Motivation and Action


It words were foods, this would be like caviar. The most coveted but not so easy to obtain type of food. Something that everybody loves, but not what I get everybody. And you wonder, does everybody eat caviar everyday? If that's a case, why do I feel like I'm eating mundane, 3 day old bread that tastes like shit? A.k.a,  why do I always lack motivation so that I can't do anything meaningful in my life? How do I get more motivation? How do I get more caviar?

Soon after you realize, everybody isn't eating caviar everyday. And you definitely can't live off of eating caviar because it's expensive and it's rare. There's no such thing as a caviar diet. 

Where am I trying to go with this weird analogy? Until recently, I used to believe that motivation is what leads to greatness. You constantly need to be motivated in order to attack and achieve great things. All the leaders, all the famous athletes are constantly motivated. That's why they are immensely successful. 

But when you think about it, or when you replace motivation with caviar, some things don't click. After all, how can they find an unlimited source of motivation? There are only so many quotes that can motivate an individual. So many youtube videos where a fierce coach yells at your ear saying "If you don't want it desperately, you ain't gon get it!".

Motivation - Action Circuit

I used to fall under this pitfall and used to behave under this algorithm: 

  1. Get motivated by watching youtube videos, or reading some success stories
  2. Think I want to be like him/her. Oh shit, what I'm I doing in my bed? I need to get out and hit the gym
  3. Hit the gym. The last time I worked out was 6 days ago.

I had to present this idea graphically, it would be something like this.


I needed to be motivated enough in order to take an action, just like a reaction happens only when it reaches beyond a certain threshold. And it takes a lot of time to build up that motivation level. 

Assuming Work done is area under the curve (action x time), you could see that this isn't the most efficient way of operating. It takes too much energy to get you rolling, and you only do something while you are motivated. Once an action is triggered, you start "losing" motivation, then you are back to square one, waiting for your "motivation bucket" to fill up before another action takes place.

Now, take a different look at this chain reaction. 

Action - Motivation Circuit

Some people say, action leads to motivation. This is very counter intuitive to what we've learned and experienced so far. But the idea behind this school of thought is that once you actually start doing a simple task, you'll get triggered, just like when you light up a string that's connected to a dynamite once, it's going to keep on going without stopping. All you have to do is light up and let it snowball. 

This circuit would look something like this visually.


This is more efficient than the former model, because since action is triggering motivation, there would be less period of unmotivated phase. When you are getting sluggish, "unmotivated" phase, you clench your fist and do something again. Now you are much less dependent on motivation.

Following this naturally, since work done is equal to action x time, you get more things done, since you are not wasting anytime "recharging" your motivation. You now have the agency to do things rather than your motivation taking control.

I personally haven't experienced much of this as I was on the other side up until now. But from the books I've read, there were a few examples of people who were able to get a lot of stuff done by taking an action first without worrying about being motivated.

  1. A famous writer who wrote over 70+ novels. All he did was write 200 crappy word a day, and the later would follow. 
  2. A U.S Navy admiral who started his everyday making a bed. Starting his day with a small and action and accomplishment started his momentum rolling.

In addition to these, think about how much time it would take for star athletes to practice had they followed motivation-action circuit. A lot. Steph Curry to take 300 shots only after he's motivated by watching... Lebrone? I doubt things work that way.

Furthermore, what makes action-motivation circuit great is because action puts something more tangible, concrete before an emotion.

Emotion is a temporary feeling. It eventually fades away, and due to (again) the law of diminishing returns, it would take more stimulus to get the same emotion. It simply isn't the most efficient medium to get things started. 

Whereas action is very simple. You either do it or you don't. As easy as that. 


As a pretty lazy person, I find myself being reluctant to take an action. I feel like "I'm not motivated to crank things out now." So I avoid facing a given task. Instead I revert to doing simple things that give me instant gratification such as checking email, phone, text (the list unfortunately is infinitely long this time). 

But now that I've learned about this and that my ideas are shifting, I would like to find myself getting more things done. And honestly, this has been happening. By following things I've written on my blog, I can already tangibly feel that my productivity has gone up. I don't crave SNS as much as I used to. I don't give into checking emails 4 times in 3 seconds as much. 

So, I encourage you to think about this and test this out yourself. If it works, great! You've saved yourself a lot of time. If it doesn't, well, hopefully this has motivated you enough to find something else more meaningful... good luck!

Taeyang You