Here's how most of us approach motivation: we wait around for something to fire us up to reach a goal (maybe it's the inspiration of a new year, maybe it's a particularly amazing role model) and then we expect that passion and desire to drive us to actually accomplish our mission.

But that's the exact opposite of how you should approach motivating yourself, according to blogger and entrepreneur Mark Manson.

While it's natural to expect emotions to motivate action, "action isn't just the effect of motivation, but also the cause of it," he has written on his blog.

Act before you feel.

As most of us have discovered to our shame and disappointment, our natural approach to motivation has a serious flaw -- we often set goals because we need to change some aspect of our lives we feel badly about, but feeling bad about yourself is a surefire way to kill your motivation to change.

"If someone wants to lose weight, but experiences massive amounts of shame about their body, then the act of going to the gym is apt to inspire in them the exact emotions that kept them at home on the couch in the first place," Manson offers as an example. "Past traumas, negative expectations, and feelings of guilt, shame and fear often motivate us away from the actions necessary to overcome those very traumas, negative expectations, and negative emotions."

So how do you break out of this catch-22? Simply flip the script and put action before emotion. "If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, then do something, anything really, and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself," instructs Manson.

When in doubt, do something.

It might sound simple, but Manson insists it's also incredibly powerful -- and pretty much foolproof. He stumbled across the idea while working as a consultant to professionals who were deeply resistant to change. "What I found is that often once they did something, even the smallest of actions, it would soon give them the inspiration and motivation to do something else. They had sent a signal to themselves, 'OK, I did that, I guess I can do more.' And slowly we could take it from there," writes Manson.

This is why one celebrated special forces general insists you should always make your bed. "If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another," he told an audience of grads.

The bottom line: no matter how daunting the task or powerful your dread, the right approach to getting motivated is to take action. Or as Manson wisely concludes:

"Success in anything is tied less to knowledge or talent, and tied more to action supplemented by knowledge and talent. You can become successful at something without knowing what you're doing. You can become successful at something without having much particular talent at it. But you can never become successful at anything without taking action. Ever."

What small step could you take toward reaching your goals today?

Published on: Jan 21, 2016
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