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Why motivation is garbage

WOMAN LAYING ON COUCH
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Don't feel like it? It's normal. It's the way our brains are designed.

How many times have you said to yourself, “I should mop the floor, but I just really don’t feel like it?” Or go for a run, or fold the laundry, or pay the bills, or any other necessary but unpleasant task?

I do it all the time. Sometimes I even say that about things I enjoy, like cooking dinner or going to kickboxing. I know I’ll be happier if I do it, but I often feel so unmotivated.

Guess what? Motivation is garbage.

This is Mel Robbins, author of The 5 Second Rule. She’s spent years researching habits and the way our brains respond to challenges, and has become an expert on human behavior and motivation. Her TEDx talk has been viewed nearly 10 million times, and she has something to say to those of us who find it hard to get off the couch:

“The way that our minds are wired and the fact about human beings is that we are not designed to do things that are uncomfortable or scary or difficult. Our brains are designed to protect us from those things because our brains are trying to keep us alive, and in order to change, in order to build a business, in order to be the best parent, the best spouse — to do all those things that you know you want to do with your life, with your work, with your dreams, you’re gonna have to do things that are difficult, uncertain, or scary. Which sets up this problem for all of us: you’re never gonna feel like it. Motivation’s garbage. You only feel motivated to do the things that are easy.”

Drop the mic, sister.

This is so true, and if you’re an adult you know it. Maybe not in these exact words, but you know it.

I first realized it as a new wife and mom. Suddenly I had a house and people to care for, and let me tell you how much I did not feel like doing it. I struggled so hard with doing anything, actually. Then one day my mom suggested that I make a habit of spending 10 minutes cleaning the kitchen after breakfast.

Ten minutes sounded easy, so I started doing it. And I discovered what we all must eventually discover — that the hardest part was getting started.

It always took longer than 10 minutes, because I didn’t stop cleaning when the time was up. I finished the job. And because I had started the day by tackling a task I disliked, I had a little boost of energy from that accomplishment. So I would do the laundry too, and make the bed, and maybe straighten the living room. Or sweep. Or vacuum.

Not long after that, I took up running. I never learned to like running, but I did learn something true about it: it’s so much harder to make yourself start running again if you slow down to a walk than it is to just keep running.

If I had a manta for my life as an adult, it would be the law of inertia. An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. It’s probably scientific blasphemy to apply this to human behavior, but I find it helpful to remind myself of this principle when I don’t feel like doing something.

Mel Robbins is right — we’re never gonna feel like doing the hard stuff. But doing it anyway is what ends up generating motivation to do more, to work harder, to try something new. And that is where we humans find happiness — not in the avoidance of work, but in the joy of work well done.

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