The Do-Something Principle

Practically everyone in the world has struggled with a lack of motivation.

As an author and speaker I hear it virtually every day. “I seem to have lost my motivation.” “I just can’t get motivated.” “I’m just not inspired.” “I know what I need to do, but I just can’t seem to do it.”

Can you relate?

Most of us can. But the question is, what do we do about it?

The problem lies in the fact that we think of inspiration, motivation and action as a linear progression. First you get inspired, you get motivated to do something, and finally, you take action. In this model, if you’re not inspired or motivated, you’re basically screwed.

There’s a better model.

What if motivation and inspiration were actually the result of action, not just the cause of it?

Here’s the deal. The mere act of taking action—any action—stimulates a cascade of activity. Your brain takes note of the fact that you’re taking an action and adjusts accordingly. Acting happy actually changes certain things in your body and brain that can be measured, like hormones, neurotransmitters and blood pressure. That’s true even when you aren’t actually happy, you’re just acting that way.

The writer and coach Mark Manson talks about something he calls the Do Something Principle, which is based the idea that when you’re stuck, you should just take an action.  Behavior has consequences. Taking an action isn’t just a result of your feelings; it’s also a big instigator of them.

Manson tells the story of an author who was interviewed once about his prodigious output. “How’d you write all this stuff?” the interviewer asked him.

Pay attention to the author’s answer, cause it’s genius.

Two hundred lousy words a day.”

This dude essentially created an entire legacy of work by taking one small, almost insignificant action a day. What the writer was saying is that he took an action even when he didn’t feel like it, which is the total secret to overcoming “no motivation”.

I can relate—if I had waited to “feel” like giving up cigarettes twenty-five years ago, I’d be smoking as I write this. The most empowering, transcendental thing in the world is to be able to act even when you don’t feel like it. (To hear my extended rant on this, please download my free mp3, Motivation: Why You Don’t Need It.
The Do-Something Principle simply says take an action. It can be something as simple as drinking a glass of water, walking to the gym (even if you don’t go in), reading one page in a book you’ve been putting off reading, reading one page in a different book, writing 200 words every morning, writing the first page of a proposal, weighing yourself…doesn’t really matter.

The metric you’re going for here is action… not results. The kind of results you’re looking for will come later, in good time. Right now all you need to do is be concerned with taking one action.

I know for myself that when I don’t feel like writing—which is frequently the case—if I just make a deal with myself to do one action (like writing, for example, 200 words), two things will happen. One, I will feel more subtly empowered (‘cause I said I would do something and then I did it, and there’s nothing like making shit happen in the world to make you feel more powerful. Don’t worry about the “it” being small—the important point is you’re building an empowerment muscle that grows every time you say you do something and you do it).

The second thing that will happen—not always, but sometimes—is that I don’t stop at the 200 words. I know I can, ‘cause that was the deal I made with myself, but the mere act of crafting a few sentences gets my juices flowing, or gets me thinking about the topic and wanting to read more (and write more) about it.

I’m writing this article on a Saturday and when I started I didn’t feel like writing at all. So I made a deal with myself—just the first few sentences. Which I did. And I haven’t stopped yet, and probably won’t till the article is done because now I’m really into it. A small, unmotivated action actually produced inspiration and enthusiasm.

Which led to more action.

So if you’re stuck feeling unmotivated, here’s a challenge for you. Disempower the notion of “motivation”. It doesn’t have to rule you, you don’t have to spend your life waiting to “find” it, you don’t need to wait for inspiration to “strike” you like a thunderbolt from Zeus.

Just take an action.

Even if—or especially if—you don’t feel like it.

You’ll have a “win” in the short term…and a way better chance of winning the game.



1 Comment

  1. Steve Heller

    Thank you Jonny?? Your insights about
    taking action are awesome. William James
    wrote on a related subject. I remember it went something like this: Is a person sad
    because they are crying or crying because
    they are sad. This same idea can be applied
    to motivation. For example: Once you behave
    with even a 200 word a day action of writing
    your in motion and are showing behavior wise that you are motivated. But if one
    just sits ruminating on why am I not
    inspired your like a car in neutral. No matte
    how much you ruminate you’ll still be
    spinning your wheels and going nowhere.
    But if you shift into forward or even reverse
    one can gain the momentum to get out of
    the rut. I remember days past being stuck
    in the sand out in an orange grove in Florida.
    It was doing this stuck incident that a field
    hand showed me the technique of “rocking”.
    To rock out of the rut you put the car in reverse and then once you gain some backward motion you shift to first gear and
    go forward just a bit and then you go in reverse just a bit and soon you’ve got the momentum going enough to get over the
    hump and blast free. Of course the key is do
    something! Don’t just spin those tires in neutral … that just won’t work. So take that
    small step whether it be writing 200 words or
    just putting on your sneakers or ordering that
    appealing tool instead of playing” Georgie
    Girl” window shopping but never stopping to
    buy. You got the money …. you got the time…
    and we all can do it…staying stuck is the big
    crime. Remember the words of Emerson: Do the thing and you’ll have the power? Just
    Do It! No more thinking… no more ruminating. The Time is now! Right now! Boldness has genius, power and magic??