Why Motivation Doesn’t Last. Here’s What Actually Does

Published on: April 8, 2018

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Examine Your Motivation

“There are only two ways to influence human behaviour: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”—Simon Sinek

Motivation doesn’t last because it is weakened when challenges arise. Humans are emotional creatures and while we have highly sophisticated forebrains, our actions are dictated by our limbic brain. Our actions are driven by unconscious desires that dwell deep within our reptilian brain, comprising of the brain stem and cerebellum. Its purpose centres on physical survival and the homoeostasis of our body. Its primary function is to preserve our survival and control movement, breathing, reproduction and other basic survival needs. Moreover, it controls unconscious actions and is resistant to change. Even when starting a new habit, our attempts can be hijacked by the reptilian brain. In contrast, the thinking brain accounts for 20% of our decision-making, which explains why behavioural change is often met with resistance.

Most people live on autopilot and are dictated by their instincts, which means the reptilian brain is in command. The problem occurs when we give in to gratification instead of engaging the logical mind to examine these urges. Motivation doesn’t last because it is repeatedly hijacked by our unconscious desires, even despite our best intentions. I liken it to having someone place their hand on our back to keep us moving forward. If they remove their hand, we are likely to lose our motivation. The American motivational speaker Jim Rohn said: “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” He knew that motivation alone is not enough to sustain our efforts. Knowing this, I believe Sound Habits + A Compelling WHY are two important components that help us achieve our goals and success. What are your thoughts about this? Do you believe in motivation or something deeper?

The HOW, the WHAT and the WHY

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve coached hundreds of people over the past decade, ranging from athletes to CEOs and the one key factor that often comes up in coaching sessions is the topic of feelings. People often say they don’t feel motivated to act or commit to a habit because they are responding to their emotional brain and give in to its demands. So, if motivation doesn’t last, what does? I’m glad you asked. What is required is a powerful WHY? According to motivational author Simon Sinek, many people and organisations focus on the HOW and WHAT as their primary motivators. In his Golden Circle principle, the HOW and WHAT occupy the outer rings of the circle, while the WHY fills the centre. The WHAT is the role of the neocortex which is responsible for rational, analytical thought and language. The HOW is governed by the limbic brain, responsible for our feelings, trust and loyalty. It governs human behaviour and decision-making and has no capacity for language.

The WHY is ruled by the limbic brain and handles intuition and decision-making. What this all means is this: when we have a commanding WHY, we are likely to associate powerful emotions to our actions that leads to a greater chance of success. To highlight an example, I’m currently working with a young lady who is a woman’s netball player. Jane was injured over 12 months ago, when she rolled her ankle during a game. Whilst her injury did not require surgery, she suffered a grade II tear to the ligaments in her ankle, which required twelve months of rehabilitation. In our first meeting, I asked Jane what she enjoyed about playing netball (WHY?). This was difficult to answer, so I had to probe further. However, by the end of the session, she stated her motivation to play netball stemmed from her childhood memories of going to netball games with her mother. She could recall the excitement of spending time with her mother and she experienced a flood of emotions as she recounted the experience. I could see tears fill up in her eyes and I knew we found a strong reason to help regain her life again. The good news is, Jane made a full recovery and intends to return to netball because of one simple reason. She found her compelling WHY to do the work because she knew it was too important to leave to motivation.

Take The Emotional Journey Into Yourself

“Happiness comes from what we do. Fulfilment comes from why we do it.” ― Simon Sinek

I’ve worked with many other similar clients and the common theme is helping them to uncover their WHY. I’m not saying motivation doesn’t exist or there isn’t a place for it. Based on my experience, a powerful WHY trumps motivation every time because motivation is like a fuse that burns quickly. I also help my clients establish sound habits to support their goals and draw their awareness to the change cycle. Motivation alone doesn’t guarantee results, nor can you rely on it because it comes and goes. Everyone is motivated at the beginning of a new habit, goal or project, yet six months later, the individual is unmotivated. This is when life gets in the way or when unexpected challenges arise. Can you identify with this? Think about a recent goal or project and recall your motivation at the beginning and throughout? Did it wane or were you just as motivated throughout journey?

In Jane’s case, four weeks out from her fitness test to qualify, she developed inflammation in her knee which required scaling back her training program. Most people would give up; however, Jane realised the goal was too important to her. Her compelling WHY was too important than the short-term setback of an injured knee. Don’t get me wrong, I am not underscoring the value of rest and rehabilitation in this case. I’m suggesting that a powerful WHY can help us overcome short-term challenges so we remain committed to our goals. Thankfully, she managed the injury via a refined exercise program, instead of abandoning altogether. I appreciate the schools of thought that say: grit, resiliency and a growth mindset is paramount to achieving our goals.

Whilst I agree, if we do not have a convincing WHY, it is unlikely we will achieve success based on these principles alone. Therefore, consider the following questions before you undertake a goal or project to get clear on your primary motivation:

  1. Why is this goal/project important to me?
  2. What will it mean if I achieve this goal/project?
  3. Will I be fulfilled if I achieve this goal/project?

In relation to the first question, when you answer it, continue asking WHY until you reach an emotional reaction. That is, you ought to push yourself beyond your comfort zone to discover the importance of undertaking your goal. The process requires an emotional journey into yourself because you are tapping into the limbic brain. Only then you will discover the real reason you are pursuing a specific goal or action. After all, if we don’t understand the reason behind our motivation, what use is the goal when it is achieved?




If you're looking for motivation to achieve your goals and dreams in 2021, my latest e-Book: TRIUMPH:  The Art Of Overcoming Challenges, To Achieve Your Goals And Dreams, will help you to stay motivated to achieve them. Available now via Amazon.

Need Motivation This Year?

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If you're looking for motivation to achieve your goals and dreams this year, my latest eBook: TRIUMPH:  The Art Of Overcoming Challenges, To Achieve Your Goals And Dreams, will show you how to accelerate your success. The 46 page e-Book is now available via Amazon.

Do You Need Motivation To Achieve Your Goals & Dreams?