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Why Do I Not Have Motivation?

Elizabeth Connolly


When you see a person you really admire for their success, it's normal for us to wonder where that came from. To what do they credit their success? A lot of people credit their successes due to their "drive" and "motivation", but no one really explains where that comes from. Nor do many really understand how our brains are hardwired to work with motivation. Motivation is a very broad term that a lot of people throw around at the beginning of a big "change", hoping that if they have an abundant amount of motivation then they can be successful. The thing is motivation does not stand alone. Motivation is the initial spark that sets the fire. It lights the way to either a bright path or a distant future.

And, better yet, you cannot ask a successful person what "motivates them" and expect to imitate that motivation. Motivation is an internal drive. A choice we make for ourselves to pursue something new. And again, once we have found something that motivates us, it still is not going to be the ultimate force that determines our ability to succeed. The human mind is a complicated thing to understand but there are certain aspects we can consciously control. Recognizing these things will help us cycle motivation and create the discipline necessary to achieving results.

Where does motivation come from?

Motivation is defined as the desire to perform voluntary movements to achieve a desired outcome.

"Motivation levels are related to the perceived difficulty of a task and the perceived rewards that come from completing the task." (ScientificMinds.com)

For example: if your boss told you that if you did an excellent job on the next presentation you would get promoted to that position you really wanted, you would probably master that presentation. You're voluntarily choosing to engage in the necessary movements to produce these results because you see a high reward attached to them.

It's Science

Motivation is not a phenomenon we cannot explain. Motivation is sparked through our neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are designed to release chemical messages which keep us alert and on task. Often times motivation is a product of dopamine.

Dopamine is produced in two different parts of the brain. It is made in the substantia nigra, a tiny strip on either side of the brain. Dopamine from this area of the brain helps produce movement and speech.

The other area of the brain that produces dopamine is the ventral tegmental area. Dopamine is released from this area of the brain when we expect or receive a reward. This helps us produce activities that will help us attain these rewards.

A common misconception is that dopamine is the "pleasure" chemical. While it is proven that it influences our desire to chase rewards, it is not only released in times of pleasure. "Dopamine has been found to fire before a reward is given, in addition to showing up in times of stress, pain, loss or pleasure. As a result, dopamine levels are now believed to be strongly linked with motivation." (Sujan Patel, Forbes)

How to Keep The Motivation


Enjoy The Quest

Just as it sounds, really take the time to enjoy the journey. If you rush through all of the hardwork just to get to the reward, you are on a quick path to addiction. Our bodies and minds need breaks from the periods of high to really enjoy the reward. If reward behaviors get the best of you they can lead you to overindulging as you are so focused on the high's that you forget the everyday work you put in is really what gave you that moment of happiness.

"Unhappy people stay too long at the party and end up celebrating celebration---indulging in pleasure for its own sake. When this happens, they not only blot out fear, but life itself, including the higher brain functions of spirit and intellect. They fall into a lifeless trance and indulge robotically, losing track of what they're doing to their bodies and to the people around them. For a short time, they're free from fear. But when they return to normal life, they're saddled with guilt, toxicity, and heightened physical addiction. They often leap right back into pleasure to soften the pain of overindulgence." (Dan Baker)

A major key to lasting results is hindering in on the ability to enjoy the journey. Take the hardships, figure out new ways to conquer them and test yourself each and every day. If you fall into a pattern of only looking forward to the reward, you will lose site of the process pretty easily. You may even look for ways to cheat the process. Which will never lead to the same results as pure hardwork and discipline.

Understand Your Locus of Control

A big differentiation between someone you perceive to be successful & someone you view as less successful, is what type of locus of control they have.

Typically the successful person will be a "no excuses" type. They believe that they have the ultimate control over their life. They are less easily influenced by outside forces. They own up to their mistakes, not pawning off blame onto another force.

  • "I was late because I didn't account for the rain when leaving for work"
  • "Even though I was tired, I decided to go to the gym because I know sleep will feel much better having hit my goals for the day"
  • "I decided to have an apple as a snack instead of the donuts Ron brought in because I didn't want to ruin all of my hardwork"
This type of person has an internal locus of control. Ultimately they believe that their actions and decisions will lead to their success.
On the contrary, there is always that person who seems to come up with an excuse no matter the occasion.
  • "The weather made traffic so much worse on the freeway"
  • "I didn't get enough sleep because my neighbor was up all night partying and so I don't want to go to the gym"
  • "I was going to eat healthy but Ron brought in donuts so I had one"
Yeah, we all know these people. Heck, we might even be one of these people. These people have an external locus of control. They believe the world is the master of their fate. They are easily influenced by outside forces. Often times casting blame onto those forces rather than on themselves.

