Motivation Addiction: A 12-Step Recovery Program

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“With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.” ~Mark Victor Hansen

Motivation seems like a magic elixir. If we could bottle it and take a swig every hour or so, we could move mountains, build empires, accomplish great and small things daily. When motivation is running through your veins, your energy is high and your focus is intense.

Think about times when you've procrastinated or failed to do something you wanted to do. Most of us announce sadly, “I'm just not motivated enough.” Or “I've lost my motivation.” That's a victim mentality.

“Motivation” is just a word. It represents an emotion — an amorphous, biochemical reaction in our brains. The emotion behind motivation can be enthusiasm and excitement, or it can be fear or dread. Those intense emotions drive us to take action. When we lack those intense emotions, we often fail to act — even if we really desire the outcome.

For now, let's pretend that motivation is not available to you at all.

How can one create momentum and stimulate the actions necessary to get the job done without motivation? Take exercise as an example. You know it's good for you in so many ways, but you just don't have any real motivation to get your butt out  the door. You don't feel enthusiasm about huffing and puffing through a workout. Nor have you been threatened with imminent death if you don't get your body moving.

In situations like this that aren't charged with fear or excitement, must a lack of motivation serve as an on-going excuse for lack of action? Absolutely not. In fact, the vast majority of successful people in this world rarely rely on motivation to achieve great or small things.

Both the lack of motivation and the reliance on motivation to take action are addictive and deceptive.

The more you focus on your need for it, the stronger your need becomes. So what if you shifted your thinking about motivation? Instead of being addicted to motivation to generate action, what if you didn't count on it at all?

Think of motivation the way one might consider a perfect, sunny day in Seattle. You don't expect it, but it's nice when it shows up. Motivation is just one small tool in a toolkit of mental supplies that can generate action.

What other mental and emotional tools do you have at your disposal?  There are plenty, and here are just a few:

  • your intelligence
  • your common sense
  • love for yourself
  • your concern for those you love
  • your integrity
  • your values
  • your dreams and goals

Let's use these tools to start to break the motivation addiction and find other ways to get things done. Try this 12-Step Recovery Program.

Step 1. Choose something that you want to do or accomplish — something that previously required the “M” word for you to take action.

Step 2. From the list of tools above, determine what makes this achievement or goal important to you.  What tells you that it is a valuable endeavor?

Step 3. What kind of person will you be if you accomplish this thing? How will it improve your own self-image and/or the perception of others? Write down your ideas.

Step 4. In what ways your life will change for the better if you accomplish this thing?

Step 5. Visualize yourself accomplishing this goal. How would feel if you accomplish it?

Step 6. Are there any negative emotions attached to this endeavor such as lethargy, fear of failure, agitation or anxiety, hopelessness, or avoidance? If so, what are they? Write them down.

Step 7. For now, mentally put these negative emotions in a box, and remove them from the equation. You can deal with them later. Push them back in the box if they start to pop out. Force yourself to ignore them. In fact, write them down and literally put the list in a box and place it out of your reach.

Step 8. If you have determined that it is valuable to pursue this endeavor, write down the first action that you must take to accomplish it. It might be putting on your sneakers, writing the first sentence, typing “business plan” at the top of a page, or getting a storage container.

Step 9. Pick a time within the next 24 hours to take that one action. Don't think about it or acknowledge any feelings about it. Just take that one action.

Step 10. After you have taken the first action, think about and then write down the 2nd and 3rd actions.

Step 11. Again, pick a time in the next 24 hours to take those two actions. Don't think ahead about finishing the endeavor. Just take the actions.

Step 12. Repeat the steps with all subsequent actions, doling them out to yourself one, two, or three actions at a time. Nothing overwhelming. No emotional commitments. Just small actions, one after another in your own time.

By this stage, you will see that it doesn't take motivation to create momentum. It just takes small, manageable actions that are not weighted down with the addictive powers of emotion. If you use reasoning to determine the value of an endeavor, you can use incremental action to start the ball rolling.

With each step, you are propelling yourself forward and replacing motivation with action. Repeated actions become habits. Repeated habits create successful accomplishments.

The first action is the lever. The next action generates more power, and by the third or fourth action, you might find that motivation shows up unexpectedly. Even if it doesn't, that's OK. Motivation is not necessary.

Does motivation help? Of course it does. Having the added boost of enthusiasm can skyrocket any endeavor. But steady, slow, focused forward movement is enough to get the job done. Don't become addicted to motivation. It is a fickle friend who will seduce you with power but rarely appears when you need it most.

Instead, replace the need for motivation with common sense and small, manageable actions. Box up your limiting beliefs and emotions, and put them away until you reach your goal. Before you know it, you will be on the road to recovery — and success.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 25 comments
  • Katie

    I was just writing about my favourite subject, momentum, and you’ve inspired me in new and exciting ways. Thanks for sharing your great ideas, Barrie.
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..How to Gather Honey From a Beehive of Knowledge =-.

