I don’t make promises lightly, but I promise you, by the end of this article you’ll be ready to begin a task you’ve been delaying. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. You’ll do it. Why am I so sure about this? Because most of us share a common misconception of that fabled M word — motivation. That misconception causes us to look in the wrong place for motivation, as if it were a tangible element necessary for making a start. This error in approaching motivation causes us to get stuck in a cycle of procrastination prevents us starting the things that matter.
What is this misconception? It’s time for a fundamental truth…
You don’t need to be motivated to get started.
Wow, groundbreaking revelation there Ricky! It sounds so simple. It sounds too easy. It sounds so obvious. But the fact is, most of us don’t adhere to this simple fact. We wait for motivation to come to us, hold us aloft and carry us past the starting line of our most urgent “to-dos.”
If you’re doubting how common it is for us to behave this way, I want you to bring to mind a task you’re yet to start. How many times have you thought of this task? How many times has it entered your mind, only for you to dismiss it?
Now, I want you to think about the thoughts and feelings associated with this delayed task. Let’s say your task is cleaning the kitchen. You think: “I don’t feel like cleaning it now, I’ll do it later” / “I never enjoy cleaning the kitchen, I’ll wait a bit” / “I don’t feel like cleaning.”
You may also have emotions tied up with these thoughts; perhaps a sense of shame for not having done the task sooner or a sense of anxiety at the thought of cleaning the hob, chiselling dried porridge from your favourite ceramic bowl (“why did I let it dry, it’s oat-based cement!“) or sweeping the bread crumbs and broken dreams off the floor.
All of these thoughts and emotions are linked to a perceived lack of motivation. This is a trap. You’re waiting for motivation to arrive and give you permission. You’re waiting for your thoughts to finally give you the green light: “Yeah, I’ve put this off for long enough! Now’s the time! Hand me the rubber gloves and the Mr. Muscle this kitchen is gonna be PRISTINE!”
This leads us on to truth number two…
You are a slave to the motivation paradox if you wait for motivation to begin any task.
We’ve all got a million and one things to do every day, so what if I don’t clean the kitchen? Take out the bins? Call the doctor? Delete my emails? Check the post? Go to the grocery store? Walk the dog? Write a complaint letter to Adidas’ CEO for sending me the wrong colour shorts twice in a row (seriously how difficult is it to not mistake light grey for navy blue?).
It matters because we are creatures of habit. The habit of being enslaved by a lack of motivation will spread into every area of your life. You know what that means? It means you are delaying on getting started on the things that count, too. You’re delaying taking that course. You’re delaying reading that book. You’re delaying contacting that person who can help you start your new career. You’re delaying telling someone how you really feel. You’re delaying following your dream.
Which leads me on to a slightly somber truth number three…
If you wait to be motivated to start the big things, you’ll probably die before you get the chance to begin.
Shit. Bit dark, isn’t it? But I want to highlight the significant impact procrastination can have on your life. All of us have ideas, have dreams, desires. But only a small minority manifest those ideas, dreams and desires in the material world. The majority leave them in the mind, putting them off for a future space where motivation drives us forward. Why? Because of fear. Fear of failure or fear of stepping outside of our comfort zone. Considering how hard it is to get motivated to take the bins out, it’s no surprise it’s almost impossible to find the right time to start pursuing a dream.
Time for truth number four…
Mentally bookmarking tasks for an imaginary future is a common fallacy.
The only time is now. Both the past and the future are constructs of the mind. No task has ever started in the future. No dream fulfilled in the future. Only in the present. Mentally bookmarking a task to begin the future is one of many cunning ways your ego deceives you into not starting until IT is ready. The time-constrained ego also convinces you happiness awaits in the future.
You may be thinking of a time you’ve mentally bookmarked a task and then fulfilled it at a later date as proof this works. But that’s all part of the illusion. You didn’t do it in the future. There was a point in the present when you finally decided to take action, with or without motivation.
Of course, this doesn’t mean all decisions need to be made immediately. Certain decisions need time and contemplation. There may be circumstances outside of your control, preventing you from acting. But the truth is, 90% of delayed tasks could begin. Now.
Which leads us onto a final, more promising point five…
When you take the lead, motivation will follow.
After spotting the mind’s tendency to wait for motivation, you break the cycle. You ignore it and act. Once you’ve started, you’ll find that motivation follows. Like an attention seeking child, when it realises you’re moving on without it, it’ll catch up with you, eager to join in on the action.
Let’s call this act-first-don’t-wait-for-motivation mindset the Mind That Ego Motivation Model. Egotistical, yes, but it sounds nice and I made this special illustration ad I’m quite pleased with it (Neil Buchanan eat your art out):
What spirituality tells us about delaying decisions…
On a spiritual level, a lack of motivation illustrates an interesting meeting point between the irrational monkey mind (ego) and subconscious desire. Generally, your intuition gives you a signal to act in any given situation — think of the fleeting spark of enthusiasm that you feel in the precise moment when the thought of performing an action first comes to life in the mind. However, the monkey mind then extinguishes the initial spark with thoughts and feelings of self-doubt, fear and anxiety.
So here’s one thing I ask of you: act. Today. Don’t delay or find excuses or wait passively for a time when you feel like it. Just start. All it takes is that first small step.
Then the motivation will follow.