The Most Important Thing for how You Build Long-Term Motivation

Do you execute on plans only when you feel like it?

Do you postpone doing things until you feel motivated enough to take action?

If that’s the case then you’re being stupid.

Let me tell you why.

I’ve been getting some questions lately – both from readers and from people in real life – about motivation.

These people have asked what I do to motivate myself, how I stay motivated, and how they can do the same.

–I do a lot of different things. I go to great lengths of effort to become more motivated. But probably the single most important thing is to look at motivation as a consistent long-term practice —  and not something fickle that you randomly experience from time to time.

To do this you need to shift from the approach of relying on short-term boosts of good feelings”  to do things, into a system-oriented approach for building real motivation.

So, what does this mean?

In short: that you must come up with a system of strategies for pulling through periods of low motivation and use these strategies to force yourself to execute even when you don’t feel like it.

My History with Motivation

I’ve got a confession to make.

I’m not always some motivated maniac – except for when I break out of homeostasis.

As a kid I was pretty smart, and I relied heavily on that throughout school.  My weak point was that I had very little motivation to do things other than playing video games and practicing martial arts.

The martial arts I practiced were Judo, Jiu Jutsu, Karate, Jeet Kune Do, and MMA (Thai Boxing & Submissions Wrestling).

I was good at martial arts.

I had a friend with whom I practiced Judo, Jiu Jutsu and Karate together with. I was always better than him in terms of talent and technique, and I would usually win.

But, he had a secret weapon.

He had a shitload of grit.

He literally never gave up. He was so damn stubborn that you had to completely choke him out before he tapped.

He would beat me the times when our sparring matches became a war of attrition.

That was back then, when I was 7-12 years old.

And now?

Ironically, that guy is now notorious for being lazy, while I have turned out just the opposite.  Life is strange!

Anyway, by being around that guy at such an early and formative age I got a good model of what true grit looked like — and how I could go about developing it myself. But that process didn’t happen overnight.

My childhood friend had this instinct wired into him by nature – the instinct to persist further.  I on the other hand would only persist past physical or mental discomfort in the rare occasions when I felt highly motivated. And that wasn’t often.

When I was at practice I’d often quit on myself early.  I was mentally weak. Many times I faked my push ups because I didn’t feel like practicing.

In short, I lacked discipline.

I relied far too much on feeling good as a prerequisite for doing uncomfortable things that took effort or willpower.

I  eventually realized that I had to practice my work ethic over many years. I think I was around sixteen when I first understood this.

I had to form a system for improving my motivation in the long-term and get myself to do stuff despite not feeling like it – which, by the way, was most of the time.

Becoming System-Oriented

I still struggle with motivation from time to time like anyone else.  But, I think I struggle with it less often than most other people these days.

The reason for this is twofold:

  1. I’ve been practicing for a while.
  2. I’ve got a system for what to do to pull through periods of low motivation.

When I say I’ve got a system, what I mean is that I know what to do and how to act when I’m feeling shitty.  By following this system – when I’m feeling shitty – I become more consistently motivated in the long-term.

Actually, it’s especially important that I follow through and stick to the system-oriented approach when I’m feeling shitty.

It’s all about NOT letting the brain dictate reality to you.

It’s about consistently executing on things despite your current emotional state feels like. You simply cannot sit around and wait for your body to feel better. Or wait for your thoughts to become more positive.

You have to lead your brain and body as much as you can — you need to manipulate your state by forcing your physiology.

If you don’t, your brain will run the show and drag you along for the ride.

Your brain will use you to get stimulation in the easiest way possible.

Why?

Because the brain’s main priority is to maintain homeostasis and do whatever requires the least energy possible, while getting the most stimulation possible.

(Those of you who’ve read my book know this)

This means that:

  • If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do just because you feel shitty, you will be teaching your brain that it can get away with being lazy if it just produces bad emotions.

Just like a kid screaming and whining to get candy, your brain quickly catches on to this pattern and starts producing more bad emotions. It thinks it’s going to solve its problems by doing this.

And as a result of this you will start feeling less motivated.

Surprisingly few people understand this fact.

When most people feel bad or demotivated it’s because they’re doing it to themselves. It’s a self-induced affliction that stems from being ignorant about how to lead the brain and body. (Have you ever seen a depressed elite athlete?)

Instead of leading and giving orders to the brain, these people are only listening and following its responses.

How do you fix this?

–You learn how to control your brain. If you don’t, it will ruthlessly control you.

The System-Oriented Approach

What is it that I systematically do when I don’t feel motivated to do stuff?

Here are a few things…

Reflect on the Root Cause

When I find myself feeling like shit – I always wonder why.

Why am I not feeling highly focused?

