”Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it.”~author and entrepreneur James Clear
“You can’t wait for inspiration,” my son tells me. “You have to take action first.”
A college senior, Elliot is home for winter break. We’re in the kitchen putting groceries away, and I’ve just told him how unmotivated I’ve been since my father died a few months ago. Oh, I’d been meeting all my basic responsibilities. Seeing clients. Paying bills. Returning emails. But as I grieved I wasn’t getting to many “extras,” such as filming video blogs and writing.
I’m not sorry I took a break from the extras. It’s what I needed. One of the most helpful pieces of advice after my dad died came from my friend Michael, whose beloved sister died of cancer. “Build in buffer time,” he messaged me. “Just hang on and breathe until the ride slows and pulls into the station.”
Grief itself zaps a ton of one’s energy. Ask anyone who has been through it. Trying to do too much while grieving is a setup for sure frustration if not downright failure. I needed my time and energy just to get through those first months in which my world felt turned upside down.
But Elliot wasn’t finished. “People have it all wrong,” he continues, his deep voice zapping me back to the present. “They wait to act until they feel inspired. But action leads to inspiration. Action, Inspiration, Motivation.”
Turns out there’s a name for this: The “Do Something Principle,” apparently coined by Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, which Elliot just finished reading.
Manson says he stumbled upon AIM while working as a consultant. Clients had important goals but fear or apathy often immobilized them. He advised they simply do something toward attaining the goal. Turns out it doesn’t matter much how small the something is. Achieving even a tiny gain creates momentum.
This certainly was true for me in writing my book, Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know. As one of my mentors said, “The muse comes to those who write. So sit your ass down and write. Every day.”
Ergo, despite not quite “feeling it,” heeding Elliot’s advice (and remembering my mentor’s colorful words), I sat down at the computer this morning and started typing. It was rough going at first. But eventually, I got into the swing. You are now reading the result of that effort.
Action came first: I started writing. Inspiration came next: I would write about this very topic! The process of writing a few words, forming them into sentences that morphed into paragraphs and so on led me to feel motivated—and yes, happier.
I’m not sure the strategy would have worked two months ago. That would have been forcing it. But today I was ready, even if at first I didn’t know it. It took action for me to discover.
Transitioning to life without Dad is hard. I miss his solid, grounding presence. I miss his mind and laugh. But I’m beginning to realize if I pay attention, paternal-like wisdom comes from unexpected sources. Even my 21-year-old son.
TODAY’S CONVERSATION SPARKS
- What goal have you been avoiding?
- What small step could you take to build momentum?
- What would it take to support yourself to get started?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Tom Glaser is the author of Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know. A psychologist and life coach, he lives in Minneapolis with his family and beloved mini-labradoodle. When he isn’t teaching Full Heart Living workshops—which explore how to listen and provide dynamic conversation sparks—you’ll find him working on a second book on Trauma and Resilience.