Tag Archives: motivation

How to use the motivation equation to get more motivated

On Saturday I wrote about how the motivation equation explains why you are or aren’t motivated. I want to write now on how you can use the same equation to get more motivated.

Here’s the equation again. Recall we replaced the I with F, for Friction

In short, to get more motivated, you need to:

  • Increase the chances you can do something (E)
  • Increase the value of doing it (V)
  • Decrease the things that make it harder to do something (F)
  • Decrease the delay in it occurring (D)

Remember, we all have alternatives (A) in terms of what we can do. And this is where context C comes into the picture.

Let’s take some classic examples to walk through this. I’ll underline the approaches you can take to motivate yourself and emphasize how it relates to the formula.

First example: lie on the couch or go to the gym and get in shape? V may be the same for both, but E is low and D is big for getting in shape. Plus there is hardly any friction F in being a couch potato. Going to the gym means getting ready, getting to the gym, dealing with people at the gym, washing up, and then going home. So much friction! If only you could motivate yourself to get off the couch and do something!

The way to motivate yourself with this is to reframe things. Change the context. That will help you change the equation and bump up the Vs and Es and decrease the Ds and Fs. If you need motivation for getting in shape, the question should not be: lie on the couch or go to the gym and get in shape? The question should be: 1) lie on the couch and feel bad later and sink into poor health or 2) go to the gym and feel good now and get in shape? In that context, V for #1 drops and V for #2 increases. Next, tackle the friction F for going to the gym. People do all sorts of things for that: find a gym near them, have a gym bag packed, find a friend to work out with, or skip the gym altogether and workout at home. There are lots of actions to decrease F. Likewise, if you focus on the short term goal of feeling good on the day you go to the gym,  E increases and D decreases and your motivation goes up.

This leads to my next approach: you need a plan. Plans help increase expectations E and decrease delay D. If you want to run a 5K or a marathon, if you want to learn a language, if you want do achieve anything worthwhile, it helps to have a plan. Plans help with E:  if you have an authority (coach, instructor) telling you that if you stick to the plan you will succeed, E goes up. Plans help with D too because now you can imagine/see D decreasing with every day that passes. Likely V increases every day too. Finally plans decrease F. Uncertainty of what to do is a source of Friction. A plan decreases uncertainty and thus F.

Planning is easier than you think. Can’t come up with a plan? Do this. Say: I will do this today and tomorrow. Or today and the rest of the week. After you do it, make a record. Write it down. Mark a calendar. Whatever works. After a week, tell your stupid brain: that was the plan, dummy…I tricked you because you were telling me I couldn’t do it and I did it and before you tell me I can’t do it again you told me I couldn’t do it at all and I did so I know best and I will do it! (It’s worth a shot). Don’t let planning stop you. Any plan, even a bad plan, will help. Here’s a plan: buy a dozen beer or Gatorade. Put them on a shelf. Plan to drink one every time you work out. Put the empties next to the full ones. Plan to finish them all. Voila! Who said you can’t plan?

Another way of dealing with expectations E (and your stupid brain) is visualization. Chances are you use visualization already, just in a bad way! You imagine all the reasons you cannot succeed. Now be like a professional skier or runner and imagine all the ways you can succeed. Whenever you imagine failing, imagine successful alternatives instead and practice going over them in your mind. You will see increases in E if you work at it.

Related to visualization is internal chatter. In sports, coaches will tell players on the bench to “talk it up!”. Why? Because it encourages teammates and defeats their negative internal chatter. You should do the same. When you motivate yourself to do something and you are done, what do you do? Do you just move on to the next thing? If you do, you are telling yourself: that didn’t matter. If a team scores playing a game, they get excited! They cheer! When a team is defending, everyone yells “Defense!” All of these things increase the value V of the thing they are doing. You need to do the same, and by doing so, increase the value of what you are doing or what you did. And when you succeed, you give yourself a cheer and your brain thinks: I can do it! And with that, the next time you try and do it, E is increased.

Another way to motivate yourself is overloading. If you aren’t motivated to go to the gym to get in shape, come up with several reasons to go. You aren’t just going to the gym to 1) get in shape. You are going to the gym to 1) get in shape 2) get out of the house 3) meet your friend 4) reasons of vanity 5) reasons of pride 6) etc. Give yourself as many reasons as possible. Brainstorm ideas. Ask friends. List them all out. Get as many high value ones as possible.

Related to overloading is overshooting. Didn’t do any of your hobby last month? Missed meeting up with friends? How about planning to do it every day next month? Twice on Sunday even! Imagine making huge improvements on your drawing or sewing or photography. Think about all the enjoyment you’d get seeing all your friend or just contacting them. List all the ways you could derive value V from that. Now after a month, look back. You likely didn’t do it all. (If you did, awesome!) But look at the improvements you made. As they say, you aimed for the stars and landed on the moon and that in itself is incredible. No doubt all the effort resulted in ways you learned to decrease friction F and improve expectation E. You will find you are much more motivated to do things by planning to overshoot.

