Here’s Why You Can’t Motivate Yourself

If you’ve been following The Work Anywhere Life for a while, you might think this site is only around to teach people how to, well… work from anywhere.

But, I’m here to tell you that’s not why we’re here.

I do what I do every day so I can help you be successful — whatever that looks like for you.

Here’s the thing about success: It takes effort, and there’s a cycle. It’s not just, “I’m gonna go be successful.” Most people think motivation will get them from here to there, but let’s get one thing straight: You’ll have to do a lot more than motivate yourself to succeed. 

I’ve seen it time and time again. People come up with these crazy detailed plans for how they’re gonna “be successful,” and then year after year they stay right where they are, never moving forward. So my intent with this post is to bust the myth of motivation and show you how you can really “hack” success.

(Nope; it’s not easy.)

Fact: You Can’t Motivate Yourself to Succeed

Everybody thinks success starts with motivation. Especially around New Year’s time, everyone’s making their highly “motivated” resolutions — resolutions they’ll finally keep this time — because THIS time will be different.

Have you been there? This girl has… many times. I beam with pride that I’ve finally figured out a plan; I see the results I want in my mind’s eye, and I’ve made up my mind I’m finally going to do what it takes to make it happen. Finally.

But then… I don’t make it happen.

And I think I’ve figured out why. It’s because success doesn’t start with motivation… it starts with self-discipline.

Self-discipline may seem like this obscure thing that nobody can really define, let alone achieve. I’ve felt that way.

But self-discipline is simply taking action toward your goal, whatever that is, no matter what you think is standing in your way.

It really has nothing to do with motivation — at least not at first.

You might be thinking, “Duh, Caitlin, of course you have to take action… but I gotta be motivated to take action first.” Well, actually, no, you don’t!

(Stick with me!)

While it’s true most people believe that you have to motivate yourself to be successful, that’s just not true. You might have a little bit of motivation or “gusto” to work with, but if you rely only on that motivation to drive your success, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment… because motivation is merely a feeling, and feelings are fleeting.

Motivation Can’t Be Trusted

Motivation is a flighty phenomenon. It’s here one minute and gone the next. It never sticks around for the long haul. Believe me, I know this. You cannot trust motivation to help you achieve success.

You can’t trust motivation, but you CAN trust self-discipline.

You can trust your own consistent actions.

Self-discipline is that thing that makes you show up every day — even when you don’t feel like it. This part is key. It’s a commitment. It’s a decision. It doesn’t factor in feelings (like motivation) at all.

This morning, for example, I woke up in a bad mood, and I didn’t want to get up and work out. I had not even a shred of motivation. But because I’d committed to getting in 30 minutes a day — and because I knew consistent action would get me results — I got up and did the workout.

I showed up… even when I didn’t feel like it. (And — shocker!! — I felt great afterward!)

That Thing ALL Successful People Do Every Day

That’s what successful people do, you guys. Successful people show up every single day, and they take action — even if they have no motivation at all.

It all starts with showing up.

It’s not a one-time thing, though. You have to do “the thing” to get results.

And you gotta do it at least most of the time if every single day isn’t feasible. If you start out doing your thing (losing weight, completing a chore, learning X, building Y, etc.) with the mindset you’re going to be done eventually, you will not succeed. Sitting and waiting for everything to fall into place and make you a superstar ain’t gonna work either. It’s a continued commitment to taking action that never stops.

Here’s what it looks like in our world:

Maybe you’re working a full-time 9-to-5 gig right now, and you want to start up a side hustle to help get you out of the rat race.

A common thing I see is people take action for a while and then just stop for some reason. What happens then? Well, nothing happens.

Maybe that’s your story. You stopped working on your side hustle for a while and you got all down on yourself because yet another thing “didn’t pan out” the way you wanted it to.

But what actually happened? What stories are you writing in your head versus what actually happened? Maybe you’re writing a story based on fear of failure. That might be about something that hasn’t even happened yet, like, “Oh, it probably won’t work out,” or “This is too hard for someone like me.”

But what actually happened is you stopped, right? You stopped taking action.

Now imagine — if you continue taking action — what will happen. You’ll finally set up that side hustle! You’ll start bringing in clients, and quitting your 9-to-5 won’t seem so far out of reach. And then what happens is you will see results. This is the next part of the cycle.

When Results Actually Happen

If you depend on motivation to get results, you’ll be disappointed.

Results are the delicious fruit of you taking action. And sometimes fruit grows slowly. Do you know how long it takes a pineapple to grow? Two years. That is one delicious fruit. Don’t give up on nurturing your pineapple just because it takes a while.

Let me give you another example that has nothing to do with pineapple. Late last year, I lost about 11 pounds of the approximately 20 lbs I’d put on since 2014. I’ve tried to lose weight a lot in the past, and I’m always super motivated in the beginning. But then — so predictably! — I get lazy.

I let feelings take over, and I say things like, “Oh, this is so hard,” or “I don’t want to do it if I don’t feel like it!” And so I decide I’m just not gonna do it anymore. So guess what happens then? I don’t get results, I’m disappointed, and I have zero motivation. So I don’t take any more action. It’s not the plan that didn’t work. I DIDN’T WORK.

Now that I’ve figured out how I was constantly sabotaging myself — and now that I’ve stopped starting over and each time thinking I’ll be able to quit at some point in the future!! — I’m finally getting results.

