Motivation is overrated. Learn a system to transform motivation into action

There are some concepts that are quite overrated. One of those concepts is “motivation”.

When I hear things like “That person is very motivated, he will achieve everything he decides to do” or “Motivation takes you wherever you want to go”, I feel the people who are saying that are really overestimating this concept.

Yes, motivation is very important, but it’s only one component among many others that you need to have if you want to achieve your goals and materialize your projects.

Relying only on our motivation or our will power turns out to be very inefficient. They are like a muscle, if we use them excessively in a certain period of time, they can atrophy.

The problem is that people, when trying to execute a project, believe that motivation is the decisive factor that will lead them to finish that project. “This time I’m really motivated”, they say, and they believe that is enough for the stars to line up in their favor.

As I see it, motivation works in a different way. It’s not like the engine of a car, it’s more like one of the rocket boosters of a spacecraft: It’s very important, but it needs other components and engines to work. Motivation is a fundamental element in the “take-off” of the project, and being motivated is what will help us to cement the next stages of it.

But then, what is what will make us move forward even when there is no motivation? The answer is, having a system. A system that allows us to build a routine, a routine that, at the end, will help us to build a habit. When something becomes a habit, it requires less energy and “will power” spending.

Now our spacecraft has all the pieces to take off. Motivation and will power are the rocket boosters that we need to start our project, but our system (the routines that eventually will become habits) is what will allow us to maneuver that project and take it to the point where we want to take it.

Motivation and will power are the “brute force” that moves our engines, and our system (clearly defined for a specific purpose) gives the direction.

Why is motivation not enough?

Inevitably, there will be days when we are going to get up without motivation. Days when we are going to be depressed, when we are not going to believe in ourselves. And it’s precisely in those days of weakness when everything can collapse. Those days have the higher probability for us to interrupt our work or to abandon our project.

That’s why motivation is not enough, because on many of those difficult days, we won’t have it.

Hence the importance of routines, systems and habits. Having a structured system is what will ensure the continuity of the project. On days where there is no motivation, the spacecraft will continue working because we already have that system embedded in our life as part of a daily routine.

There are days when I don’t want to write, when I feel like I don’t have inspiration. But I do it anyway, because I have a system that has worked quite well so far.

There are people who spend all their lives waiting for a lucky break to appear. They believe that’s the only way to become successful, happy and being satisfied with their lives. They keep waiting for destiny to give them that “luck” they need…and then they are dead. They die without having achieved their goals.

That’s what happens if we keep waiting for that lucky break, or for the money, time, talent or abilities that we believe the destiny will magically give us.

As Picasso used to say “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”. So in order for inspiration and motivation to find us working, we have to have a system that assures us the continuity of our project.

 Creating a system

I use a system that helps me to keep writing every day. There are days when I have no idea what I’m going to write about, but I still write. I do it because the routine of doing it on a daily basis is the only way to make it a habit. And making it a habit is the only way to make sure that I can have enough material to keep posting every week and the blog keeps growing.

What elements should be taken into account when creating a system?

A goal: The first thing is to always have clarity about why are we doing what we are doing. Having a defined north is the only way to stick to a routine and create a habit, and really understand the importance of a system.

The habit is not the goal, the habit and the system are the means to reach the goal.

My goal: In December 2018, my blog will be one of the top 20 blogs on productivity, entrepreneurship and time hacking. To achieve this, I must maintain the discipline of posting at least one article per week and keep thinking of new ways to reach new readers. For all of this, I need to write at least one hour a day.

A methodology and a time frame: We need to define the methodology of our system. How are we going to do it? Which steps are we going to take to achieve that? How often?

My methodology:  

  • 2 sessions of free writing per week.
  • 3 sessions per week to write and edit the blog posts.
  • Use Evernote (or a similar type of app) to record every idea that comes to my mind that could become a potential blog post.

A reminder that reinforces the importance of the goal and reminds us what would happen if we abandon the system. After writing down our goal and being clear about it, it’s also very important to answer this question: What would happen if I abandon the system and end up quitting the project?

Writing down the consequences of abandoning our system is a powerful reminder of why we should strive to respect our system.

My reminder: If I don’t stick to my system and my daily writing routine, I will never be able to meet my goal of publishing at least one post a week. If I don’t post constantly, it will be very difficult to scale the blog and reach new readers. If I don’t reach new readers, I will have a mediocre blog and I won’t achieve my goal of having one of the top 20 blogs on productivity, entrepreneurship and time hacking by the end of 2018.

An object/image/song that reminds us why we are doing what we are doing. Choose a song that fills you with energy and listen to that song every day when you are doing your routine, or choose an image or an object that inspires you. Put it in your work station as a reminder that, at the end, everything is going to worth it.

My image: I have a post card with a Pablo Picasso picture that I bought in a museum. This image reminds me that quote: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” This image is my reminder that it’s not about being motivated or inspired, it’s about having a daily routine to work on the things you love. Motivation doesn’t take us to the next level, constancy and practice do.

A feedback method and a periodic system review. At least once a month, we should check if our system is working. It doesn’t make sense to build and work on all the steps of our system if we are not going to achieve our goal. Remember that the idea of all of this is to transform our initial motivation into a routine and a habit.

 If it’s not working, and you are not making progress with the system, you need to reevaluate each point to see where the problem is:

-Did I really think about the real goal I want? Is this something that I really see myself doing in the long term and working every day to achieve it?

– Is this the optimal methodology to achieve my goal? Am I really doing the activities I need to make things happen? Am I taking the right steps to reach my goal?

For my goal (to have a top 20 blog by the end of 2018), it doesn’t make sense to be worried about things like the design of my blog, the colors, the logo, etc. These are important things, but it´s way more important to be focused on creating excellent content first.

That’s why my methodology is focused on my writing, through 3 concrete steps: Freewriting sessions, writing and editing sessions, and using an app to record every idea I have for future posts.

-Am I being realistic about the time frames I am using? Do I have a very ambitious goal in a very short time frame? Am I trying to use more daily hours than I have in the day to do my routine?

In the case of my goal (to have a top 20 blog by the end of 2018), it wouldn’t make sense to commit to writing more than 2 hours a day, because my other occupations wouldn’t allow me to do that.

Let’s see what happens with this spacecraft, and on what planet I will end with this system I have created…