Refuse to fail.This is useful if expectations E are low and is related to overloading and overshooting. So you and your friend skipped the gym but you had a good time and you needed a break and you went the next day. Or you didn’t create anything but you cleaned up your work area and made it easier to draw the next day. Sure you could beat Today You up for not doing the thing. But give yourself credit for helping Tomorrow You be more motivated by reducing the friction  For the expectations E for tomorrow. You don’t fail if you get up the next day. There is no timeclock.

If you should do good things for several reasons, do bad (or not so good) things for one reason. Don’t lie on the couch and eat cake and watch movies and talk with friends, etc. If you do, you are going to be very motivated to be a couch potato! If you are tired, lie on the couch. If you want a slice of cake, go get one (preferably as a treat…maybe after the gym.) Talk to your friends in person. You want to decrease the value V of lying on the couch. Heck, pile stuff on the couch (increase the friction F) or lie on the couch only after you do some other things (increase D) or only lie on the couch if you flip a coin and it comes up tails (thereby decreasing E).

Understand what does motivate you and apply it to other areas. If you still are struggling to motivate yourself, sit down and write down what you are motivated in doing and understand the V, E, F and D for them, Then look at what you are not motivated in doing and see how they are similar. Is there any way you can change the unmotivating ones to look more like the motivated ones. You should see ways to increase your motivation.

Keep a log for things you regularly struggle to find motivation for. Write down the V, E, F and D for the last time you did them. Maybe you are imagining F and D as being worse than they are. Likewise, maybe it was easy for you and you enjoyed some aspect and the value V and expectation E are higher than you imagine. If so, great! If not, keep logging and log what you changed to motivate yourself this time. Keep tweaking those values until you are doing better.

Choose the next best alternative. Can motivate yourself to go to the gym? Go for a good walk rather than lie on the couch. Can’t call that one friend you should call due to high friction F? Call someone else where the value V is high but F is lower. Can’t do the creative thing you think you should be doing? Do something else creative instead. Eventually you will need to understand your lack of motivation for not doing that one thing; doing a close alternative can help.

Lastly I want to mention two last things: Habits/Routines and Novelty. Habits/routines are very good at decreasing friction F and increasing expectations, E. But they can also cause you to feel a decrease in value V, because things get stale and boring and less enjoyable. That’s where novelty comes in. Novelty decreases expectation E (who knows what will happen) and increases friction F (because it is new), but can also increase V (less stale and boring) . If habits/routines are the main dish, novelty are the herbs and spices. You need both.

If you’ve read this far: wow! you were motivated! Good work! I hope the value V was high and the fraction F was low.

If you were wondering: why did he keep repeating those letters? It’s because I really think the key to motivating ourselves is to think in those terms: V, E, D and F. Repeating them helps reinforce that. Also there is nothing new here when it comes to approaches to motivation. What I think is new (at least to me) is applying them in light of the formula. I hope you found it the same.

Now go and do good things. Great things, even!





How the motivation equation explains why you are or aren’t motivated

I was having a hard time getting motivated last week. I knew there were a number of things I needed to work on. For some of them, I had no problem tackling. For others, I really struggled. Why was this?

This simple equation, from this article, The motivation equation, really helped me. But I also felt it was lacking something:

For those who hate math, the “M” stands for motivation, “E” stands for Expectancy, “V” stands for Value, “I” stands for Impulsiveness, “D” stands for Delay.  E is the likelihood of getting something, and V is how much you value it. D is how far away it is, and I is impulsiveness. Let me walk through an example.

Let’s say it’s lunch and you have a choice of leftovers or something new. You value something new over leftovers, so all other things being equal, you are more motivated to eat something new rather than the leftovers.

Now let’s say there is a chance that the new thing you want to eat may be sold out before you get there. With leftovers, E is high: you know you can eat them right now. For the new thing, E is lower: it might not be there so expectation has dropped. To bring E up, you think: well, there are many new dishes you can try…one of them will be there for sure.

To further complicate things, let’s say it is 11 am and you are hungry but the place selling something new doesn’t open for an hour. The delay for something new is larger than leftovers. That means your motivation for eating something new may drop.

Finally, impulsiveness. I would like to replace that with F, for friction. Friction is impulsiveness and more. Friction is all those things that put a drag on you doing the things you need motivation to do. In this case, getting something new may mean having to go out in bad weather to get it. Bad weather is friction. Or you may not like the food court where the new food is because it is too crowded or noisy. Unpleasant atmosphere is friction. Or you may be hungry or tired or bored and want to eat right away. All those feelings are friction. The more friction you have, the less motivation you have.

