How to Use Motivation Effectively

by David · 10 comments

We’re all familiar with motivation. We feel it after listening to a powerful speaker,  after watching an inspiring movie, or after reading a great piece of writing.  There’s no shortage of motivation in the world, and it comes in many varieties. But here’s a question:  Do you know how to use motivation effectively?

If you’re like most people then you’ve probably not given this much thought. However,  I’ve spent a lot of time with the topic. I realised a few months ago that I was consuming lots of motivation,  but I wasn’t seeing my desired results. So I asked myself: am I using motivation effectively ? I  clearly wasn’t, so I started to look for answers.  The first question I asked was:

What is Motivation?

I read a stack of books by self-development ‘gurus’,  some had useful things to say, but sadly,  most left me feeling cheated. I’m sure you know the feeling? You know, the feeling you get after reading a book  that  promises to lift you from ignorance into enlightenment, but fails to deliver. Yeah, I read a lot of those.

Fortunately,  psychologists have a lot to say on the topic, and I can say with confidence I’ve been lifted into enlightenment  🙂

They say that motivation is the inner or social stimulus for an action.

Woah! That sounds fancy!  The key words here are stimulus and action. I’ll translate it like this:

Motivation is fuel.

Simple, right?  Motivation is something we use to travel from A to B.  Also,  it’s worth noting this translation encompasses the necessity to top up motivation every so often. If we don’t, we’ll come to a halt, but more on that later…

Different Types of Motivation

It turns out  that motivation comes in different flavours, intrinsic and extrinsic.

That’s just a fancy way of saying  motivation either comes from within or from something out in the world like money, goals or fear.

I believe intrinsic motivation is of better quality than extrinsic. In short, intrinsic motivation is when you’re driven to do an action because the action itself provides pleasure.

When top  performers are asked what drives them to work hard, often they use words like ‘passion’ and ‘fun’. In these instances what they’re talking about is intrinsic motivation, natural fuel that flows in the blood.

Then we have extrinsic motivation, which often isn’t as effective as it comes from external sources. Nevertheless,  this is the type of motivation we can control.  When we understand that in its simplest form,  motivation is nothing but fuel,  we have the necessary knowledge to use it effectively.

The Equation for the Effective Use of Motivation

On my quest to understand how motivation is used effectively, I somehow discovered a  concept in medicine called the ‘minimum effective dose’.

Simply put, the minimum effective dose is the smallest quantity of a drug  needed to produce the desired results. Taking more will have zero effect, but potentially lead to an overdose. And, of course, not taking enough will also have zero effect.

Understanding this concept and applying it to motivation, alongside the idea that motivation Is fuel, allows us to create a useful equation:

The minimum motivation needed to get from A to B + Action = Effective use of motivation

One of my many goals is to become a great writer. I don’t always enjoy writing so I often need  help from extrinsic motivation – which I find lots of when reading or listening to audiobooks. That’s all well and good, but how do I use them effectively?

What I used to do was read and listen to audiobooks for hours. Although these activities motivated, they didn’t lead to much action, which is an essential part of the equation.  You’ve probably experienced something similar?

Assessing my behaviour using the formula above made me realise I was taking a motivation overdose. I wasn’t using motivation as a tool to propel action, without realising it I was using it as a form of entertainment.

Motivation is not entertainment!

How to Use Motivation Effectively

In order to use motivation effectively  –  which means getting something done – we only need the minimum effective dose. Anything more and we run the risk of using motivation as mere entertainment and not getting anything done.

The moment you feel inspired, stop what you’re doing and take some action!

It’s as simple as that.

I’ve covered a lot in this article, if you only take one thing  away,  let it be this:

motivation is fuel, you can’t afford to waste fuel.


Here’s a video of me discussing everything in this article:

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  • A well-written and IMPORTANT post, especially for creatives! The amount of times I used to get motivated and then bizarrely hold it off by doing other daily activities first, is astonishing! Nowadays, once motivation sets in, I race to my studio with glee and let my creative spirit run riot! I don’t really need motivation anymore to write music, because I love it so freaking much. If my intrinsic motivation manifested itself in to a candle it would burn forever strong! P.S. Apologies if this comment is in anyway egotistical or cheesy, it strikes me that I wrote the word “I” too many times haha Great post David! It got me thinking….so kudos 😀

    • I’m glad you liked the article Wendell.  This is something that’s bothered me a for a long time and I can’t express the feeling I felt when I finally felt I cracked the code 😀 

      Don’t worry about the ‘I’s’. I,I,I use them a lot, too ^^;

  • Elam

    This is something I needed to read this morning. I like the way you broke it down, because I do it all the time, I get so inspired by design blogs and magazines that I sit down looking at them for hours and the realise ‘Oh my gosh, what have I done today’. That’s when the fear sets in, but just as you said ‘The moment you feel inspired, stop what you’re doing and take some action!’

    • I’m glad the article was helpful Elam.  Best of luck with your design work! 

  • This is a really interesting concept, and something I hadn’t thought about before. I’ll have to pay attention to see if I’m consuming too much motivation without acting on it. Thanks for sharing!

    • Sorry for the late response, I’m not too sure how I missed this comment. 

      I’m glad you liked the article. And thanks for dropping by 🙂 

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  • Krisz

    David, would there be any books/websites that you recommend on motivation that actually works? I’ve been through watching loads of motivational speaker and honestly I felt energized but it never actually lead to action.
    Can you recommend me a page or book that helps with that?

    • Have you tried the advice in this article? It doesn’t sound like you need another resource…

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