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Why Motivation Follows Action, Not the Other Way Round

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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Think about the last time you wanted to make a change. How many of us, when seeking that spark of motivation, sit and wait for some external force to suddenly light a fire within us?

It’s a familiar scene: waiting for that one video, that one book, to be the catalyst for our grand ambitions.

It’s easy to say, “I really want to get in shape, but today’s just not the day,” or “I’ve got this business idea, but I’m not feeling it today,” or “I’d love to paint again, but the inspiration isn’t there.”

We’ve all been there. That looming task or dream sits on the horizon, but instead of diving in, we dawdle. Why? Because stepping out of our comfort zone is… well, uncomfortable.

That hesitation, that pull to avoid what’s challenging, isn’t just laziness or lack of discipline. It’s science.

Our brain, in its ever-helpful design, presents us with a clash between the emotional, unconscious limbic system and the rational, conscious prefrontal cortex.[1] When the task ahead seems daunting, the limbic system, forever our protective guardian, steps in to steer us away from perceived discomfort, nudging us back into familiar territory. And there you have it, the anatomy of procrastination.

Yet, here’s the thing: if we’re constantly waiting to “feel” ready or “feel” motivated before taking any action, we’re setting ourselves up for a never-ending loop of inactivity. Waiting to feel a certain way before we act is not a guaranteed ticket to success.


So, let’s flip the script. Dive into this article and discover the intriguing reality: motivation doesn’t precede action. Instead, it’s the other way round.

Action Leads to Motivation

Here’s an idea that may sound counterintuitive: don’t wait to “feel” motivated. Start acting, even if your heart isn’t completely in it. Why? Because action, interestingly enough, can be the very thing that sparks the motivation you’ve been longing for.

Motivation often emerges from action, not the other way around. Imagine you’re in front of a stationary bicycle. It’s hard to get it moving initially. But once you start pedaling, even slowly, you find it easier to keep going and even accelerate. That’s the power of momentum, and it’s rooted in taking the first step, no matter how tiny.

My team and I have built a framework around this concept, which we call the Time Flow System. It’s our unique approach to managing our most precious resource – time. At its core lies the principle of Sustainable Momentum.

You might ask, “Why not seek those big, one-off wins?” After all, they feel exhilarating. You stand atop the podium, basking in applause and the thrill of achievement.

But here’s the catch: those moments are fleeting. What happens once the clapping stops? If you can’t replicate that win, where does it leave you in the grand scheme of your journey?


Instead, consider the elegance of momentum. Picture a snowball starting its descent from the top of a hill. At first, it’s just a small lump of snow, rolling down. But as it moves, it picks up more snow, growing in size and speed. That’s the essence of momentum.

Each tiny victory, while seemingly inconsequential on its own, becomes part of a larger pattern of success. It creates a trajectory that not only gets noticed (bringing supporters to your cause) but also builds an internal resilience, making it easier to push through challenges. Those small, steady wins, accumulating over time, become your shield against setbacks and distractions.

So, as you set your sights on any goal, big or small, remember: consistent actions and sustainable momentum are the secret sauce. Don’t just chase the highs of the one-shot motivation. Instead, make it a habit to keep the ball rolling, knowing that every small push brings you closer to success.

How to Create Sustainable Momentum?

When we peel back the layers of the world’s most prolific artists and thinkers, we often uncover not bursts of sporadic genius, but steady routines. These are the unsung rhythms of daily life that power their immense creativity and output.

Mason Currey, in his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, delves deep into the habits of renowned personalities. As he puts it,

“A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”

In other words, having a consistent pattern can protect us from the unpredictability of feelings, which might otherwise divert us from our goals.


Take the example of Maya Angelou. She didn’t wait for a spark of inspiration to strike in the comfort of her home. Instead, she intentionally rented a hotel room where she’d write diligently, from the early morning at 6:30 AM till 2:00 PM. It was her chosen space, away from daily distractions, a place to immerse herself in her craft.

Or consider the commitment of Anthony Trollope, an English novelist. Before many of us even start our day, he’d have penned three thousand words. And here’s the twist: this was before he would head off to his day job at the postal service. If he waited for ‘free time’, he might never have written a word.

