You’re reading The Inner Workings of Fleeting Motivation, originally posted on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement. If you’re enjoying this, please visit our site for more inspirational articles.

On one of those days, when motivation runs low, you (as usual) start browsing a social network of your choice. And she shows up – that mega-successful person who, in the midst of all the challenges, distractions, and temptations, got where you are desperately trying to reach. This ultimate winner, looking at you from a social media image, gives you that push that you searched for.

And now you urgently want to get it going: start your blog, launch a startup, lose weight. Maybe all at once! And this time it will be different! It will be real. You will claim what is yours, driven by the divine power of motivation you’ve just received!

Except, it does not last.

In a couple weeks, that extra pound you vowed to say goodbye to forever has turned into your permanent companion. You never published your blog, because you are not yet an expert on the topic. And the plan of your disrupting startup remains in a doodle form in your special unicorn notebook.

Overall, the consistency of your actions towards reaching your goals is about as stable as drunken blindfolded one leg stand competition. And off you go looking for another shot of motivation.

Motivation from the outside

Behind everything motivating on the internet is a story that gives you an impulse to get going. It’s the profound experiences of others that make you want to reconsider your own outlook. Because, if someone else could beat the odds, so can you.

Take fitness, for example. A motivating fitness story can broadly fit into one of the following seven categories:

  1. She got depressed, and then she got fit. It’s a story of someone who lost interest in life and regained it back together with everything else by discovering fitness.
  2. She had multiple children, and then she got fit. It’s a story of a woman who can juggle diapers and baby bottles and still kills it in a crop top.
  3. She got broken-hearted, and then she got fit. It’s a story of someone who tasted betrayal, and fitness brought vengeance and opened a door to self-love.  
  4. She got sick, and then she got fit. It’s is a story of a fight with an illness where many would give up, but she persisted and came out victorious.
  5. She hated her body, and then she got fit. It’s a story where someone learns to accept herself, understands that she is enough, and comes to peace with food and exercise.
  6. She had a near-death experience, and then she got fit. It’s a story of someone who re-evaluated her life and prioritized self-care.
  7. She came from modest means, and fitness opened the entire world for her. It’s the story of someone who changes exotic locations while her abs stay on.  

Fitness motivation is just an example –  any success story can broadly fit into similar scenarios. Observing these narratives, generously shared on social media with a great level of detail, some true and some exaggerated, you get a quick rush of motivation. However, it abandons you just as quickly as it came. Why is that?

Because none of these stories truly fit you. Yes, you’ve struggled and broke up before, but you are neither fighting depression nor emerging from a particularly life-changing experience. Inspiring at first, a motivating social media profile start reminding you about everything you are not. Somebody bounced back from giving birth, while your stomach remained soft. And you did not even have a baby in the first place!

You start feeling inferior, comparing yourself with someone whose life you are able to watch thanks to social media. As if a part of a package deal, these feelings of inferiority and guilt eventually displace that motivation rush you received before. Akin to self-inflicted pain, these feelings are something your mind would rather avoid. So you stop checking those profiles and find yourself on yet another frantic search for motivation somewhere else. The loop starts over…

Motivation from within

If motivation from the outside does not last, can it come from the inside? Can you drive yourself consistently toward a goal, relying on your own motivation only? You can, but it matters how you choose to do it. For as long as you think of any achievement as a set of obstacles you need to suffer through, chances are – you will not last. If you can add some pleasure to the equation – you got the formula!

Let’s look at fitness again. Deciding to build the best abs by making a pact with yourself that you are going to suffer all the way through, you might not reach your goal. But somewhere on the way, you’ll start thinking, “Why am I doing this to myself?” Tough limitations work for a little bit, but after some time they start looking like punishment.

Evaluating the potential persistence of this punishment, your body and your mind will lose all the determination to reach the goal (or sustain the results). They will do everything to stop the suffering, similar to how they eradicated the feeling of guilt that accompanies motivation from the outside. Continuing means a war with yourself. And the victims are inevitable.

But it does not mean that intrinsic motivation is doomed?

Though you cannot base your motivation on an idea that you need to punish yourself, you don’t have to treat reaching a goal as suffering in the first place. When you start thinking of the process on the way to your goal as pleasure or design this process so that it becomes enjoyable, that’s when you can sustain for a long time!  

On the instinctive level, we seek pleasure. Pleasure makes us produce hormones of happiness, and they are addictive. We want to keep repeating things that bring us pleasure. We move to the goal, hypnotized by the potential rewards on the way. Pleasure is an ultimate and lasting source of intrinsic motivation.

But what does it mean to use pleasure as a source of lasting motivation? Anything worth pursuing is tough to compare to eternal bliss.

For sure, yet, on the way to a goal, you have to genuinely like what you are doing. For example, if you don’t enjoy uncertainty and prefer security, you probably should not quit your job and work for yourself.

Additionally, some things in your mind need rewiring to enjoy them. You simply trained yourself to think of them as unpleasant. In reality, some attitude reframing can make them quite enjoyable. You can grow to appreciate workouts, even if for a long time you thought of them as torture.

Lastly, on the way to your goal, there are things that will not be fun, no matter how you look at them. Whatever those are for you, they may be impossible to avoid. In this case, you need to design a process so that there are always rewards worth looking forward to. Sure you will suffer through a networking night, but at least you get to wear a killer outfit!

On the way to lasting motivation

While the power of other people’s stories to drive us to action cannot be underestimated, the motivation these stories produce rarely last for a long time. It’s a quick jolt that will soon disappear, replaced by the feeling of guilt. No wonder, these stories are not our own stories!

Internal motivation, in contrast, can persistently give us the energy to keep going. However, self-motivation is not simply positive self-talk and “you can do it no matter what” outlook. When we compel ourselves to suffer extensively in order to achieve a goal, we will likely collapse somewhere around the finish line. We are programmed to avoid suffering. Pleasure, on the other hand, is something that can keep us chasing. To make pleasure a part of our internal motivation, we need to like what we are doing, understand where we need to change the attitude, and design a process so that rewards become an inseparable part of it.


Oxana created KnowYourFear.com as a growing collection of simple reminders for modern girls to be brave and to conquer the world by being themselves. Understand your fears, fix your attitude, and take what’s yours!

You’ve read The Inner Workings of Fleeting Motivation, originally posted on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement. If you’ve enjoyed this, please visit our site for more inspirational articles.

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