through force of habit.

Motivation becomes something that is 100% within our control.

How can you start creating your motivation?

When we look at it this way, accomplishing the things that matter suddenly becomes much simpler.

No longer do we have to wait for some source of grand inspiration to give us the drive we need. Motivation isn’t about a huge rush of energy that lets us do EVERYTHING all at once.

That is a fairy tale.

All we have to do is something, today, that moves us one step closer to our goal.

It can be tiny. But it has to be something and it has to be positive.

And then tomorrow we can do it again. And again the next day. And the next.

And day after day until the action becomes so ingrained in our life that we no longer need to even consider something so abstract as “motivation” because we’re too busy DOING that thing we care about.

So you tell me, what’s one thing you can do today to move you forward on one important goal? It doesn’t have to be big. It can be as small as you want. But it has to be progress.

Can you do it again tomorrow? And the next day? Can you make it such a part of your life that NOT doing it will feel wrong?

If you can accomplish that, you’ll never need to worry about motivation ever again.

Photo courtesy of kaibara87

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Matt is a fee-only financial planner dedicated to helping new parents build happy families by making money simple. His free time is spent building block towers and jumping on beds with his two awesome boys. If you want to learn more, you can go here.

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  • Brian @ Luke1428

    This is an interesting take on motivation Matt. I’ve never really thought of it this way but after reading this it’s basically what happened to me when I started running. I wasn’t altogether motivated to run in the beginning. But through small successes along the way I developed more and more motivation to keep going further. Then it became a habit in my life, like you said, and I never had much of an issue motivating myself to go run in the mornings. Nice post!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      Great example! Thanks for sharing it. And you’ve REALLY kept up with it. All those miles you’ve run is very impressive.

  • Holly Johnson

    Great post, Matt! I’ve always been pretty motivated so that isn’t an area where I struggle. However, there are still many things I could be doing to improve my life. Right now it’s too cold to even get motivated to go to the grocery store =/

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      Haha, it’s cold here too! Hopefully that helps you stay motivated to get all that inside work down (I know you have plenty of it).

  • Melissa

    I so agree with this post! I know someone who is seriously overweight, but she makes no effort to lose weight. Instead, she says you have to wait for it “to click.” When it clicks, then it’s time to lose weight. You can’t just wait for motivation! You have to create your own.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      That’s a really great example. I know I’ve been there where I was simply waiting for “inspiration”, or whatever you want to call it. The reality is that you can make all the inspiration you want if you just start taking small steps. That’s the mindset I’m really trying to put to practice these days.

  • Andrew

    Very interesting concept. I definitely agree that sometimes we just settle for the status quo since it’s just easier than changing it up. I think it’s a great idea to act first and through continuous action to change the status quo. Once something has become a habit, you’ll probably do it without much thought.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      Exactly. There are so many things we do every day without thinking, just because we’ve done them every day before. Why not strive to make those things as positive as possible?

  • Michael Solari

    Great post. Motivation is the key to success. I’m very goal oriented so I need lists (checklists/to do lists) to get stuff done. Feels great when you can cross things out!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      I like checklists too. Recently I’ve been making a simple 3 item checklist each morning, one for each of the three priority areas of my life. If I can accomplish just those three things each day, I’ve made positive progress in each area and I can claim the day a success. It’s working pretty well so far.

      • Alexa Mason

        I love that idea, Matt. I think sometimes I make my to do lists a little too long. Focusing on the three biggest areas is such a good idea.

        I agree with you on motivation. If I really want something I don’t wait for motivation – I just make myself do it. Whether I wanted to get started or not I am always happy that I finished and that is often motivation to push myself a bit more.

        • Matt @ momanddadmoney

          Thanks Alexa. It’s actually a modification of a tip I learned from Zen Habits which is to set just a single Most Important Task (MIT) and focus on that one thing until it’s done. That’s pretty much what I’m doing, just across three different areas of my life. I like that it forces me to be minimal, focused and balanced.

  • E.M.