And speaking of dedication, Haruki Murakami, a name synonymous with literary brilliance, doesn’t rely on the whims of creativity. Instead, he’s up at 4 AM every day, making the conscious decision to write. Rain or shine, he’s there, embracing his routine.

The Engine of Sustainable Momentum

Sustainable momentum is about creating a steady rhythm in your life, where commitment to a task becomes as habitual as breathing. By setting such deliberate routines, you not only build momentum but also pave the way for genius to flow.

And creating a life rhythm that spurs creativity and productivity is quite simple, yet profound: Plan Weekly & Do Daily. It’s a principle at the heart of our Time Flow System. Let’s break it down:

1. Plan Weekly

Day-to-day life can be unpredictable. What you plan for Monday might not be feasible by Wednesday. This is where a weekly overview proves invaluable. Instead of rigidly planning every day, give yourself the breathing space of a week. Here’s what it entails:

Focus Blocks

Think of these as dedicated pockets of time where you zero in on one particular task, free from interruptions. These blocks allow for intense concentration and ensure you get more done. How to incorporate these Focus Blocks into your routine? We’ll delve deeper into this in the upcoming ‘How to Apply the Time Flow System’ section.

Flexibility Over Rigidity

When you plan weekly, you’re afforded the luxury of arranging hours with more versatility. Say, a surprise appointment crops up on Tuesday? No worries. Adjust your focus blocks accordingly. Shuffling within a week provides a smoother transition than trying to reconfigure a jam-packed day.

A Clearer Vision

Planning with a weekly perspective offers a bird’s eye view of your goals. It’s not just about cramming tasks, but about aligning them with your broader objectives. This kind of planning is not only more realistic but also ensures you’re always headed in the direction you desire.

2. Do Daily

Darren Hardy once said,

“The rhythm of daily action aligned with your goals creates the momentum that separates dreamers from super-achievers.”

And it’s this simple principle that drives the “Do Daily” mantra:

Consistency is Key

Genuine progress is about taking constant, deliberate steps. It’s not about waiting for a vast, free block of time (which, let’s admit, rarely comes). Instead, it’s about making realistic, day-to-day advancements.

Break It Down

Imagine having to eat an entire cake in one go. Overwhelming, right? But what if you had one slice a day? That’s the principle here. Instead of massive, daunting tasks, slice them into smaller, more digestible chunks. This way, you’re less likely to be paralyzed by the scale of a task and more likely to take steady action.

The Power of Small

Initiate tasks that are feasible and can be done consistently every day. The idea isn’t to take giant leaps, but to walk steadily, ensuring that each step, however minor, moves you forward.

Flexible Consistency

It might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s the sweet spot. The blend of adaptability with daily actionable tasks is what fuels sustainable momentum. Remember, it’s not about clocking hours; it’s about making those hours count.

Final Thoughts

It’s enticing to chase after that fleeting rush of motivation or to await the perfect mood to take action. However, history’s great achievers and artists haven’t necessarily waited for the stars to align. Instead, they crafted routines, turned up consistently, and allowed momentum to grow naturally.

So, the next time you’re caught in the loop of “I’ll do it when I feel like it,” remember: motivation is often a byproduct, not a prerequisite. By embedding steady routines in your life and taking daily action, you not only pave the way for motivation to flow in but also construct a bridge from dreams to reality.

Don’t wait for the wave to ride. Start paddling. As you paddle consistently and create ripples, the waves of motivation will follow.


Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

Why Motivation Follows Action, Not the Other Way Round

Motivation Often Follows Action: Instead of waiting for motivation, start with action, and motivation will likely follow.

Plan Weekly: Life’s unpredictability necessitates a broader view. Weekly planning provides flexibility and a clearer alignment with long-term goals.

Do Daily: Consistent, daily action drives genuine progress. Breaking tasks into manageable chunks prevents overwhelm and fosters steady momentum.

Momentum Over Motivation: Building momentum through routine and consistent action is more reliable than relying on sporadic motivation.

Small Steps Lead to Big Changes: It’s the little, daily actions, when accumulated, that lead to significant achievements.


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