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01 Dec, 2010

How To Stop Looking For Motivation And Start Finding It Instead by Brian Cormack Carr

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coach Plus Articles|Coaching Articles

How To Stop Looking For Motivation And Start Finding It Instead

What is motivation?

We all know when we have it – and when we don’t. When it’s missing, we chide ourselves in the hope that that will make it appear again. Wikipedia defines it for us as “the internal condition that activates behavior and gives it direction”. In our society, we’re often told – explicitly and implicitly – that without motivation, nothing would ever get done, and that if we don’t have it, we won’t amount to anything, to boot.  No wonder this mysterious motivation stuff is so sought after!

Yet despite the constant quest for the Holy Grail of motivation, I don’t think it’s something we can ever “find”.

The truth is, motivation is the state that naturally arises when our desire for something – or to do something – overrides our desire to stay still. When that happens, we find ourselves moving forward effortlessly, almost mindlessly, in a natural flow of action, often accompanied by feelings of excitement, expectation, and pleasure.

Motivation isn’t a thing we find, it’s a state we become. Motivation is you, moving forward.  In fact, looking around for motivation – when it isn’t there – is a sure-fire way of making ourselves feel woefully demotivated. This fruitless quest usually just makes us painfully aware of the fact that we’re not in action yet. When we feel that we should be in action and we’re not , discomfort (guilt, frustration, depression, anger….) is the result.

Can you make yourself want something, before you do? No, neither can I. Everything in its time. When the desire/inertia equation tips in the favour of desire, you’ll start moving – and not a minute before.

It’s time to make peace with that fact, and to reach a whole new, comfortable relationship with the concept of motivation.

“I have to be motivated, and I’m sure time will avail itself.” – Bobby Sherman

How To Make Peace With Motivation:

There are three stages to this.

Stage 1: Respect your inertia. When you’re not motivated, don’t jump to the immediate conclusion that you should be.  Take the time to tune into why you’re not motivated.  It could be that your energy levels are low, and that you need a rest before you charge off in the direction of your latest goal. You wouldn’t set out on a long, fast journey in your car with no oil, little fuel, and a rusty engine, would you? No – you’d have the engine tuned and oiled, and the tank filled. Afford yourself the same respect and common sense, and take some rest and recuperation, if you need it.

If you’re actively demotivated – that is, if you feel yourself actually resisting moving towards something – again, ask yourself “why?”. Become still and go inside – do you really want the thing you’re trying to become motivated about – or do you just want to want it? There’s a big difference, and you won’t be able to properly awaken your desire until you know which position you’re coming from. Also, make sure that it’s you that’s doing the wanting. No one else can be motivated on your behalf. Are you going after your own goal, or a goal that someone else has set for you, that you’re none too thrilled about?

“One of the things that has always motivated me to write is the desire to get it out and look at it in an objective way, so that it doesn’t cause me any serious pain by staying inside.” – Carly Simon

Stage 2: Awaken your desire. Motivation appears when your desire is stronger than any barrier or obstacle it’s going to have to face. It doesn’t always seem that way – we can be motivated and terrified at the same time, moving forward in a state of fear (during an exam, for example). And yes, of course we can be motivated to move away from something, as well as towards something. Nonetheless, the fact that you are able to move at all is an indication that something in you is stronger than any force – internal or external – that’s trying to keep you still.

To fully realise you motivation, you have to do one of two things – either overcome resistance, or awaken desire. Overcoming resistance is about checking out whether you’ve got any limiting beliefs you need to tackle, or perhaps some very practical external obstacles you need to deal with. To awaken desire, you need to focus in on what you stand to gain from moving forward. By all means, focus on the ultimate goal, but you must focus on the small steps too. In fact, it’s best to find the “smallest unit of gain” you possibly can, and focus on building your desire for that.

An example: if you start working out to lose weight and get fit, your ultimate goal – a fit, healthy body – may be some way away, depending on where you’re starting from. If your desire for it is strong enough, you’ll be prepared to work out in all weathers, and forego your favourite sweet treats. But what if your desire is dimmed by the fact that that ultimate goal seems so far away? You need to find a benefit even closer to home in space and time – for example, how good you feel every time you work out, or eat a healthy meal.

