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Why do we struggle with motivation?

Why do we struggle with motivation?

This episode is all about motivation. We start by introducing our ideal state of 'motivation is a myth' and the idea that discipline is all we *should* need to get stuff done. But then having recognised this, we spend the rest of the episode discussing both high-level strategy and low-level hacks for motivating ourselves to get stuff done.

Some of the highlights from our discussion:

We should accept the idea that motivation is a myth and discipline and action are more important. Ali talks about a blog post that changed his life which posits that discipline is more important than motivation. Action comes first and the motivation follows. In essence, action leads to motivation which leads to more action.

To overcome the motivation dilemma, there are some hacks to target the action:

  • Make the Action More Pleasurable – Make it more pleasurable to do the action. Ali talked about how he used to take his work to a coffee shop and would buy as many coffees as he wanted with the aim of making the work more pleasurable – hence targeting the action itself by making the process more pleasurable.
  • Make Inaction Less Pleasurable – For example, having a deal with a friend that you have to pay them money if you don’t do something – that would make not doing more painful and so might actually push you towards doing it.

Make the outcome of the action more salient. When it comes to motivation, we tend to not require motivation for things that give us short term benefit – watching Netflix is a short term benefit but we rarely lack the motivation to sit down and watch Netflix! The categories of things we tend to need large amounts of motivation for tend to be things that might be painful in the short term but have some kind of long term benefit. So, targeting the outcome involves making the thing that you are trying to do seem more salient – making it more obvious and important.

Reducing the friction of doing the activity itself can radically reduce the cognitive effort to get started and overcome the motivation mind-block. Instead of trying to figure out what to do, if you have it already laid out it’s easier to begin. Ali talks about how having a schedule and knowing what he was going to do during his revision for his third year exams at university meant that the level of motivation necessary to start or the impetus or the friction was drastically reduced.

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What is this? Not Overthinking is a podcast about happiness, creativity, and the human condition. We talk about things to help us think, do, and be better. Things like social interaction, lifestyle design, mental models...things that are hard to examine, but important to explore. And hopefully, things that make for a fun and interesting chat every week.

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Who are we?

Ali is a junior doctor and YouTuber working in Cambridge, UK. He makes videos about medicine, technology, productivity and lifestyle design. His links: YouTube, Blog, Newsletter, Instagram

Taimur is a data scientist and writer, working on his own startup Causal. He writes on his blog and as a columnist for Medium. His links: Blog, Twitter, Medium, Instagram