Skip to content
Landing page show after 5 seconds.

The motivation myth


TASK ORIENTED Focus on the steps, not the goal.

Paul O'Brien

Motivation. When we hear this in conversation, it says a lot about what we are not doing. We point to a lack of motivation as an excuse for why we haven’t progressed toward something we say we want. It’s an easy crutch to lean on because it’s so common. When I ask people to explain what they mean by a lack of motivation, they frequently can’t elaborate. It seems to be a word that sums up general feelings of apathy, laziness and lack of clarity.

Backwards thinking
But here’s the thing. We don’t fail to work towards our goals because of a lack of motivation. We lack motivation because we fail to work towards our goals.
Blaming a lack of motivation for inaction is like cursing bad luck in not catching fish when you haven’t bothered to put the line into the water! In his book ‘The Motivation Myth’, author Jeff Haden writes that ‘motivation is a result, not the spark’. In other words, motivation is something you gain from the process of acting towards a goal.

Goals – set and forget
That last sentence contains all we need to understand the process of achieving whatever it is we want from life. Let’s start with goals.
Goals are important in offering a beacon on the horizon, something at which to aim. They are a destination. When we lack motivation to act, it may be because what we are focusing on is too distant.
For example, let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds. From your starting point, 20 pounds is a long way off. It may be hard to imagine what losing that much weight will feel like. When you continue to focus only on the end goal, you become disheartened by the amount of effort it will take and the fact that you are not there yet. This is hardly motivating. A goal should be set and then set aside. Your focus needs to be on process.

Process is power
The key to achieving any goal is to have a process in place for doing it. Taking our previous example, your process for losing 20 pounds might look something like this:

  • Follow a whole-foods diet
  • Walk every day for 30 minutes
  • Move my body every day
  • Get my buddy to support and exercise with me

A process is really a list of the daily routines you will follow and focus upon. Now, you are no longer focused upon the goal. Instead your attention is on daily routines that can easily be accommodated in your life.

Baby steps to greatness
Have you ever watched an infant’s early physical development? I’ve had this pleasure recently with my own son. I watched amazed as he moved from lying flat on his belly to walking upright in a few months.
From his belly he moved to supporting himself on his elbows, progressing to hands and knees, then crawling. Shortly, he was on his knees as he reached for things. The next logical step was to stand up to reach higher things. With each phase, he was solely focused on perfecting the new movement pattern – kneeling, crawling, standing and so on.
He did it every day. Somewhere in his mind was a bigger goal – to walk around on just two legs like Daddy. He didn’t think about that every day, he simply focused on the task in hand.

Walk the walk
The lesson from my son is clear. The third key, after setting a goal and deciding upon a process, is to act. There is no change without action.
Daily, small actions allow you to focus on the process and celebrate the little wins along the path. These small successes further motivate us to do more and as our progress improves, so does our motivation. Goal – Process – Action = Motivation.

Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or