The Motivation Myth

The Motivation Myth

Posted 2016-03-01 by Justine lovittfollow
If you wait until you feel motivated you may never begin. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Many people, faced with a task that they would like to or need to do feel they lack the motivation to start or continue the activity. How many times do we have fantastic goals, such as staying on track with exercise or a healthy eating plan, but fail to translate this into action?

For the student faced with an assignment, they might tell themselves they will “wait until they feel ready” or until “they feel motivated enough” to begin.

I recently learnt in a Psychology lecture at university that there is a theory with enough evidence to support its veracity (that is, not “pop” psychology) that asserts that motivation comes after initating activity. It is known as “Bem’s self-perception theory”. In layman’s terms, it basically means that when we carry out an activity voluntarily such as exercise, we conclude we must like what we are doing.

This theory opposes the common idea that we like an activity after we become involved in it. This theory has been supported by scientific evidence.

The application of this theory is that say we don’t feel like exercising. If we go out and actually start walking, without waiting to be touched by the imagined magic wand of motivation, we will find that we begin to enjoy ourselves. There is another theory in psychology which has enough evidence to support its veracity, known as “operant conditioning”. This is the theory that when we find a course of action pleasant, it is reinforcing – that is, we will tend to engage in the action more. Conversely if the action is unpleasant this has a negative effect upon our psyche, such that we are less likely to want to engage in the behaviour again.

These two theories mean that acquirement of wanted habits is simpler than we may think. Rather than wait for a motivational urge that sparks us into action, “we just do it” first. As long as the behaviour is not unrealistic (such as running 10 kilometres if we are only fit enough to walk 4 kilometres for example) we will more than likely find the activity pleasant. The other condition is that the behaviour is a positive life-affirming one – not engaging in destructive actions such as fighting or performing foolish actions such as speeding.

So, we have found we feel positive once we have started engaging in the action. The actions that are relevant are any of those we know or truly believe are positive for us, such as eating healthily, exercising, and even those activities that are obligatory such as studying or working. Then the positive feeling reinforces the behaviour. This means that there is a reason we will want to initiate the behaviour in the first place.

To sum it up, as the Nike Ad says, the trick is “just do it”!


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