Q: In your recent article on motivation you conclude by stating that after doing the work to achieve one’s goals ” … most often the motivation you desire will start to follow.” Would you explain further why this is?

Most of us usually think that the motivation must come first (no, not necessarily externally) even if we are willing to act. Contemplating this seems like wondering which came first: the chicken or the egg. Is this perhaps an issue of momentum rather than motivation — where one knows what he wants but wrongly assumes he’s not properly motivated because he doesn’t “feel” so? If so, then how does one overcome such “inertia?”

A: If your rational mind tells you something is interesting or desirable to do, and — at the same time, in contradiction — your emotions tell you the opposite, then it’s impossible for both your head and your emotions to be correct.

What I’m saying is that it’s usually the case that your head will prove correct. The more conscientious and self-aware a thinker you are, the truer this will be. Consequently, if you go with your head — and, for example, attend that get-together with people you know you like and with whom you normally have a good time; or complete that assignment you know you will feel good about having completed, in the end — and fight the feelings which tell you, “I don’t feel like it!” — then you will be rewarded with motivation in the process of following through. For example: “This isn’t so bad. I’m glad I did this!” Or, better yet: “Why did I hesitate? This is great!”

Of course it’s not always this simple. Of course there are times in life when your head is wrong and your feelings turn out to be correct (though it still takes your head — that is, your rational faculty — to figure this out).

In a sense, this is an issue of momentum (and overcoming inertia) as well as an issue of motivation. Motivation means that you have an objectively good reason to do something, and you feel good about doing it. Momentum means getting up the physical energy and focus to put that motivation into action. If your head says “yes,” and the rest of you says “no” for no good reason, then you must get in the habit of listening to your head first. Don’t retreat into over-analyzing and, above all, don’t start asking yourself, “Why aren’t I more motivated?” This is a perfectly reasonable question to ask, perhaps later on, but don’t let psychological introspection become an excuse for hardly ever acting at all. I can’t tell you how often I encounter people, in counseling, with this problem.

This is the only way to overcome the problem in most cases. Saying “I suffer from depression” or “I suffer from lack of motivation” isn’t going to do it. These statements might be true, but they don’t fix the problem. Action usually does. If you haven’t tried action, then give it a try first.