Why Motivation is Overrated

Bold title, I know, but hear me out.
We all have dreams and goals, no matter how small or big they may be. Many people think that what they need to get there is motivation and inspiration, and that’s fair. Our culture loves a good motivational quote or story. Sure, they can help, but they don’t truly get our feet moving, our brains working, or take us one step closer to our goal.

Think of motivation like your morning cup of coffee. You exclaim, “I can’t possibly get through this day without my coffee,” and it may feel that way. I get it. In reality, your coffee just helps wake you up; it motivates you. What comes after is all on you, and that’s what really matters: self-discipline.

We can wait around year after year waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike. Unfortunately, it may never come. Even if it does, we may not act upon it. That’s because, in essence, waiting for motivation is just a way of prolonging our goals or dreams because we deem them too difficult or time-consuming to achieve.

You don’t need motivation. You don’t need inspiration. What you need is self-discipline.

Five years ago, a user on Reddit posted about how he just didn’t care about himself anymore. The user, a college student, wrote that he no longer put effort towards his grades or anything that used to matter to him if it required work and effort. He was writing to other users for advice and motivation.

What ensued became an internet phenomenon for a little while. Occasionally people like myself stumble across it to this day. You see, another user responded and, unlike others, his response wasn’t motivational or inspirational. It didn’t evoke pity or sympathy. Instead, this user wrote that the key to getting closer to your goals is to not have any more “non-zero days” and outlined what that looks like.

What is a non-zero day, Chris? It’s a day where you get nothing done in relation to your goals. You don’t exercise, read, write, paint, connect, whatever. The point the user aims to make is that doing something every day that gets you closer to where you want to be is what matters. Aim to never have a non-zero day. If that means you only write one sentence of your business plan, reach out to one person in your network, or paint one line on a canvas, that’s something, and it’s a whole lot better than nothing.

The user’s response spawned a whole new thread on Reddit, apps to track non-zero days, and a whole lot of fan art and infographics. The brilliance of non-zero days is that it’s an easier to digest way of saying, “You need to have self-discipline.” I don’t mean that negatively at all, either.

The user is right and he gets to the heart of self-discipline in his post. It doesn’t matter how much we do, or even how well we do it, as long as we’re getting up every day, putting one foot in front of the other, and taking steps towards what we want, we’re going to get somewhere eventually. Motivation, on the other hand, keeps us at a standstill until we manifest some self-discipline.

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