The Essential and Timeless Guide to Motivating Yourself

by Henrik Edberg

How to Take More Action: 10 Powerful Tips
Image by goodsurfers2008 (license).

.“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

Motivation can be a huge help for you to achieve what you want in life. But how can you find all that motivation you need?

Well, looking at timeless advice from time to time helps me. And in this article I’ll share four of my favorite timeless thoughts on motivation, four thoughts that motivate and inspire me.

Make a conscious choice.

“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.”
Wayne Dyer

“I was thinking one day and I realized that if I just had somebody behind me all the way to motivate me I could make a big difference. Nobody came along like that so I just became that person for myself.”

Help, accountability and motivation from others is always good. But in the end you to be able to rely on yourself. And there is really no escaping it, because as Dyer says, it’s always your choice what to do.

So you have to consciously choose to motivate yourself. You can do that by:

  • Doing what you really, really like to do. When you really like doing something then the motivation to do it comes automatically (most of the time). And when you really want something then it simply becomes easier to push through any inner resistance you feel. You are so motivated to achieve whatever it is you want that the risks you may encounter may be scary but smaller than your desire.
  • Make a list of upsides. Write down all the benefits you will get from achieving something, like for example getting into better shape or making more money. Save it and pull that list out of the drawer whenever your motivation is lacking and review it. Or put it somewhere where you will see it every day. This is a powerful way to reconnect with your motivation and reasons for taking action.
  • Compare yourself with yourself. Comparing what you have and your results to what other people have and have accomplished can really kill your motivation. There are always people ahead of you. Most likely quite a bit of people. And a few of them are miles ahead.
    So focus on you. On your results. And how you can and have improved your results. Reviewing your results is important so you see where you have gone wrong in the past to avoid similar missteps further on. But it’s also important because it’s a great motivator to see how much you have improved and how far you have come. Often you can be pleasantly surprised when you do such a review.

But the most important thing is to take responsibility for your own motivation and feelings and not wait around for someone else to do it. When you do that you will most often find a way to get yourself to start moving towards what you want.

Walk your talk.

“Walking your talk is a great way to motivate yourself. No one likes to live a lie. Be honest with yourself, and you will find the motivation to do what you advise others to do.”
Vince Poscente

This is great tip. Whenever you don’t follow your own talk or just your inner rules of how you want to behave you tend to feel bad. Your esteem of yourself sinks and your motivation to get going does too.

So you have to be honest with yourself when you feel like you are out of alignment. You have to get up and get started again. When your talk and inner standards you have set for yourself align with what you do then you your self-esteem goes up.

You feel great because you are living like you deep down want to. And you are getting all these important things done and can enjoy the results. And then you want more of that good stuff, you sometimes feel so motivated that you can’t wait to get going.

This is not always easy. In the short run it’s often easier and less uncomfortable and scary to lie to yourself a bit and hold yourself back. But the rewards for walking your talk are big. Both on the outside and the inside.

Set big goals that really inspire you.

“Goals are not only absolutely necessary to motivate us. They are essential to really keep us alive.”
Robert H. Schuller

Without inspiring goals you tend wander around aimlessly in a confused funk.

I think the most important thing about setting goals is to find goals that really inspire and motivate you.

What are your goals? As much as possible, you have to set the goals for yourself. Should and ought to-goals aren’t good enough. Or goals that other people have set for you.

Think about your goals. Think about who has set them. Then think about what you really want in life. Then set your own goals. Write them down.

I also don’t think one should be afraid of setting big goals. Set a big goal that inspires you even if it may seem a tad unrealistic at the moment. If you have too easily achievable goals then you may find that they don’t give you that motivational spark and drive. When you start to think a bit bigger then you get motivated and your mind starts looking for the solutions that will help you achieve that goal. Thinking too small can leave you with a “meh…” feeling or make you feel like you can do it later.

And a benefit of doing things this way – even if you don’t quite achieve your big, big goal or it takes a while longer than you may have hoped for – can be found in a quote from Les Brown:

“Shoot for the moon and if you miss you will still be among the stars.”

Don’t get too hung up on being motivated to get started.

“The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.”
John C. Maxwell

Here’s another view on motivation. Maybe you don’t need it to get started? Maybe you can create it along the way?

Many times I have found it better to just do it and start working instead of trying to motivate myself to get going. At first what you do may suck quite a bit and it’s hard going. But after a while inspiration and motivation seems to catch up with you. Things start to flow easier and your work is of a higher quality.

