So What is Motivation, Exactly?



What is Motivation?

So what is motivation, exactly? The author Steven Pressfield has a great line in his book, The War of Art, which I think gets at the core of motivation. To paraphrase Pressfield, “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

In other words, at some point, it is easier to change than to stay the same. It is easier to take action and feel insecure at the gym than to sit still and experience self-loathing on the couch. It is easier to feel awkward while making the sales call than to feel disappointed about your dwindling bank account.

This, I think, is the essence of motivation. Every choice has a price, but when we are motivated, it is easier to bear the inconvenience of action than the pain of remaining the same. Somehow we cross a mental threshold—usually after weeks of procrastination and in the face of an impending deadline—and it becomes more painful to not do the work than to actually do it.

Now for the important question: What can we do to make it more likely that we cross this mental threshold and feel motivated on a consistent basis?

Common Misconceptions About Motivation

One of the most surprising things about motivation is that it often comes afterstarting a new behavior, not before. We have this common misconception that motivation arrives as a result of passively consuming a motivational video or reading an inspirational book. However, active inspiration can be a far more powerful motivator.

Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.

I like to refer to this effect as the Physics of Productivity because this is basically Newton’s First Law applied to habit formation: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Once a task has begun, it is easier to continue moving it forward.

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