As I write in my new book, The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win, the key is not to think about doing -- the key is to think about becoming.
For example, this is how Robin Finck, the acclaimed musician who has played in Nine Inch Nails and Guns N' Roses (how's that for a resume exacta?) describes playing guitar in this excellent installment (which is redundant; they're all excellent) of Ernie Ball String Theory:
"It's a super power. It's an invisible cape. It's a magic trick. It's a tenuous operation of unfathomable nuance. It's an ever-evolving stream of happy accidents. It's a culture made up of weirdos and rule breakers, and geniuses of design and beach freaks and brainiacs and cavemen and beautiful little flowers...and it's been a huge part of my identity for as long as I can remember.
"It's helped me make friends, It's given me something to claw at, guitar playing for me has been my way out often, introduced me to people and places I never would have dreamed existed."
Notice Robin doesn't talk about fame or fortune or rock stardom. To him, playing guitar is about culture, experiences, and identity.
Playing music isn't just what he does. Playing music is who he is.
That's what happens when you put in the time and effort to gain a certain level of skill: In time, you "become" the thing that you're trying to achieve.
And becoming feels wonderful -- not just because it helps form your identity... but because you've earned it.
Say you're a manager of a department. At first you think about managing, but over time you think of yourself as a leader. Leading is no longer only something you do; leading is who you are.
Or say you're Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett. At first you play a guitar, but in time you think of yourself as a musician.
The same is true with any pursuit; in time you "become" the thing you do. If you've just started jogging, you would never call yourself a runner... but with time and improvement you start to feel like you belong to the running community. You give yourself permission to think of yourself not as someone who runs, but as a runner.
And belonging to that community, and earning that identity, feels awesome.
The same is true if you start a business. In time, you see yourself as an entrepreneur. Or, in time you don't just write; you're an author.
And here's the best part of all.
Even though "becoming" is incredibly motivating, when you truly become a leader or an entrepreneur or a runner or a musician -- or whatever you hope to be -- you no longer need motivation.
You don't have to find the motivation or willpower to keep pushing forward; you do what you do because that's who you are. Think Robin has to force himself to pick up his guitar? Absolutely not -- in all likelihood, he has to force himself to put it down.
Hopefully you see where this is going. Each little success is motivating. Each little success gives you confidence. The accumulation of small successes doesn't guarantee the process will always be fun, but it will be rewarding--and that's all you need to keep going.
And somehow, without noticing when it happens, you stop thinking about following your routine for three months or six months or a year. You just think about that day, and what you will do that day.
Somehow, without noticing when it happens, you start to embrace the routine and not the goal.
That's why Kirk Hammett goes back to his hotel room after a two-hour show and plays his guitar for hours. That's just who he is. That's why, over two decades into her career, Venus Williams still practices and trains and works on her game. That's just who she is.
That's why Richard Branson is, well, Richard Branson.
And best of all, when you embrace your routine and become what you set out to be, the feeling of accomplishment you get at the end of every day gives you all the motivation you need you to get up and do it all over again the next day.
"Becoming" isn't just your identity. It's also the best motivational tool of all, because it's based not on wishing and hoping and dreaming... but on reality.
A reality you created.
Which is the best reality of all.