Why 'Motivation Is Garbage' and What You Need Instead

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When one of the best motivational speakers in the world says “motivation is garbage,” you're probably going to listen. This is likely to happen if you hear the recently released Audible Original coaching series, Kick Ass With Mel Robbins.

First, a little background: There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Coaches, trainers, bosses or another person who’s pushing you to change — those are all extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivation, then, is the force that comes from your own willpower.

The extrinsic motivation that comes from a source outside of you almost always works. But if you’ve ever failed at sustain+ing motivation on your own, you might already suspect that what’s been thought about intrinsic motivation for all of these years might be flawed.

And that’s where Mel Robbins, author of “The 5 Second Rule,” comes in.

Why “Motivation Is Garbage”

When it comes to changing your life, Robbins says that you have to understand the science behind intrinsic motivation — the part of motivation we’ve all gotten wrong that she calls garbage.

“When you think about what change requires, it requires you to do things that are scary, uncertain or new,” she says. But here’s the problem: “You will never feel ready or motivated to do the things that are scary, irritating or hard; and if you can accept that as the reality, you now have the secret to change.”

Knowing that you can not “feel like it” and still push yourself to create change is empowering. It’s also the first step in doing the things you don’t want to do but know you need to anyway.

Think about it this way: Successful people are not achieving great things simply because they’re motivated; they’re creating change and making life happen because they make a conscious decision to show up and put in work every single day.

Decide to Expand Your Life

Easier said than done, right? So how do these people decide to show up? Robbins says that we all have the power inside of us — whether you call it your gut, heart-based decisions or inner wisdom — to inspire change.

But how do you know if the decision you are making is based on your inner wisdom or fear?

Robbins says fear makes the decision feel restrictive: It will shrink your world. That’s why she advises that when you come to any decision you need to make, forget about whether or not you feel motivated. Instead, ask yourself: “Does the decision expand my life or does it shrink it?”

If it expands your life, the answer is always yes. Sure, a decision may be scary or uncomfortable, but if the action that follows expands your life and taps your potential, it’s the right decision. It’s only after you make the decision that you use your head to plan how to make the change happen responsibly.

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Take 5 Seconds to Change Your Life

We often get hung up in moments of decision: Do I go to the gym or stay on the couch? Do I stay in this relationship or break it off? Do I look for a new job or stay with my current one? It’s normal to feel afraid or experience self-doubt when making decisions. But allowing those things to stop you is a choice.

Your entire life is defined by what you do in the gap between your initial question and your decision to act (or not). And, as Robbins says, that gap is about five seconds long.

“There is a five-second gap between moments of inspiration and fear shutting it down, there’s also a five-second gap between confidence and self-doubt,” she says.

This five-second gap Robbins is referring to is where we expand or shrink. And when you realize you can close that gap by making five-second decisions that expand your life, you now have the secret to tapping your potential and changing your life.

Try It for Yourself!

Think about one area of your life that you’re struggling to change or one habit you’re trying to adopt. Now break it down into a smaller concept and answer this question: “What is one five-second decision you can make every day that will help you encode that new habit?”

That five-second decision happens when you don't give in to the self-doubt you experience when trying to take action. In other words, the moment you sense self-doubt invading your thoughts, count backward from five and then spring into action.

You now have the basis of the five-second rule.

For instance, if you want to start exercising in the morning instead of hitting snooze on the alarm for the third time, count backward from five and get up. Don't give yourself the time to make excuses and create self-doubt. Countdown from five and take action.

Or if you struggle to set boundaries, try using the five-second rule to help you say "no." Let's say a co-worker frequently offloads his work to you. If you're a people-pleaser, you're likely to enable them to keep doing this by saying "yes."

Enter: The five-second rule. The next time your co-worker approaches you, take a deep breath and count, 5-4-3-2-1, and say "no." Not reacting immediately interrupts your habit of saying "yes" to this person, and allows you to make a five-second decision that can change your life.

Or maybe you want to start working on your passion project but you always make excuses when you get home tired from work. If it's really a priority to you, as soon as you come home, sit down in front of your computer, count backward from five, and get started.

But here’s the trick: You have to count backward. When you count backward, Robbins says you engage your prefrontal cortex, which helps you beat the excuses. Now you’ve taken a step toward overriding all of those habits that have kept you stuck in the first place.

It sounds simple — and quite possibly too good to be true — but it works.

If you can come up with a five-second decision every day that’s aligned with this new habit, you’ll have action, and that will lead to success.

What Do YOU Think?

What is your biggest goal right now? Or what habits are you trying to change? Do you consider yourself motivated or unmotivated? Is it liberating to realize that you don’t need to rely on motivation? What five-second choices will you start to implement in your life? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments below!

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