And after you have kept going for a while you become more and more motivated. Because you start to feel like you can actually do this and you can keep going to achieve your goal. And now you are also walking your talk which boosts your motivation.

On some days you may not seem to be able motivate yourself into action. Even if you review your goals or reasons to achieve something.

That’s ok. You can still make a conscious choice based on what you know deep down is right and just start moving your hands and feet anyway. No matter how you feel inside, no matter what negative thoughts may be circling around in your head.

Try both to get yourself motivated before you begin and to just do it and find the motivation along the way. Try both ways and see what works best for you.

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Geraldine May 24, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Some excellent advice here. Compare yourself, with yourself, very good. Thank you.

John May 24, 2011 at 11:21 pm

This is a very timely blog post for me, I can really relate to what you are saying, particularly about goal setting.

About a year ago I was one of those people who was all over the place, and to be honest, it was only after I set-up my own business did I actually find the goals which truly motivated me into action.

I only hope I reach as many goals in my second year as I have in my first – great post!

Henrik Edberg May 26, 2011 at 10:57 am

Thank you! Yep, I have been there too, without goals that I really wanted to achieve I was all over the place or drifted without focus.

Christian Hollingsworth May 25, 2011 at 2:56 am

Doing what you really, really love to do. I think that’s my favorite part of this post. I think it’s so important to find what you love – and then be and do your best to do it always.

Love that Mark Twain quote!

Henrik Edberg May 26, 2011 at 11:13 am

I totally agree. Finding what you love to do and doing that as best you can makes it a lot easier to stay motivated.

zeus May 25, 2011 at 3:20 am

Whenever we are afraid of something because we think something bad is going to happen or believe something won’t work out, it’s usually just in our mind. All of us use past experiences to learn, and make future decisions but the problem is that we can expect the same scenerios to play out over and over again and they can end up holding us back.

Justin | Mazzastick May 25, 2011 at 4:49 am

I love that Mark Twain quote in the beginning of your post. It is so true, when we get to the end of our lives we will focus mainly on the things that we didn’t do.

I love goals and I usually have several going on at a time. Some immediate , and some are long term goals.

Your right, without goals we would wander around aimlessly. I should know because I had a few years like that.

Henrik Edberg May 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

Thanks for sharing how goals help you, Justin. And I agree, it’s an awesome quote. :)

Guru Eduardo May 25, 2011 at 4:59 pm

And now a word from the contrarian…

I see two problems with this theory.

First, willpower is weak power. It doesn’t last very long. Just do it, just doesn’t work very well.

Second, big goals are great for blue sky dreaming but frequently lead to disappointment. So what’s a guy to do?

Small goals! You can keep the dream of the big goal but you can better achieve the small goals that lead to the big goal. Small goals are achieveable and you can build momentum from them. Focusing on one small goal at a time is the path to greatness.

Henrik Edberg May 26, 2011 at 11:12 am

Thank you for your excellent reply!

I agree, willpower is weak and doesn’t last for long. But “just doing it” and using willpower works well for me to get started. Then I find inspiration and motivation along the way as I keep working.

And small goals or as I usually think of it: breaking a bigger goal into small actionable steps, is really a very effective way to make headway on your path to accomplishing that big goal.

IyabunmiM May 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm

You don’t have to compete with anyone but yourself. This is one of the many things this post gives us. Thank you for reminding us about this realizations. Kudos to you.

Jussi May 26, 2011 at 10:01 am

Hi Henrik, thank you for your post! Waiting for motivation is the same as a writer or painter waits for inspiration – nothing will be done!

Henrik Edberg May 27, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Hi Jussi! Yep. Sitting around waiting for motivation or inspiration isn’t fun or very effective.

Jon May 26, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Great post! The “along the way” motivations are essential. Getting started, sometimes, is the the easy part. Staying motivated through long stretches of sporadic successes is harder. Many solid insights here to keep on the motivated path! Thanks!

Henrik Edberg May 27, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Thank you, the kind words and feedback is much appreciated! :)

Ali Davies May 26, 2011 at 1:12 pm

The quote at the start of this post is one of my favourites of all time. It has inspired me since the days I was plucking up the courage to leave corporate life 10 years ago. Since leaving corporate lfie in 2001 to follow my own path the issue of self motivation has come up many times in all sorts of different ways.
As you point out, the bottom line is you have to take personal responsibility for picking your elf up and finding what works for you to keep yourself motivated and nurture those things.