The #1 Enemy of Success

Sometimes my inaction is perpetuated by my own fear of failure.

The thing is, the fear isn’t real, and the failure hasn’t happened. Failure will only happen if I give up. What people who struggle with success don’t realize is that we shouldn’t fear failure; we should fear inaction. 

Failure is something that could happen but hasn’t yet, while inaction is something that’s actually happening right now — and it’s preventing me from getting what I want.

Which one is scarier?!

Inaction is the #1 enemy of success.

So when I’m afraid of failure, I don’t do anything… so I don’t see results… which means I’m not motivated to do anything. So I don’t see results… no motivation… no action.

See the cycle starting to form here? When I don’t take action, I don’t get results. Because I don’t get results, I have no motivation to do that thing I need to do, so I don’t take action and… I continue to get zero results.

That’s called The Cycle of Inaction. It looks like this:

TRUTH right here. Success doesn't depend on motivation. You need something else! This is key!!

The Turning Point

Once I realized that the thing that gets results is showing up even when I didn’t feel like it, something clicked for me.

I decided I was going get up every day and do a 30-minute workout — you guessed it! — even if I didn’t feel like it. I committed to making better choices (not perfect!) every damn day. Didn’t matter how I felt, I was going to do it.

So that’s exactly what I did. Being completely honest with you here, but 90% of the time, I didn’t feel like it. Especially at first. But I kept at it… and guess what happened?

I started to see results.

(See my very public weight-loss results on Facebook.)

Those results are what got me motivated to keep at it. See where I’m going with this? Results are not a byproduct of motivation; motivation is a byproduct of results. And results? Results are a byproduct of self-discipline.

Here’s a second graphic to illustrate this. I call it The Cycle of Success.

TRUTH right here. Success doesn't depend on motivation. You need something else! This is key!!

Why You Have Limitless Power to Get Results

When you understand The Cycle of Success, you realize just how much power you have. Yes, YOU! You have power.

Want to start a business? You’ve got some stuff to do. There’s a lot to learn. You have to show up. You have to launch. 

Want to lose weight? Make the hard decisions to do the hard stuff. For me, that was to admit I was eating too much and making tons of excuses about why I wasn’t working out daily. I had to look my laziness in the face when it showed up — 90% of the time! — and show up anyway. 

(And yeah, when you see that ugly stuff like laziness in yourself, it’s kinda hard to “unsee” it. So it sucks at first, but once you know it exists, you can actually use it as a tool to reach your goals!)

The key to consistent results is consistent action. Consistent results yield consistent motivation.

So, in summary:

  • Keep showing up every day regardless of how you feel,
  • do what it takes to make “it” happen (whatever “it” is for you),
  • ditch the mindset you’ll ever be “done” making it happen…

… and you will get results.

Your Turn

Leave a comment below and share at least one thing you’re going to take action on — not just today, but EVERY DAY — even when you don’t feel like it.

16 Comments

  • Vicki
    I am going to focus on exercising 3 times a week. For starters.
  • Martha Meazell
    Prepare myself to make my side gig work for me. Complete he WAHS, take a step at a time and make it work.
  • Kathryn
    I can sooo relate to this. I regularly come home on a Friday afternoon from a week’s business trip to China and just feel like hitting the sofa. However, I’m the clarinet section leader in the town wind band which rehearses on Friday evenings. I’m sure you can see where this is heading … So many weeks I’m exhausted but I’ve committed to be there and give my best (leading by example;) ) so out I go and once I get there I have a great time and come home with a clear head (& clear conscience)
  • Janice Walker
    I just signed up for Eileen Wilder's 21-day Self-Care Challenge. I then posted about it on Facebook to challenge my friends to join me. It is a lot more fun that way! 21 days should give me a great start on my journey. Having someone to be accountable to is just what I need for success.
  • Ben Franklin
    Continue researching to find the side hustle that is right for me to do.
  • Really motivational Caitlin. Wait, is that good? 😆 Love the way you are using Messinger for this newsletter/course. I had no idea it could be done like this. Thanks
  • Caitlin Pyle
    Thank you, Richard!!
  • Caitlin Pyle
    You might consider trying a few of those side hustles you're researching too! Sometimes I don't know I "click" with something until I try it.
  • Caitlin Pyle
    Yes!! Love this.
  • Caitlin Pyle
    "A step at time" = YES!
  • Caitlin Pyle
    Yay!! Focus on doing movement that makes you feel good -- not exhausts you. That was really key for me!!
  • Caitlin Pyle
    I bet that is a GREAT way to unwind :-D
  • Cherie Eifler
    I am going to get back to healthy eating and tracking. No more excuses. :) This article just reminded me that life is about suiting up and showing up, whether I want to or not. The motivation truly does come from the results you get to experience by doing that. Thank you.
  • Caitlin Pyle
    That's so great, Cherie! Yep, that's right. Getting things done even when we don't want to. ;)
  • Mary Castner-Comer
    Caitlin: I enjoyed the podcast with the mom from Israel. Still trying to study the proofreading course. Looking forward to hearing from you. Mary Castner-Comer
  • Caitlin Pyle
    Hey, Mary! I'm so glad you enjoyed her story. She's amazing! Wishing you the best with proofreading. See you in our PA community! :)

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