But these are also the people ALWAYS asking successful people "what motivates you" as if thinking it too, will lead them to this new found sense of dedication and success.

The thing is, if you keep blaming the outside world for why you can't do something or how tough it is to accomplish your goals when things get in the way, you will never be successful.

You have to differentiate yourself from the world, take back control over your life. You have to own up to the good and the bad about yourself. It is the only way to really hold yourself accountable. If you continuously pawn off the blame onto someone else or some outside force, you are not taking any responsibility for your decisions.

No matter what those influences will be there. The same exact situation can be handled completely differently based on how you chose to take ownership of it. For example, Ron brought the donuts in both scenarios. However, the decision making process was executed differently because of their ability to handle outside influences. The coworker with the external locus of control decided that because the donuts were brought he had to partake. The internal locus of control decided that because he was on a diet, he would rather eat an apple than a donut.

Creating the Necessary Discipline

The thing is motivation will not always be there for everyone. No matter how internal your locus of control is, we will not always have an abundance of motivation. This is where the discipline comes in.

So often we see people who hit these amazing results in a diet very early on, when they have a surplus of motivation. Then something happens within their lives and they lose all motivation. They stop hitting the gym. They come up with any and all types of excuses for their diet. They gain back the weight. Until they start to feel really bad about it and try to rebound. They get into this habit of yoyo dieting. So what's missing?

Well, the thing is motivation will not always be there. After the 54th day in a row of getting up at 5am to hit the gym, you may not feel any type of motivation. So what gets you to keep going? Discipline.

Discipline is the number one aspect that will keep you from failing. Creating a habit of doing something beneficial for you, whether or not you initially want to, is the foundation of a successful person.

They say it takes 21 days to create a habit. However that shouldn't really be your goal. That creates an endpoint. That should more or less be a frame of reference. But not what you strive to hit. The greatest key to implementing a new habit is to completely work it into your life. You don't need to set a number of days. In fact you shouldn't if you don't want it to be a temporary change.

If you want to keep a goal, you need to create a lasting habit. You need to interwork it into your daily routine. Don't think of going to the gym as something you "should do" after work but something you just "will do". It's apart of your routine, just as getting up for work is.

Even when you lack motivation the routine and discipline established behind it will kick in. Think about how difficult it is now to go against your routine? Would you skip eating lunch just because you "didn't feel like it" or "something came up", probably not. Once you have something established in your day to day routine, you will find it more difficult to NOT partake in that habit.

Take Responsibility Over Yourself

The recipe to success isn't a secret. If you work hard and have the necessary discipline attached to it you will be successful. Motivation is only the kickstart to the process. While it is necessary to have in the beginning, it will not be the leading factor that provides you will results.

Understanding how the brain works in this process is crucial information as well. If you ever sense yourself only seeking the rewards you may be headed towards a very undesirable path. Knowing how you can choose to use dopamine in your favor during the process helps you take back control of it.

Taking control over the process is the way to thrive. You must stop blaming outside influences as to why you "can't" achieve a goal. If you want to be successful you have to put in the necessary work, every single day.

Those people you look up to for their amazing ability to hinder in on something they want and get it, aren't super humans. They are people who have realized that nothing is outside of their realm of control. Our goals have always been within our reach, we just have to stop expecting a result without putting in the necessary work to achieve it.

Take the Action

Analyze what your goals are and where you currently stand. Take the time to really think about what is keeping you from getting there. Is it that you have adapted an exterior locus of control, allowing yourself to make excuses for things you could have taken ownership over? Is it that you see yourself flowing with motivation at the beginning of a change only to lack the discipline to keep up on a goal? Is it that you are always searching for the next feeling of "high" and neglecting the very important work that needs to be done in the process? 

Whatever it is, it is keeping you from your potential. It is leading you to be in the passenger seat of your own life. Make a list of what you want. Remind yourself day in and day out of the "bigger picture". Take ownership over your mistakes and welcome success. See yourself accomplishing that goal and think about all the various different areas of your life it can benefit. Stop doubting yourself and start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.


1. Baker, Dan, Cathy Greenberg, and Collins Hemingway. What Happy Companies Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Company for the Better. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006. Print.

2. Expectancy Theory - PSYCH 484: Work Attitudes and Job Motivation." Confluence. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

3. Patel, Sujan. "The Science Behind Motivation." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 09 Jan. 2015. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.


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