Why Motivation is a Myth

Contrary to everything else I’ve ever said about motivation, I’m going to tell you today that motivation is, in fact, a myth. Or at least, that’s how you should view it.

The Goal is Never Motivation

Too often, people see someone who is really getting after it and find themselves wishing they were motivated like that. Why can’t I be that driven, motivated and inspired, we wonder, right before we return to the sofa? The fact is, much more important than motivation is the simple act of just doing it. Just getting after it and getting started. This is the beginning of the path to results, and even some motivation. However, waiting around for motivation and inspiration just means that the one thing that isn’t going to happen any time soon is feeling motivated.

In order for the motivation fairies to arrive and bless you with hard work and consistency, you need to leave out some bait for them.

They’ll tolerate your typical snacks, but their very favourite treat is seeing you actually working and getting after it. If you want to lure some of that magical motivation into your life, you need to be working. You need to be trying. Try writing to do lists, getting up earlier, eating better, setting real, actionable goals. Just start, that’s the hardest bit.

Motivation is Real, But Self-Discipline is Far Realer

I’m not saying motivation isn’t ever real. It’s definitely a fun, happy, little boost. However, it’s not coffee. It’s not there, ready to gulp down when you exactly need it. In fact, more often than not, motivation arrives exactly when you don’t particularly need it. It shows its face when you’ve already been working and getting it done for a couple hours. It’s a booster for when you’re already going at speed, not from being stationary.

This is why motivation in the way most people view it is a myth. It’s not important, and no one should pay it any real attention. On the other hand, self-discipline is a very real thing. Self-discipline is the crux of getting started, getting moving and starting to really get the things done that you want to.

The fact is, any goal that is worthwhile will start with you being fairly mediocre at it. Being absolutely terrible at something isn’t much fun, especially if you’ve got a bit of an ego. However, accepting that and venturing into the unknown of some new discipline is always going to be hugely beneficial for your mindset. It’s that reset that takes you from stale comfort zone to someone that’s bested a new, difficult challenge. That’s the key, without that stimulation, it can be harder to keep growing as a person.

Self-discipline is the deciding factor in whether or not you force yourself to attend that new class or sit down and do the work. Not motivation. That comes much later. Embrace discipline and you’ll hit motivation far sooner.

Unhelpful Concepts to Ignore

When it comes to visualising your goals, especially in terms of achievability and getting started, there’s a lot of concepts out there that are super self-defeating. We all fall victim to thinking in these terms sometimes. We hear a musician that is lightyears ahead of any of their contemporaries. Talent. We see someone getting up at 4 AM to train everyday in the week. Motivation. We see the artist producing the most amazing paintings. Inspiration. What do all these ideas have in common? They all reduce the product of hard work to serendipitous accident. They take the focus off the hard work and dump it onto the far easier option of just saying “this person is different to me”.

This is laziness. Worse, it’s an anti-work mindset. It’ll set you back time and time again. Instead of thinking like this, focus instead on the hours of hard work people had to put in to make it happen. Think about Jimmy Page playing guitar continually through his teen years, obsessively. Think about how painters had to apprenticeship for years, working tough long days under other artists like tradesmen. It’s never just about the talent. That’s just a useful foundation, and it certainly isn’t an excuse for you to not even try.

I’m not saying talent doesn’t exist either. Talent definitely exists. Look at musicians that achieve competence in dozens of instruments while still teenagers. Look at athletes who beat literally everyone else. These people work hard, but their intrinsic talent sets them ahead. However, as far as your psychology is concerned, especially as far as you view hard work, talent might as well not exist. It does not help, and you should ignore it.

There’s a good mindset found in bodybuilding. In the sport of bodybuilding, genetics are everything. There’s people that have the genetics to build good muscle naturally, then there’s the genetic outliers. The real special types who will win Mr Olympia and rise to the top. However, even if you’ve got the worst genetics in the world, with an appropriate and intelligent approach, you can achieve the same results. Do you know what the special ingredient is to compensate for your lack of genetic talent? You have to work much harder. It’s that simple. Ignore talent, simply get on with it.

You Only Ever See Anyone Else’s Highlight Reel

And we mainly see our own blooper reel! The fact is, no one is showcasing the very worst of their life. No one is fully revealing just how hard they find things, just how much they’re procrastinating and struggling. All you see, whether you’re talking to people in person, or over social media, is the very best of their existence. People do not like sharing their embarrassments. It’s all about the wins. The holidays, promotions, new cars, new houses, whatever.

Contrast that with our own realities. If you’re trying to achieve anything, you’ll repeatedly know the sting of setbacks and failure. The bigger the thing you’re trying to achieve, the more you’ll see that failure. The higher standard you hold yourself to, the worse it’ll be. Then you find yourself comparing your internal, private struggle with someone else’s highlight reel.

This is a fast track to being a bit miserable. Click To Tweet

All it ever results in is feelings of inadequacy, even if you’re highly motivated and driven, because the fact is, we all hold ourselves to a higher standard. When that’s challenged by someone else thriving while we sit at home eating multiple tubs of ice cream in a single sitting, it has to sting. There’s no way round this.
Except there is. Firstly, disconnect from social media as much as possible. Unless you need it for some kind of work or research, keep it to the absolute bare minimum. Boost communication with the people that support you and matter to you. On top of that, focus on stopping comparing yourself to others. This is always going to be a losing game, so just try and stop doing it. Obviously, you’re not going to be able to stop completely. However, just steadily practicing at decreasing this is always going to be beneficial.

Protect Your Motivation and Self-Discipline

Fundamentally, it all comes down to protecting your self-discipline and motivation, and if you keep things storming forward for long enough, it becomes harder to stop than carry on. This should always be the goal. In order to reach that point, and start really working hard and making big changes, you need to make sure you’re not being tripped up by anything. There’s three major issues that I see people doing time and time again, these are the real biggies that you need to avoid if you want to produce real results.


If you’re perpetually comparing yourself to others, especially in this social media age, you’re going to be working hard against yourself. You’re going to be continually evaluating your practice efforts against someone else’s very best results. That’s never going to make you feel good. You just started playing drums last week, don’t watch that video of the little Chinese girl playing a solo that would stump a lot of practiced drummers. At least, don’t let it upset you, and certainly don’t compare yourself. You have just begun. It’s the only way to think. We’re all going to go far.

“They’re Special” Thinking

You know the kind, we talked about it earlier. They’re more talented, gifted and inspired than me, and that’s why they can do it and I can’t. Stop it, it’s all hard work, and there’s no other attitude that’ll drive you as far. We all have different genetic capabilities, but very few of us hit our own personal genetic maximums in any given area. Ignore talent, stop thinking about how special this other person is and just get working.

Self-Destructive Behaviours

Lastly, this is an obvious one. Identify things in your life that are holding you back. I’m talking about things like problematic drinking, like befriending toxic people, like letting people walk over you. Try to recognise and challenge these behaviours, we all have them. Sometimes a therapist is required, but often just a little self-awareness will set you way ahead.