Do you need motivation, or action?

If you’re like most people, there have probably been plenty of times in your life when you’ve been lacking motivation. This little notion has, perhaps conveniently, held you back from engaging in something that you knew you should do, or would have to do sooner or later.

So many of us look for motivation. Some might call it insight, or inspiration – but I think it’s essentially the same thing, and it certainly seems to have the same impact. There is a pretty clear message or assumption, though, that we need to be motivated in order to begin something or achieve something. Nothing could be further from the truth.

With psychology, being a social science, we don’t have too many things that might be considered laws. The discipline obviously doesn’t really lend itself to that sort of hard-edged notion. However, motivation might be an exception. The ‘law’ in psychology is that ‘action precedes motivation’. That is, motivation is an outcome, not a pre-condition. We will do something and then, based on the outcome or the experience, we will be motivated to either keep doing it (because it’s beneficial), or stop doing it (because it isn’t).

The clear message here is to do something. Anything. You will then do what you almost certainly do very well – evaluate the outcome and decide whether it works for you. That will almost certainly be a very quick, if not instantaneous, decision. You may need to modify what you do to a certain extent but, again, your experience will probably serve you well.

If you’re procrastinating about starting something, just make an appointment with yourself to start the process in some way. Then, don’t compromise on that. Make a decision to begin, or a decision to continue, and let the motivation take care of itself. If you’re trying to decide between two equally appealing (or unappealing) options, just pick one. The fact that you find it difficult to choose almost certainly tells you that it doesn’t matter which one you run with. They must both be of equal weight, so one can’t be better than the other.

I think these principals also apply to business. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been involved in many organisations who seem to be so engaged in meetings and planning that they find it difficult to get anything done. As with individuals, organisations are unable to look into the future and decide on the best outcome. If you’ve chosen the right people, trust them to make decisions (albeit diligently) and then grant them the ability to actually manage. That is, to work with the outcomes of decisions and decide on the best ongoing course of action.