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Lessons I Learnt From The Motivation Myth by Jeff Haden

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

The main reason I got the book was because it was on sale for 99p on Kindle so I thought I might as well, especially since motivation and being productive are things I'm interested in. The other reason I got this book was that I've been hearing good things about and having read it and I back those good things. However, there are some not good things about the book; read on for what I learnt from the book and what I did not find that useful.

The Problem with the Definition of Motivation

I wrote that heading before I searched up the definition of motivation. However, having just done that I am presently surprised. The first thing that comes up on my PC is that 'Motivation is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviours' and I, along with Jeff, broadly agree with that definition. You see what I was expecting the definition of motivation to be was along the lines of motivation 'initiates behaviours' but the addition of 'guides and maintains' makes the definition more accurate.

The problem with defining motivation as purely as 'initiating behaviours' is that it does 'initiate behaviours' at all and that is a very common misconception. I find that many feel as if in order to do x I need to feel motivated and in many cases I feel this way. However, what Jeff says is that motivation does not start an action, actually motivation is the result of the action. Jeff says that starting an action provides you with motivation rather than the other way around. Starting an action provides you with the motivation that compels you to maintain and work on that action.

It's like the idea of activation energy in chemistry. If you haven't done A Level chemistry, basically the idea is that many reactions can occur at ream temperature. For example, a piece of paper does not need to be maintained at 200 degrees for it to carry on burning. Once you set fire to it, it will burn while at room temperature until it turns to ash. However, paper does not spontaneously combust. You need to give it some energy, whether this is a spark from matches or some initial heat from a lighter, for it to burn you need to give it some energy in order to activate it. Once activated, the paper will burn at room temperature. This is a long way of saying usually some sort of energy or force is required to start some action and once started, the going will get easier and the feeling of getting easier is motivation. A very good quote that summarises all this is 'starting provides the motivation to finish'. Internalising has really helped me 'feel more motivated' to do things.

Another novel insight gleaned that's pretty obvious if you think about it is that motivation is a product of success and the more you are successful, the more motivated you will become. It becomes this positive feedback loop of success→motivation→more success→more motivation→more success. This leads on to a very actionable strategy to become successful and feel motivated- setting out a good process. And the book emphasises this very strongly. The process with which you use to achieve your goal is an integral part of how motivated you feel when working towards in and therefore how successful you will be in achieving it. It is important that your process is filled with small 'successes' like every day running and extra kilometre to train for a marathon. As discussed earlier, these small successes will motivate you until you eventually reach your goal. This is why taking shortcuts is not a good thing. Taking shortcuts to achieve your goal may lead to short term success but means that the process is less enjoyable. And as the book heavily emphasises, the process is the most important part of achieving any goal . Most of the book is really about how to develop a good process but mostly tailored towards business which is why I skimmed over most of the later parts of the book- and interesting read nonetheless.


A small aside in the book discusses the problems with the conventional SMART goals and how it acts as a hindrance to actually achieving your goal. The SMART in SMART goals stands for Specific, Meaningful, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound and here's Jeff's problems with some of them:

  • Meaningful is a problem

  • You can't make a goal meaningful to you. It either has meaning or it doesn't.

  • The more you try to make a goal meaningful, the less likely you are to achieve said goal.

  • Time bound does not help.

  • Setting a date is important but does not help you focus

Jeff believes that often when setting a SMART goal, the goal becomes a task, rather than a goal. In the book he gives the example of imagine your boss tells you to finish a report by noon. This is specific, meaningful and time bound but it is a task, not a goal. Jeff believes that you should commit yourself to a huge goal, create a process to allow you to reach the goal and then completely forget about the goal. Focus on the process and bask in the small successes towards that goal you just forgot.

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