How to Succeed When You Don't Feel Motivated

I didn't sleep well last night, and today is headed for 90°F (32°C) again, still, even though it's the middle of October.  I'm definitely not feeling motivated to do much of anything.

None of us can feel motivated every day.  Maybe your weather is dark and dreary, or you face a task that you're dreading, or things have just felt muddled and discouraging lately.  This is real life – not every day is a marvelous, fantastic day.

But you don't have to roll over and pull the blanket over your head on such a day.  You may not feel motivated, but you can still be disciplined.


The little things are key.

I don't mean you have to falsely manufacture energy and excitement.  The key to discipline isn't how you feel, it's how you act.  It's your habits.  And those habits can be tiny.

In fact, for best results, the tinier, the better.  The small, consistent steps you take day after day can get you where you want to go.  Those tiny steps are the path to ultimate success, regardless of outward circumstances.

If your regular exercise consists of walking from the house to your car to your office and thence to the coffee machine, and today you decide you want to run a marathon, you're not going to manage 26.2 miles tomorrow.  To realize any goal, you need to break it down into manageable chunks.

  • Consider the target date of your marathon, and work backwards from there.
  • Outfit yourself with the proper gear.
  • Improve sleep and hydration.
  • Start with brisk walking around the block, moving up to a mile, then two, then three, then six, then 12 or 13 miles.
  • Continue by jogging those increasing distances.
  • Begin to run those increasing distances.
  • Alternate running days with dynamic stretching to increase flexibility, and swimming or cycling to target different muscle groups while building fitness.
  • As running distances increase, increase your intake of complex carbohydrates.

The point is, each day you take another small step to increase your performance until you eventually reach your goal.

Why motivation isn't enough

Have you known people who told you they wanted to write a book, lose 50 pounds, start their own business, or climb a mountain?  Have you dreamed of reaching a big goal?

What happens to most of us is that we feel motivation, but we don't follow through.  We talk about our goals, but we don't achieve them.  Maybe we start, and things look promising for a while, but we inevitably get off track.  (For example, I'm still overweight.)

This is where tiny steps come in.  They don't have anything to do with feelings.  They're small habits – simple disciplines – that get you where you want to go.

Big goals are exciting, but excitement doesn't last.  (Those of you in long-term marriages know what I'm talking about.)

Here's the good news:  Excitement may not show up every single day, but commitment does.  Consistency does.  Habits do.  And there's a big payoff.

Find your why... and more.

Motivation and excitement are why you want to achieve a goal.  Knowing your why is important, because that vision helps you choose your direction.  For example, imagining a serene, uncluttered home that perfectly supports your lifestyle lets you know what you're aiming for.

But why alone won't get you there.  You must also know how you're going to reach that goal.  That's where the discipline of tiny, daily steps is important.  Consistent decluttering strategies are the small steps that will let you finally make your vision of home a reality.

The same is true for any goal.  If we break it down into small steps, take those steps regularly, and keep taking them for long enough, we'll write that book, lose that weight, or reach that mountain summit.

The problem for most of us isn't motivation, it's maintenance.

Choose a tiny habit.

Imagine a disheartening day.  Frustrations at work, problems with your car, plus sick, miserable, complaining children.  You aren't likely to feel motivated to work toward your big goal.  But that doesn't mean you can't accomplish a tiny step in the right direction.

Let's go back to that goal of running a marathon.  You should be running at least 20K (approximately a half marathon) three or four times every week.  But what could you manage on one of those days where everything seems to go wrong and you feel sapped of all energy?  Maybe your tiny habit should be a few stretches and a sprint around the block.  After that, you can run 13.1 miles if you want to, but it's not a requirement.  You can still know that you maintained your discipline and took a tiny step toward your ultimate goal.

Your tiny habit might be drinking a glass of water before every meal, reading a chapter of your book before bed, or 10 minutes practice on your violin.  Mine is writing one sentence – which often leads to writing 1000 words or more, but not always.  That tiny habit has enabled me to write this blog and many books, including the five volumes of my new Minimalist Basics series,* published from August through October this year.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links I may earn a small commission.

Tiny steps are the bite-sized chunks that make your goals achievable over the long term.  They're the pathway to success, even on gloomy days when you don't feel motivated.


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