Panagiota Kontoléon • 9 June 2019

Motivation for action?

Motivation is a concept that I have been really interested in lately, as I have quite a few clients who tell me that they know what they need to do to change things in their lives so that they can be happier, but somehow they cannot bring themselves to doing them.  They call it lack of motivation and ask me to help them to get motivated to do something.

To start with, I believe that a therapist cannot plant motivation in a client and I tell them that right away.  When I see this disappointed look on their faces I tell them that perhaps they could change their perception of how they view motivation.  Most people look at motivation as a prerequisite to act and are waiting to be motivated by something or someone so that they can do something.  This waiting puts their life on hold and the responsibility of change to other people’s hands.  This external locus of control is a good justification for people to not do anything as by putting the power outside themselves they get a ticket to keep doing nothing while escaping responsibility. 

The way I tackle this request ("help me to get motivated to do something") is by using them as an example.  They have come to therapy, which to me indicates that they are motivated to do something.  I see that as motivation on their part because it followed an action, i.e., they first took action by coming to therapy.  Therefore, I feel that motivation and action need to be viewed differently. 

Action leads to motivation


Instead of the general belief that “if I get motivated I will do something”, choose to say “I need to take action to get motivated”


I know that whenever I would get discouraged to take action towards one of my goals it would be because I would look at the goal and would feel intimidated and completely unmotivated as it felt an impossible task to get there.  When I started my master’s degree and realized what I needed to do to finish it, I was really overwhelmed.  But, instead of looking at the big picture and the goal, which was scary, I started focusing on the small picture and what I needed to do week by week.  For example, when I had to write a 10,000 words paper in two weeks, my goal was to write sections of the paper on each day.  Once I started writing the first section I was inspired and motivated to write more and more.  The key for me was to break down the task in smaller ones and tackle them day by day.  I understood then that the key to succeeding my goals was not to wait for motivation, but to take baby steps – some small action – to get the ball rolling.


Therefore, what I say to my clients when they come with the above request is that before they start rolling their eyes, shrugging their shoulders, and wasting their days escaping, I invite them to take a small step each day to get closer to their goal and then before they know it they will be there!  And then my role is to support them in finding these baby steps that would work for them.