    This makes sense. By “just doing it” and repeating it every day, you form a habit. Unconsciously you come to expect doing whatever it is that you’re working on; it becomes part of your routine. Of course, it’s easier said than done most of the time. I’ve gone to bed earlier in hopes of waking up early, and I’m still too tired when my alarm goes off to get up!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      Definitely easier said than done. That’s why I think it’s so important to start with small, achievable positive steps rather than thinking you’re going to conquer the world all at once. Find success early and increase the amplitude as you go.

      With respect to getting up in the morning, have you tried putting you alarm on the other side of the room so you have to get up to turn it off? That’s a trick I used to use and it definitely helped.

  • Shannon Ryan

    Great post, Matt! I am generally a pretty motivated person but there are times when I struggle to find my motivation to complete certain tasks, even ones that mean a lot to me. But I think you are right … the acting of doing creates the motivation. We may never find the motivation if we wait around for it. And that is a mistake that I have made before and hopefully won’t repeat again. :)

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      I definitely struggle with certain tasks as well. Recently I’ve tried adopting the mindset that I need to finish something before moving onto the next thing. It doesn’t always work, but as a general principle it’s helped me to stay focused on a task even when my mind wanders AND to be a little less of a perfectionist.

  • Shannon

    I completely agree about creating motivation. I do that all the time with my clients. When they are not hitting their financial goals, I find new ways to motivate them into action. And they all have different triggers, but once I find them, they move into action and success.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      Especially with money, I think so many people giving advice tend to focus on the things they think people SHOULD be doing first (e.g. budgeting) rather than helping them find success in something first to try and build momentum. Finding little ways to keep people taking positive steps is a great skill to have.

  • Fit is the New Poor

    I constantly need to do the things to make me motivated. Like, with running, I’m very money motivated so forcing myself to put down money for a 5k or 10k race means I’ll have to run and therefore be motivated to run. Investing money in my blog means that I’ll have to make my blog better. Agreeing to get a project done at work means I have to get it done as best as possible…. You gotta make your own motivation to have motivation.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      I like those examples! In each case you’re taking an action that spurs you to take another positive action. These are great examples of this approach.

  • Done by Forty

    Oh, man, do I need this post. I am procrastinating like crazy with some of my goals (side business + learning to play the guitar). “Just Do It” really does work, doesn’t it?

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      I hand’t thought about the relation to the Nike slogan, but yeah that works!

  • Tonya

    I could not agree more. People try to find the motivation to exercise, but if they aren’t doing it it’s really hard to get started. That’s why I always tell people to just “move” for five minutes a day until it becomes a habit. I think also things we don’t want can help create motivation. Like my main gig is making me miserable, which motivates me every day to work hard in the blogging area so that can become my main gig.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      I love that, “just move”. Isn’t that really what it’s all about? It’s so easy to spend so much time worrying about all the bad things that might happen if you start something, or all the obstacles you imagine are in your way, but if you can just start and build some momentum it’s often so much more possible to make it happen than you thought.

  • Lindsey@ Sense & Sensibility

    I love this take on motivation, Matt. trying to learn something new or do something different does not make me want to take over the world – it makes me irritable and out of sorts. It takes a lot of energy to do something intentionally and there’s no way a simple feeling will carry you through on a tsunami of awesome all the time. Cheers!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      I agree, the prospect of taking on something totally new often feels overwhelming to me too. But if you can just find one small thing to focus on getting down, and then another, it makes the process a lot easier.

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  • DC @ Young Adult Money

    Interesting concept, Matt. I think you’re onto something. I’ve noticed I can gain motivation by gaining momentum by actually getting started on something, as you indicated. I get more and more motivation to work hard at my blog and spreadsheet work the more it gains traction. I didn’t wait for that motivation to come along.

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  • Lisa vs. the Loans

    I absolutely needed to read this. What a refreshing way to think about motivation. As you said, feelings change day in and day out. To depend on the feeling of motivation is a flawed tactic when it comes to change.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      Glad to hear it was helpful!

  • Don

    I’ve found many times that if I just start doing something without having been motivated initially, that I will become motivated as I make progress and have success at what I am doing.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney

      That’s exactly the point I’m trying to make! Glad you’ve found so much success doing it yourself.