“I’m just not motivated to make any changes in my life right now. I feel lethargic, depressed, and just can’t seem to get motivated to do anything,” my friend lamented.
We were having lunch together and he was asking me about my recent weight loss. He - like so many others - wanted to know my “secret” for losing more than 60lbs in just 3 months.
I told him what I told the others…I just decided to start taking action and kept taking action, one day at a time and the weight came off.
“But how did you motivate yourself?” He asked.
“I didn’t,” I replied, “I just started doing it one day. I wasn’t really motivated at all and had absolutely no belief that this attempt at losing weight would be any different than the last several times I had tried.”
The Motivation/Action Loop
For whatever reason, we are conditioned to believe that in order to undertake any action, we have to be motivated to do so. The loop looks something like this…
Motivation precedes action. That’s the formula, right? Well, yes and no.
The beauty of having a loop such as this is that you can jump into it from anywhere and start the loop running. So, let’s think about it like this…typically you have to feel motivated which then causes you to act. That action produces small wins which give you even more motivation and thus, more desire to act.
Well, what if you didn’t feel motivated, but just decided to act anyway? That action in and of itself should produce motivation which will then produce more action and so on.
Ok, put that on a shelf in your mind for a moment and let’s come back to it in a minute.
In 1946, a young psychologist by the name of Viktor Frankl published a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl was a recent survivor in various concentration camps during World War II and documented his experiences there.
One of the philosophies and treatments he developed in his practice was that of Paradoxical Intention. Let’s assume for a moment that you have trouble falling asleep. The more things you try, the harder it is for you to fall asleep at night. Using paradoxical intention, Dr. Frankl might’ve suggested to do the opposite of trying to fall asleep. In other words, do your best to stay awake and not fall asleep.
In many cases, re-shifting your focus from trying to get your brain to cooperate with your efforts, you produce the desired results by going to the other extreme. You can see this work with fears, phobias, anxiety, and more.
Dr. Frankl used this technique in his clinical practice to help his patients overcome all sorts of phobias and fears. If the patient was terrified of heights, he’d have them stand on incrementally higher structures to meet their fear head on. Scared of spiders? Same deal. You’d be exposed to spiders.
By doing the exact opposite of what you would expect, Dr. Frankl was able to help these patients “trick” their mind into overcoming those issues. (This is a vast oversimplification of course, but you get the point.)
For our purposes today, we want to use it to start the motivation/action feedback loop running that we mentioned above. Combining these two elements together - paradoxical intention and the motivation/action loop - we are going to create an unshakable belief in yourself to accomplish anything you want to accomplish. Like I said though, you don’t have to believe me. In fact, I want you to do the opposite.
So, this is what that looks like: instead of believing in yourself and trying to convince an unwilling mind to get motivated, I want you to suspend your efforts to believe at all. I want you to dredge up every ounce of resistance and skepticism that you possibly can. Tell yourself all the reasons that taking action won’t work, then tell yourself that you are going to prove it by taking some small action only to see yourself fail and not get any results at all.
Here’s the deal. Let’s say you want to lose 20lbs or pay down some debt or find a better job, but you are not motivated in the least to start down that path of change. Because, let’s face it. It might be hard. It could be painful. In your current state, there’s a high chance of failure and at the end of the day, you just don’t have the confidence in yourself that you can do it.
But the kicker is this: whether you work on this thorny problem or not, the time is still going to pass and if you take no action at all, you will be right where you are now, only slightly older. You’ve lost nothing. (Except time; which you don’t get back, by the way, but that’s another discussion entirely.)
So, what if you decided to use paradoxical intention and the motivation/action loop to tell your brain, “Ok look asshole, I know you don’t believe I can achieve this and I am here to say that I wholeheartedly agree with you. I’m weak, unmotivated, and lazy. I procrastinate. I don’t even want to change. And nothing is going to get me to believe that this is remotely possible. I can’t do this and to prove it, I am going to just start taking small daily actions for the next 30 days and watch as nothing changes in my life so I can brag to everyone that what this Tobe guy is telling me is complete shit.”
Ok good. Got it? Say it to yourself over again. Really drive it home. Say it like you mean it. You’re not going to hurt my feelings.
Alright, next pick a goal that you have struggled with in the past and just start taking small actions towards that goal while maintaining your original lack of motivation dialed up to 11. The action you take is much less important than the simple act of acting. The only rule is you have to do this every day. Agreed?
Do this for 30 days and see where you are. If nothing has changed, then you’re out nothing and you get to send me a nasty email making fun of me for being a moron.
But…and really think about this…what if you start seeing some change? What if seeing those small wins pile up makes you feel a tiny flicker of hope? Of motivation? What if it ignites a spark inside you? The spark is going to be small and weak and easily put out. But it’s there. The spark is there. And where there’s a spark there is potential for a flame.
Go on, do this for 30 days. Prove me wrong. You have literally nothing to lose by trying this experiment. And who knows, you might even change your life.
P.S. After the 30 days send me an email and let me know what happened…good, bad, or indifferent. I want to hear it. tobe.brockner[at]gmail.com