What’s the cause of this?

I ask myself questions like:

  • Am I not sleeping well?
  • Am I forgetting to take relaxing breaks, power naps, or meditate?
  • Am I expressing myself enough?
  • Am I not pushing myself hard enough?
  • Am I pushing myself too hard?
  • Am I losing focus and getting stressed due to multitasking or getting too much stimulation?
  • Am I breathing correctly?

The last alternative, breathing, is an unexpected culprit that most people forget to think about.

Breathing is a very big deal. If you find yourself getting tired or having headaches often you might not be breathing correctly. Another indicator of incorrect breathing is if your voice is really low and weak. The correct way of breathing is by breathing deep into your abdomen, not your upper chest.

The If-Then Strategy

The if-then strategy means that you prepare in advance for how to handle a situation.

If X happens then you will react by doing Y.

By deliberately focusing on a thing like this you will become hypersensitive to when when you need to act, and in doing so you decrease the odds of unconsciously acting on autopilot when it happens.

One way of using the if-then strategy is by carrying around notes of what you’re supposed to do to remind yourself. Or write it on the back of your hand like Bas Rutten.

I did this obsessively every day for many months when I implemented a bunch of habits and mindsets related to work ethic and motivation a few years ago. I still do it sometimes.

Some Other Strategies You Might Find Useful

  • Keeping a Journal or Commonplace. This will make you more self-aware and allow you to notice when  and why you lose motivation. It also speeds up the learning process.
  • Planning ahead. If you expect to be tired the next day, pack your bags, select and fold your clothes, and prepare your gym bag for tomorrow.
  • Make Lasting Decisions. And do it often. Once you decide to do a thing there is no going back.

Stick to the System

The difference between me and a lot of other people is that I realized the importance that motivation played in my life from a relatively early age.  Therefore I’ve practiced it for a long time and gotten a bit better at it for every year.

We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.
―RICHARD G. SCOTT―

I know what I’m doing by now, and I’m continually tweaking small parts of my daily routine to find out what makes me even more motivated and focused.

I eat healthy, I exercise, I listen to awesome music, I visualize myself winning in everything I do, and so on…

In short, I’ve gotten more consistently motivated for each year that has gone by, and I will continue in this way because I have a grand strategy for what I’m doing.

I don’t leave motivation to chance.

I don’t expect to wake up one day and have things magically work out for me. Instead I take the necessary actions to make those things work out.

I don’t reward myself before first having put in the work. I often don’t eat anything until late at night after being finished with more important things.

So, if you struggle with motivation:

Realize that this is something you need to put some serious work into fixing.

If you’re not already fit, eating healthy, and getting proper sleep you need to start by doing that.

Then you need to come up with various mental practices to become more consistent, such as keeping a whiteboard, writing down affirmations, and using the if-then strategy.

You need to find ways of forcing yourself to act when you don’t want to.

You need to be very consistent in following the system you have devised.

You need to be like a poker player or a financial investor – you need to stick to your system and weather out the temporary storm in order to win in the long-term.

Question:  Do you also use a system-oriented approach to motivation? If so, let me know what you usually do to force yourself to be consistent.

 

Comments

  1. One of the things I’ve realized in my life is that we assume the role of a victimized individual too quickly. As a result we immediately seek medical interventions, when we can solve the majority of our problems through changing our lifestyle and outlook on life. A thought has no power in and of itself, only if you choose to believe in it. You can just as easily convince yourself to believe in the positive thoughts which arise in your mind, as you can for negative thoughts. The only difference is one thought allows you to behave in ways which put you on a path towards becoming the strongest version of yourself, and the other causes you to engage in destructive behaviors leading to self sabotage.

  2. Hi Ludvig,

    I also have a ‘to do list’ when I’m feeling less motivated. This way i’m always getting things done.

    The key for me to stay motivated is to start my week with a good attitude. I HAVE to get up earlier on a Monday, be on time and know exactly what I’m doing for the day. When I have a good Monday I have a better week. If I don’t, I struggle to pull my motivation upwards.

    Naomi

  3. Great post Ludwig!

    I use a similar strategy in my day-to-day discipline. I’ve found kite enlightening the “no matter what your mood is, just stick to the plan”.

    You are doing a great work.

  4. Great advice here Ludvig. When needing motivation I personally take time to learn about something related to leadership (my niche area) or just start taking action. Many times I’ve started to write a blog post without any motivation but by the end of writing the post had tons of it. Action can create motivation.

  5. Hi Ludvig. First time reader and commenter of your blog. I’m still trying to keep up with your posts but I particularly like this one. You’re right in saying that motivation is a habit, not just a one time thing so I’m just here to second that. Keep up the great work. Loving your site so far. :)

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