      Barrie Davenport

      I’m so glad Katie! Momentum does gather when you just take a few small steps. Your Life Cleanse program is a great example of how to do just that. It is wonderful!

  • Steve-Personal Success Factors

    Barry, I absolutely love your 12 step process for achieving the change we need in our lives. It’s refreshing to see both a different point of view and some very practical tools for accomplishing your new paradigm.
    .-= Steve-Personal Success Factors´s last blog ..What Everybody Ought to Know About True North =-.

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Steve,
      I’m so glad you liked it. I got the idea when my teenage son was telling me about his lack of motivation to study! I told him he didn’t need motivation — just open the book. An ah ha moment for me. 🙂

  • Meg B.

    So many times we rely on emotions…when we shouldn’t! Perfect article, perfect timing – thanks!!

      Barrie Davenport

      So glad you liked it Meg — and that it appeared at the right time!

  • The Vizier

    Hi Barrie,

    I love your imagery about bottling motivation like a magic elixir. Given the benefits you have suggested like moving mountains and building empires, I am sure it could make you a billionaire. 😉

    I agree that relying on motivation alone to act can be addictive and deceptive. If we waited for motivation all the time, nothing would get done. Ah I see, so the inspiration for this post is because you teenage son lacked motivation to study. I know how that is like. Sometimes we just have to do what we have to do and it helps if we break down the task into small manageable pieces. It is less overwhelming that way.

    I feel that replacing the need for motivation with small manageable actions, as you have suggested, is the way to success. Being able to act under any circumstances is a vital skill to have.

    Thank you for sharing your 12-step program!
    .-= The Vizier´s last blog ..Anger- The Dangers of Becoming the Incredible Hulk =-.

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Vizier,
      I am so glad you liked the post. Yes, my teenagers have inspired many posts. Good thing they don’t read my blog. 🙂

  • Rob

    Great post Barrie! I’m stuffing those negative feelings back into the box as I type!

      Barrie Davenport

      Ha! Rob that’s great. Do you need any tape for the box?! Sometimes when you put the feelings in a box while you are working on a goal, you achieve the goal, and then open the box to discover the negative emotions are gone. 🙂

  • Wendy

    What a perfect and timely article! This really helps me with my blogging and keeping up. I usually rationalize and then try to push myself to do something that I’m either stuck on or dread but your thoughts have really given me a new space to relax in. Thank you!

      Barrie Davenport

      That’s great Wendy. If we overthink and worry about a goal too much, it is completely debilitating. As counter-intuitive as it might seem, it’s better to just not think about it too much. Just do it. Nike had it right!

  • Dori

    Dear Barrie,
    this is a wonderful post! If you agree, I would like to translate it into German for my blog with a link to your blog, as I think that this is very helpful for people (like me) who have lots of goals but don’t know how to accomplish them.
    Best regards from Neuss (Rhine area) in Germany,
    .-= Dori´s last blog ..Lebenspuzzle =-.

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Dori,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. Of course you may translate it and use it for your blog! What a nice compliment.


      Hi Barrie,
      thank you! I will let you have the link very soon 🙂
      Have a nice day, Dori


      Hi Barrie
      enjoy your day – Dori 🙂

  • Laurie

    Hi Barrie,

    It’s so easy to say “I’m not motivated” and to avoid doing it when it’s really momentum that you need… I find that if I just break through the inertia by doing one thing that moves me in the direction of what it is I want to do then I am more likely to keep going with it… whether it’s exercising, a house project, or writing… it could be anything. Inertia is my bully…

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Laurie,
      That old inertia — it keeps us tied down. You are right, a little momentum is the antidote to inertia. Just a drop is all you need. 🙂

  • Ken

    Thanks Barrie,

    Just what I needed to read first thing in the morning. I plan to be extra productive today. Much more motivated than I was before reading this great article.

    Have a great day!

    .-= Ken´s last blog ..A Simple Quiz to Knowing if You Have Exercise Addiction =-.

      Barrie Davenport

      That’s wonderful Ken. I am so glad it helped. Thank you for commenting!

  • Offbeat Woman

    Barrie, This is the best article I’ve ever read about motivating ourselves. In fact taking small steps whilst wearing a blindfold so you can’t see all the big scarey monster thoughts looming around every ‘what if” (or taping them into a box which you put out of reach on top of the wardrobe) is the best advice I’ve ever seen that would also be a way around the huge boulder that is writers block… which is really just another form of ‘motivation addiction’.
    Thank you so much for this…you will definitely get a mention on page 1 of my bestseller!:)
    .-= Offbeat Woman´s last blog ..5 Ways To Kickstart Your Magical Mojo =-.

      Barrie Davenport

      You have made my day! And I will be first in line to buy your bestseller. 🙂

  • Prog4rammer

    Great Post Barrie ! I will take the 12 step in every work i will doing :):)

  • joey gilbert

    this is a brilliant antidote for my life situation, i am an emotional addict. its super fun, but i need to channel myself to plow through lifes ebb and flow and not rely on my highs to create my happiness. I need to stop smoking life……………………..

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