By June 4, 2007 Read More →

Action Comes Before Motivation

Which comes first  … motivation or action?

If you’re always waiting for inspiration, that’s a problem.

Action very often precedes motivation.

Once you start doing an activity, motivation can follow.

In the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated,  Dr. David Burns writes about how motivation often comes before action.

Action Must Come First, and the Motivation Comes Later On

Burns writes:

“If you said motivation, you made an excellent, logical choice. Unfortunately, you’re wrong.

Motivation does not come first, action does!

You have to prime the pump. then you will begin to get motivated, and the fluids will flow spontaneously.

Individuals who procrastinate frequently confuse motivation and action. You foolishly wait until you feel in the mood to do something. Since you don’t feel like doing it, you automatically put it off.

Your error is your belief that motivation comes first, and then leads to activation and success.

But it is usually the other way around; action must come first, and the motivation comes later on.”

I think this is a powerful bit of insight.  It reminds us a few things:

  • Don’t wait for inspiration to take action; take action and inspiration follows.
  • Build momentum. In other words, starting with smaller hurdles first can build motivation.
  • Schedule time for key activities versus wait until you’re in the mood.

12 Comments on "Action Comes Before Motivation"

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  1. practica says:

    very cool
    i like the approach.
    I generally adopted JP Morgan’s simple recipe – daily to-do list, execute against it, celebrate completion to encourage motivation
    Plan, Execute, And Celebrate

  2. J.D. Meier says:

    From ToDo to Done — not bad. I think the key is how valuable the list is.

  3. Martin says:

    Nonsense.
    Motivation must come first!

    For achieving excellent results it is a necessary condition.

    So if somebody does not know how to motivate oneself or others before the action he/she is doomed to mediocre results at the best.

    Leadership is about excellent results, so it’s about motivation first.

  4. JD says:

    @ Martin

    That’s an easy trap to fall into since it’s the easy, common sense answer.

    The problem is common sense is wrong.

    It’s why a lot of people get stuck or don’t take action … they’re waiting around for inspiration. One of the fastest ways to change your emotions is get in motion. While it’s great to have motivation first, that’s not always the case.

    That’s why it’s so important to setup time for things and build routines. Imagine the athlete that waits to feel like practicing.

    Part of why motivation before action is tough is because we aren’t good at using our mental simulators to predict what we’ll enjoy.

  5. Chandresh yadav says:

    I like your approach very much that motivation come first.

  6. Sandi Grills says:

    In the things that I am not naturally motivated to do eg.housework this approach of action first works very well for me. I think interest has a lot to do with motivation. If I am interested in something, motivation is not a struggle for me. But I have learned the hard way, that just doing what interests one, creates a rather unbalanced life. The mundane things is the area I lack motivation, because it bores me, and I like to have fun or do important things, so I need a strategy to get those things done that I have no motivation for. Action before motivation is the only strategy that works for me in this situation of lack of interest. I would have to say also that if I fear I can’t do something, this is the strategy I use. So I would say when natural motivation is effected by our lack of desire or emotional barriers, but necessity requires something of us, action first is what works.

  7. JD says:

    @ Sandi — I like your personal story — I think that really helps make the point hit home.

  8. Sandi Grills says:

    @JD ..Thanks. Somethings need to be experienced to be understood… or at least that was the case for me.

  9. Rob H says:

    JD great post and so very true. Even if one is highly motivated at the beginning of a project, task etc , it’s usually temporary and that’s where discipline comes in… to take initial action in the absence of motivation. I can’t imagine what the world would be like today if everyone in it just sat back and waited for their motivation to arrive before they did anything! Again very good post as was your other post about motivation vs discipline.

  10. JD says:

    @ Rob — Thank you. I think it’s such an easy trap to fall into … waiting for inspiration. The insight is really that you better leverage your inspiration by having routines and rhythms for results. Whenever I forget about this, I remind myself how practicing for a sport helped me make the most of inspiration when it struck.

  11. rajni goel says:

    one should ignore mood and should start action immediately and the motivation springs out as you involve yourself in some meaningful activity. you can listen to good music in a low volume in case to avoid boredom

  12. shelby says:

    learned a new mantra 21 days to establish a habit…this comes to mind after reading this material