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  • Writer's pictureMaria

Why Motivation doesn't actually lead to Action

If you’ve been feeling down or struggle with depression in general, here’s something to consider.

One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that “motivation leads to action.” When you're depressed or feeling down, you don’t feel motivated so you stay in bed, or you don’t call your friend to make plans, or you get a take away for the third evening in a row because you’re not motivated to cook. And you wait for the motivation to come. How many times have we all thought "I'll get to that when I feel motivated"?

Young woman with no energy flopped on bed

Think about the times when you’ve been at your most motivated. Did the motivation come out of thin air? Did you summon it out of a sheer force of will or a positive mental attitude? A positive attitude definitely helps to weather setbacks, but it’s not where motivation comes from, is it?

So what did come before those times where you felt motivated? In the experience of most people I ask, it comes from a positive outcome from a prior action. “I was surprised how well a new recipe turned out, so I’ve been enjoying cooking more recently.” “I reached out to an old friend, and we ended up having a great time. We’re meeting again next week for a walk and a chat.” “My debts were mounting up, so I confided in a friend who put me in touch with an adviser. She helped me make a plan. Now that I can see a way out, I can breathe again.”

Do any of these ring true or sound familiar?

In truth, motivation doesn't lead to action, you don't feel motivated and then act. Rather action leads to motivation, the motivation to take the next action. So what we should be thinking is "Small action leads to motivation, leads to a bigger action" but culturally our tendency is to, incorrectly, to say only the latter part, "Motivation leads to action."

And really, even if you can’t take action on what’s specifically making you feel down, taking any action will help you feel better than waiting around for motivation to turn up. Try it, it works!


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