What's the real cause of procrastination & low motivation?

The real cause of so much of our struggles is having the wrong mindset. We think motivation should just fall out of the sky.

You're like oh no way, I don't do that. I am a rational person or whatever. But hey, think about a time when you were feeling really depressed or drained of energy! Let's not kid ourselves, we've all had those. And in those moments it becomes the most clear that we wait hoping for motivation to strike us.

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Stuck in bed waiting for motivation...

But what about the busy, day to day life we lead? Surely I run out of motivation there and once it's depleted, I have to wait for it to recharge? Kind of like willpower?


Beliefs are not based on reason. That's the whole point. Some people think you can't choose your beliefs, or they somehow feel fake--like they would lose their sense of self if they didn't hold on to their dear beloved beliefs.

If you don't think you can change, or you don't want to change, I welcome you to stop reading this article and go binge watch Netflix (a habit you acquired through change, by the way).

So here's my approach. We don't always develop our beliefs consciously. They are often acquired through life events forming a pattern. They are subconscious. Like when all girls named Sandy seem to be blonde. You don't realize it until you meet another Sandy who's, say, brunette and you go "hey, you don't look like a Sandy".

Another way beliefs are developed is through intesely emotional experiences. These could be positive or negative. An easy example: let's say you get burnt on a gas stove so badly, and you're so terrified and in pain that you develop a fear of fire and decide to eliminate fire from your life completely. You're gonna buy an electric stove.

In a way, beliefs are developed adaptations to our environment. But our environment constantly changes. As it does, some beliefs are likely to serve you poorly in this new world. So don't get too attached to your beliefs.

Similarly, many people developed this belief that your daily willpower is limited and roughly the same each day. Especially because there are tons of articles out there and even books that suggest so.

Scientific facts, or are they?

Here's the thing: there's billions of people on this planet and we are all different.

On average, in terms of DNA sequence all humans are 99.5% similar to any other humans. — Wikipedia

And yet look how different we all seem. Genetic similarity does not account for all these differences, it's just a one-dimensional view. In fact, I believe that we have so much diversity, that you can make many truths appear universal, when in fact they are not. And when psychology is at play, you can prove almost anything. If you happen to choose subjects that believe their willpower is limited, then gosh darnit they will act as if it is and confirm your hypothesis!

So I strongly encourage you to listen to YOUR truth, your body, your mind. Test your own hypotheses.

Believe what's good for you

As David Burns excellently puts it in his book:

I'll bet you still may not know for sure where motivation comes from. What, in your opinion, comes first—motivation or action?

If you said motivation, you made an excellent, logical choice. Unfortunately, you're wrong. Motivation does not come first, action does! You have to prime the pump. Then you will begin to get motivated [...] Individuals who procrastinate frequently confuse motivation and action. You foolishly wait until you feel in the mood to do something. Since you don't feel like doing it, you automatically put it off.

Feeling good, David D. Burns, M.D.

Elite athletes know that motivation can fail us when we think big, so they focus on the small, incremental gains. Like playing tennis one point at a time. Running a marathon one leg at a time. And so on.

Similarly, believe that you need to act first, and then you will feel the motivation to keep going. Very very often you don't have to do "the whole thing". Even if you're too tired to go to a business networking event, just go for 5 minutes. You don't have to stay the whole evening. You don't even have to talk to anyone more than just saying hi if that idea drains you.

But you'll notice, by the time you get there, you'll already feel better. Because if it lines up with your values, you'll find a way to rationalize it :)

Checks and balances: why believing in things good for only you may not work

You may ask: hey Paul are you saying I can just be super selfish and choose to believe only things that are good for me?

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A three-way balanced game... of life

First of all. I steer away from claiming anything universal.

The beauty of evolution is how there's a yin for every yang. How change balances out.

We live in a world where everything is connected. If your beliefs impact other people, or the environment, in a way that's drastically negative, you may be faced with too much adversity to keep going.

So here's my advice: just develop beliefs according to your values. What's most important to you? Do your beliefs protect or stifle acting according to those values?

Summary: back to motivation and willpower

I digress. Here's the summary: act first, and take a small step at a time. Motivation will come. Even when you feel certain that it won't. Focus on the present, on that small action.