Two other things to consider are A: alternatives and C: context. Sometimes we may be motivated to do something in one Context and not the other. On a cold day I may be motivated to have a hot chocolate. On a hot day I may not. The value of something can change in different context. Likewise, my motivation for something may change if there are alternatives. I may be motivated to eat a frozen dinner because the alternatives (make my own, get take out for the 4x this week) are worse for me at the time.

I recommend you do what I did this week and list some things you are motivated to do and NOT motivated to do and run them through the formula.

For a work example, I had two things I wanted to do on Friday, write a report and solve a hard technical problem. I worked on the latter. D E and F were the same for each. But for the report, I felt it had little value. I have to do it, but it was hard to motivate myself to do it because V was Low. On the other hand, V for the hard technical problem was High. I learned alot (which I value), I have more value as an employee because of what I learned, and I felt proud of this accomplishment. Given this, it’s not surprising I chose the hard technical problem. Now, if the expectation (E) of me solving it was lowered, then my motivation would have dropped too. Likewise, if I thought it would take a week or more (delay, D) to solve it,  motivation would have decreased.

For a home example, I have two chores to do: organize the basement and organize the living room. Both have a high value (V) for me. But D is higher for the basement: it’s much more work and will take much longer. E is the same: I can accomplish both. Also F is higher for the basement, since there is so much stuff to go through and move around. Naturally I am motivated to tackle the living room.

Finally, a personal example. I have several hobbies: painting and website design. D and E are the same, but V and F are different. I am good at web site work and poor at painting, so the outcomes are better for web site work than the outcomes of my painting. Likewise, for painting, there is setting up to paint and then cleaning up. For website work I just sit down at my computer: no setup and no cleanup. Painting has higher friction F and lower value V, so I tend to do it less.

Ok, Bernie, you say, that’s great. How do I deal with that to get motivated. That will be in part 2 of this, since this is already too long and you are likely losing your motivation to keep reading. (V is dropping, D is getting longer, E may be dropping too. Likewise you may have alternatives A that you are more motivated to do.) That will come out on Monday.

It’s Thursday. Here’s how to motivate your unmotivated self

I’ll confess, if you skimmed this article, How to Keep Working When You’re Just Not Feeling It, and you saw these subheaders:

  • Design Goals, Not Chores
  • Find Effective Rewards
  • Sustain Progress
  • Harness the Influence of Others

You might think there is not much of value in there. But give it a read. I guarantee you can get at least one idea that can keep you going if you feel you Just Can’t Right Now.

It’s Monday. If you are feeling down on yourself and unmotivated, do this

It’s Monday. You are feeling unmotivated, insecure, lacking in confidence to do the things you have to do. One approach to deal with this is this? This: Motivate Yourself by Listing the Stuff You’re Already Doing Right

You may not realize it, but you already have such a list: it’s called your resume. Your resume is a list of stuff you’ve done or are doing right! Go check it out and see how great you are. If that isn’t enough, consider adding to it, even informally.

For fun, you can do a resume for all the other roles and skills you have, from

  • good friend, sibling,  relative or support person
  • good cook, runner, knitter, bartender, painter, coach, joke teller
  • expert or teacher on your favorite topics
  • &c

We are all good at so many things. Instead of fretting on your gaps or deficiencies, focus on your strengths. Try and deploy them this week and get things done.

Read this when your motivation is still on summer vacation

Sometimes you come back from vacation, all rested, and you can dive back into work and be more productive than before you went away. Other times that productivity can be hard to find. If the latter is  you, I recommend you read this piece: Is Your Motivation Still on Vacation?

Get the most out of your vacations, including refilling the tank that your motivation comes from.

(Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash)

It’s Monday. Midsummer in the pandemic, WFH. You don’t want to do anything? This can help

Let’s face it: it can be hard at times to want to do anything, especially these days, the dog days of summer. You likely are getting tired from being at home all the time. The thought that the pandemic shows no sign of dying off doesn’t help. It’s also hot, and that can sap your morale too. What can you do?

Well, two things. First off, read this: How to Get Things Done When You Don’t Want to Do Anything – The New York Times. There’s some thoughtful advice on how to get enough motivation to do something. Don’t expect things to change overnight, but you can learn from it and get started.

If you are still struggling, maybe you need a better set up at home. If so, read this: 5 Habits of People Who Are Especially Productive Working from Home

Finally, maybe you need to create a short list of easy things to do to gain some momentum. I wrote about how you can do that, here.

We all fall into the doldrums from time to time. The quicksand of life, so to speak. Just stay positive and keep moving however slowly and you’ll get unstuck sooner than you think.

P.S. Finally grab one thing you love to do and do it. Don’t worry about being productive. Just focus on doing something.

