The Motivation Paradox: How to do What Serves You, Even When You Don’t Feel Like it

There’s a weird paradox in life that holds us back.

When we feel the worst…

When we feel the most drained…

When we’re lowest on our ladder of consciousness

We are LEAST likely to do the things that serve us.

In other parts of life, it works the other way around.

  • The bigger the fire is, the faster you’ll run to get the fire extinguisher.
  • The louder the scream, the quicker you’ll run to see what’s the matter.
  • The more pain someone is experiencing, the greater care you’ll extend to them.

But when we’re dealing with ourselves, it’s inverted.

The Motivation Paradox

I call this The Motivation Paradox: When we would MOST benefit from something, we feel LEAST motivated to do it.

It’s true across all areas of life. Let’s bring it to life with a few examples.

Fitness: When you feel sore from a workout…you’re more likely to sit on the couch all day. But that’s when it’s MOST important for you to move. Physical movement promotes the blood flow through your muscles and joints that brings new nutrients and helps you recover faster.

Creativity: When you feel creatively “stuck”…you feel the least motivated to create something new. But it’s the most important time to get in-action. The way out of a rut is small steps.

Energy: When you feel drained and fatigued…you’re more likely to make impulsive decisions and opt for short-term pleasures like junk-food, TV, and social media. But it’s actually the most important time for you to make choices that will help you replenish your energy. (Like going to bed early, meditating, eating nourishing food, exercising, etc.)

Business: When you’re struggling to make progress…you feel least inclined to invest in your business. But that’s actually the time where you would MOST benefit from receiving external support and guidance from a coach or expert in your field.

Health: When you’ve been inactive and eating unhealthy food…you crave more of the same. But it’s actually when your body would most benefit from nourishment.

Relationships, Love, and Connection: When you feel isolated and lonely…you’re more likely to sit around at home. Even though it’s when you’d most benefit from love and social connection.

Working With the Motivation Paradox: How to do What Serves You, Even When You Don’t Feel Like it

So…what do we do about this paradox? How can we work with this challenge most skillfully?

That’s what we’ll explore In the rest of this article. I’ll share 8 ways to work WITH the motivation paradox and make the decisions that help you show up at your best. (Even when you don’t feel like it.)

1: Embrace the Challenge

There’s no point in fighting the challenges inherent to life as a human being. How you respond to obstacles is not about the obstacle itself, but your relationship to the obstacle. Choose a powerful perspective.

The Motivation Paradox isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a ticket to your growth. When you take action even when you don’t feel like it, you reinforce your powers of self-mastery.

2: Pre-Decide How You Want to Act

How do you respond when you feel unmotivated? Clarifying this starts with your self-image.

  • How do you act when you’re at your best?
  • When you’re really grounded, what choices do you make?

Get clear on this, and you have instructions for how to act later on. Follow those instructions, and you’re taking action when you don’t feel like it.

3: Practice Awareness to Recognize Your “Low” States

Awareness is the seed of all positive change. When you’re unaware of your low states (low energy, low state of mind, lower mood…) they control you.

But when you become aware of a low state, you regain control and have the opportunity to act differently.

4: Defer Your Decision-Making

Your state of mind impacts how effectively you make decisions. Which is why I have a rule to not establish judgments or make decisions of consequence when I’m low on my ladder or low-energy.

Instead, I defer those decisions to a later point in time, where I’ll be able to see the situation more clearly. Low-on-the-ladder-Patrick simply doesn’t have decision-making authority.

5: Avoid Low States by Acting With Your Future-Self in Mind

There’s a way to minimize how often you experience low states. It’s all about acting with your future self in mind. Eating well, exercising, getting good sleep, and meditating might take more effort in the moment…But they all support your future self to feel better.

When you consistently make decisions that support your future-self, you create an upward spiral. Present-you is experiencing the benefits of what past-you did. So you keep acting in that way and continue to set yourself up to show up at your best.

6: Slow Your Breathing

As Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. shares in her book The Willpower Instinct, slowing down your breathing is the fastest way to reconnect with your willpower.

Studies have shown that breathing at the rate of 4-6 breaths per minute helps activate your prefrontal cortex. This is the area of your brain responsible for complex cognitive behavior, decision making, moderating social behavior, personality expression.

Slow your breathing, and your decision-making improves.

7: Practice Meditation

Aside from slowing your breathing in the moment, a consistent meditation practice builds your capacity to make better decisions.

Or, as McGonigal puts it:

“Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at meditating, but at a wide range of self-control skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness.

People who meditate regularly aren’t just better at these things. Over time, their brains become finely tuned willpower machines. Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness.”

That’s part of why meditation is a non-negotiable in my life. Have you meditated today?

8: Do What Your Highest Self Would Do

In the moment of decision…When you’re feeling unmotivated, stuck, or drained…Recall the instructions from your past self.

  • How do you show up when you’re at your best?
  • If you were really grounded…How would you move forward?

You still may not feel like taking action. But since you know that feelings follow behavior, you can take action anyway. #thatslikeyou

Get Stronger by Loving Life’s Challenges

The ability to take action, even when you don’t feel like it, is like a superpower. Most people don’t have it. But when you put these tips into practice, you will.

The fastest way to reach new goals, and develop self-mastery is to lean into life’s challenges.

When you learn to LOVE obstacles for the opportunity they give you to grow, you reap their benefits more often.

Sure, it won’t be perfect. There will be times where The Motivation Paradox holds you back.

But it isn’t about reaching perfection. It’s just about getting a little bit better every day, and stepping into the next best version of you.

Let’s do this!