This is the approach I took whilst getting fit; focusing, after every single workout, on how alive and energised my body felt, and reminding myself of that the next time I woke up and felt like staying in bed instead of picking up my weights.

So, the next time you have big task to tackle, such as a disseration to write – don’t sit staring blankly at a pile of paper; pick up just one sheet, and look forward, with all your heart, to the feeling you’ll have when you’ve written just one sentence. Love it for its own sake, and write it. Then write the next for the same reason…and the next…and the next. Before long, you’ll have the first of many pages, and you’ll be on your way.

“Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them.” – Jim Davis

Stage 3: I’m not a fan of positive thinking slogans like “just do it”, because I find myself thinking “if it was that easy, we would! The fact we’re not doing it means something’s stopping us.” But in this case, it is useful to remind ourselves that motivation is a state of action. Without taking action, we can’t find the smallest unit of gain. Once we’ve checked we don’t need some fallow time to recharge, we need to get moving. Getting started – no matter how small the step – will put us in touch with what it was that attracted us to starting in the first place, and give us the opportunity to build the strength of that connection. It’ll also get us out in the world, where we’re more likely to bump into other people, new ideas, and fresh opportunties.  There are few things more motivating than that!

So, rest if you need to.  Remind yourself of why you wanted to move forward in the first place. Then – get to it.  By taking even that smallest step towards a dream, we’ll awaken and feed our desire, and – as if by magic – motivation will appear, and we’ll be moving forward again. Not because we went looking for it, but because we got out of our own way, and let motivation appear naturally, in perfect timing.

“Motivation is in the doing.” – Susan Powter

© Brian Cormack Carr, 2010

7 Responses to "How To Stop Looking For Motivation And Start Finding It Instead by Brian Cormack Carr"

1 | Tweets that mention How To Stop Looking For Motivation And Start Finding It Instead by Brian Cormack Carr - Coaching Blog --

December 1st, 2010 at 2:34 pm


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2 | Harriet Salzman

December 1st, 2010 at 7:26 pm


Really good article on motivation – I think the other reason for inertia is not only that we might be in the wrong state and not ready yet for action, but also because the goal is not quite right. When you really, really want something, and its absolutely right for you on every level, the actions tend to flow. The important thing is to be honest about what we really want and have the courage to say so.

3 | Sean O'Rourke

December 4th, 2010 at 10:41 am


I really enjoyed that article on “elusive” motivation.
I was nodding my head in agreement the whole way through!

It seems obvious that the Big Picture can actually be de-motivating,but still most people try to stumble on, hoping that it will all sort itself out in time, deriding themselves for not getting much closer it and eventually, in frustration,giving in.

I also enjoyed the 3 Stages approach-breaking it down into more quickly attainable goals. This will definitely work for me.

Plus the difference between wanting to want & really wanting.

Thank you.

4 | V. Muthukrishnan

December 7th, 2010 at 12:02 pm


Really interesting……….

“The truth is, motivation is the state that naturally arises when our desire for something – or to do something – overrides our desire to stay still.”

The above one is the most apt one! The reality!

5 | Esther Abwa

December 10th, 2010 at 12:35 am


For me the idea of ‘wanting to want and really wanting’ is thought provoking. Taking a step forward to sort out this step could set motivation rocketting high.

6 | Brian Cormack Carr

December 26th, 2010 at 11:39 pm


Thanks for your comments – glad you enjoyed the article!

The issue of motivation is so important in coaching, isn’t it? I find that determining with clients whether they want something – or “want to want” that thing – can really unlock some fruitful discussions in the coaching sessions, and can really help clients to set a fruitful direction for our work.

It’s not always easy to figure this out though, so it merits some gentle but persistent questioning to help the client gain some clarity around this issue.

What great “motivation” questions do you guys use?

7 | Carol Bruneau

December 27th, 2010 at 4:40 pm


I like your explanation of motivation, Brian. “Motivation isn’t a thing we find, it’s a state we become. Motivation is you, moving forward.” That explanation allows me to take that initial step, when I feel ready, towards my goal. I don’t have to wait for some “big plan” to drop into my lap. Or to even have my entire goal clearly defined. Move forward and become movitated. Makes sense to me.

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