(Photo by Christian Lambert on Unsplash)

It’s Monday. Time to rewrite those S.M.A.R.T. goals. Here’s why

If you’ve done any work on goal setting, you’ve likely heard of SMART goals. You may even have used them to achieve an outcome you wanted. That’s good. Before you do that again, read this good argument on why you need to critically rethink the use of them: SMART Goals Are Overrated.

For example do you do this? Do you say: S.M.A.R.T. stands for…

Specific, Measurable, something, something, Time-bound. There’s disagreement on what some of the letters stand for, which is our first hint that maybe they’re not that important.

Yep, I do that too. I usually get the R (realistic), but then I get tripped up on the A (if it’s Achievable, how is that different than Realistic?).

Ok, you say, fine…it’s a weak acronym, but it still works. True, it can work. It can help you define your goal and get it done.  But as the article says, you can end up getting “tunnel vision”.  Instead of aiming on achieving your utmost, you settle for something smaller that you can measure and achieve in a set time. That’s less than ideal.

The article goes on and promotes the idea that you should…

Deliberately remove one or more of those SMART parameters and push yourself to see what you can achieve when it’s no longer a pass/fail test.

I like that. Essentially use the SMART goal as a stepping stone to a much large goal that may not be achievable or timely but it’s a goal that gets you excited.

Because here’s the thing: SMART goals may be achievable but they might not be the thing that gets you up early in the morning to do the thing you have to do to achieve your goal. Sometimes you need that big goal, that vision of something great, that …that is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning.

So yes, SMART goals are good. But tweak them and stretch them and build upon them and make something better. You may find that you not only achieve more goals, but you achieve bigger goals too.

(Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash )

It’s Monday! You need help in keeping going. This can be the thing you need

Dontt give up sign

It’s Monday! The first of March! We’ve been doing this stupid pandemic thing for a year now. We’ve managed somehow, and we have to continue to manage.

If that sounds daunting to you, I highly recommend this article: An Ode to Low Expectations in The Atlantic. I think it could be just the thing to help you get through the week, the month, and the rest of the pandemic.

We talk about managing their expectations. It’s never more important to do that in turbulent times with feelings of great anticipation.

Good luck! Appreciate what you have. Things will get better.

(Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash)

A checklist to review for when you aren’t motivated

If you are trying to be motivated but are struggling, then take this review:

  1. Are you tired? Perhaps you are too tired to do anything. Maybe your first goal should be to get some rest and refreshment.
  2. Is there some other physical problem? Maybe you are hungry or dehydrated or sore or sick? If so, your first task should be to deal with that problem
  3. Is it your environment? Sometimes it’s hard to be motivated if your environment puts you off. First up, fix up your environment. Even small changes can make a difference. Think about how better you will feel if you do those changes and use that to energize you to make them.
  4. Is it your mental state? Maybe you are anxious or depressed? If so, look into what you can do about that: talk to a friend or a professional or your doctor or look into online services.

I can add more and more things to this list. So can you. The point is, when conditions are good, it is much easier to be motivated to do the things in front of you. If conditions are bad, then your motivation should switch to improving your conditions first. And chances are if you are tired or sick or stressed, you are motivated to improve them anyway. Recognize you are motivated, just not for the things you feel you should be motivated for. And that’s fine.


How to Get Motivated: A Guide for Defeating Procrastination

Alex Vermeer has a poster that might be the thing you need: How to Get Motivated: A Guide for Defeating Procrastination



How to get unstuck from your fitness routine (25 ideas)

If you fitness routine is stuck or worse, then I highly recommend you read this:  How to Stay Fit Forever: 25 Tips When Life Gets in the Way.

You should find something in that piece to help get you unstuck and get going again. So grab a towel and a water bottle and get moving!

A great tool to help you with any 30-day challenge

is this simple calendar:

A very effective way to motivate yourself to take on a new habit or break an old one.
For more on this, head over to Austin Kleon’s web site and this page: 30-day challenge

It’s the weekend. You need to be inspired to exercise. Here you go

I find this ad powerful.  And very inspiring. It’s from the past London Paralympics and if you need a jolt of motivation to help you get going on your workout, check it out:

It’s Hump Day. You’ve got that “Fail” feeling. Watch this.

It’s 2 and a half minutes. What? You don’t have time? You have time to get a coffee. You have time to check your phone. You have time to read your inbox again. So you have time to watch this. Don’t play basketball? It doesn’t matter. Check it out.

Work harder. Think harder. Try harder. Fail harder. Be better.

Source: Fail Harder | Basketball Motivation – YouTube

On the Origins of Motivation at Work – good thoughts for a Monday morning

If you are highly motivated at work, that is excellent. If you are not, and need some food for thought that may help fuel you to be more motivated, I recommend this: On the Origins of Motivation at Work from The Book of Life.