Motivation is a Lie

photo by Turning Point Photography

photo by Turning Point Photography

When there is nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire” – Stars

Motivation. It’s what everyone thinks they are missing and it is the most frequently blamed thing when we don’t do what we need to do to reach the goals we want to reach. We just aren’t motivated. We just can’t get motivated. We can’t find our motivation. We conceptualize motivation as the magical fountain– it has an endless, recurring supply of refreshing elixir that once consumed, will make us take action and give us everything we’ve ever wanted. I’m sorry to say…this doesn’t exist.

There is no motivation fountain.

There is no magic elixir.

It’s all been a lie.


Motivation is typically presented in its external form. It is a force that comes from outside of ourselves because it is something to be acquired or possessed. This external motivation can range from something like a pretty cursive phrase against a just perfectly out of focus backdrop, to a particular competition date, to a number on a scale or a barbell that we are forever chasing. The point being, motivation is presented as something that we find, not something that we cultivate. The problem with this view of motivation is that it is finite. What happens after we find all quotes? What happens when that competition date passes? What do we do when there is nothing left to find? We run out of steam. We stop doing the things that we were doing. We burn out.

These forms of external motivation can be great points of inspiration and a great way to spark our fire. But it is just that – a spark. We must continually add fuel to the fire from a renewable resource and we have to have a plan for how we are going to add to that fire once we’ve piled up all the sticks and twigs that are external motivators.

This is where internal motivation, discipline, and action come in to play. Internal motivators are those things that drive us to be better – they are things that we cultivate and grow. They cannot be “found” in the outside world. They are those gut feelings, wildest dreams, and insatiable desires to be better a better of ourselves. However, these feelings and dreams are only as good as the work we put in to achieve them. Having them is great. Taking action and making them happen is even better.  Taking action, even when and especially when we are afraid to, is the ultimate renewable resource.

Going to the gym when we don’t feel like it, but know we are better for it and need to train.

Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone because we want that new job, new person, new life.

Showing up and speaking up when it’s the last thing on Earth we want to do because the risk of failing seems too high.

Actions are what stack up and keep the fire burning because motivation is nothing without action.  Sometimes, we need to find a little extra something to stoke that fire when we are running low, but ultimately sustainable motivation needs to be something we cultivate, not construct.