Henrik Edberg May 27, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Very cool, thank you for sharing your own story with that quote. Yes, that is really what it boils down too, you have to take personal responsibility for it every day.

Geraldine May 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm

One of my own favorite quotes:

The best way to begin, is, to begin.

Sometimes, the inspiration does follow the action, not the other way around.

I really like your blog/site!

Henrik Edberg May 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Great quote. :) Thank you for the comment.

Beth Reacher May 26, 2011 at 9:59 pm

I agree with you Ali, I really love that quote too.

I think it is so important to continually keep connected to your bigger vision to keep you on track and inspired to keep plugging forward. To help with this I have my own vision board that I fill with quotes/pictures and ideas/reflections associated with my end vision and every time I glance at it I feel ultra energised and motivated. I suggest it to a lot of my clients who have found the same positive affects. It is also a great tool to elicit the law of attraction and is something Jeremy and Esther Hicks discuss in their hugely insightful book ‘Ask and It is Given’

Henrik Edberg May 27, 2011 at 6:00 pm

That’s a really cool idea that I too have found helpful to stay on the right track. I haven’t done it with images yet though, just with words.

Jamie Jefferson May 26, 2011 at 11:06 pm

I have just stumbled on your blog and love your words of wisdom – especially the wonderful, insightful quotes sprinkled throughout. Thanks so much for the boost!

Eirini May 27, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Great post,I especially loved the part about creating your dream along the way,it invariably works best this way for me.both in my business and personal life.Too much analysing and planning is usually a cover-up for procrastination!Thanks for the insights!

RILEY HARRISON May 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Asking what you REALLY want to do is a powerful question. And for me it’s just not a macro question (i.e. large goals ) it’s also a micro question that needs to be asked many times during your daily living routine.

Henrik Edberg May 27, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Good point about the daily questions and not just the big picture ones, thank you for adding it. :)

Vic May 27, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Motivation is a huge topic for me! Every morning when I wake up, I try to listen to or watch something very motivating. This usually gets my day off to a very productive start!.!.!

Naveen | Winning Ideas May 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Self motivation is what drives one towards his goals, happiness and indeed a key for living a content life. External motivation can bring a short term boost to our brains but its only inner motivation that creates a strong will inside us and self-trust is very important for creating a self motivating atmosphere.

Great posts and nice motivating points as well. Well done Henrick.

Keep motivating us :-)

Sibyl May 29, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Henrik: I loved this post and there is nothing better than a little morning inspiration. Thanks for sending it my way :) I really appreciated what you said about taking a look at all you have accomplished and how far you have come. I really do think that is important because often times we can overlook what should be one of our biggest confidence boosters – what we have already done and accomplished. As you mentioned, there are always going to be people ahead of us, but if we just focus on what we really want and always keep in mind that we have made significant progress already, it is much easier to stay motivated. Thanks for all the great tips and advice. I really loved this post.

Andre Lewis May 29, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Goals are essential in living life. Great blog!

Annie Sisk May 30, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Excellent thoughts, to be sure. One thing I’d add: humans are motivated by two things, essentially – the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. When I quit smoking years back I utilized both of these concepts by making a list of every awful thing that would happen if I did NOT quit smoking. This ranged from the obvious (“I could get cancer and die”) to the very specific (“at my funeral, my little daughter might hear people say something like ‘well, you know she DID smoke…’”). Then I made another list of all the wonderful things I’d GAIN by not smoking. Again, it was a long list, of both obvious and not-so-obvious points, from the money I’d save to the freedom to wear the expensive silk scarves I loved so much without fear of burning them or making them stink to high heaven.

Both lists got saved and referred to, often, over the next several months. Every time I felt a craving, I pulled those lists out and re-read them, over and over.

It occurred to me then, and the notion’s served me well ever since: we humans HATE to “give something up” – but we sure do like getting good stuff. If the goal is a new habit to form, or requires stepping outside your comfort zone (as almost every good dream will!), I suggest trying to frame things positively. Think not of what you’re giving up — but of what you’re getting, in as vividly rich detail as you can muster.

Lilian Saum May 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Great post, Henrik!
I like the way you began it, with the quotation from Mark Twain- it’s so obviously true, because regrets weigh tons while action and discipline weigh ounces !
Isn’t it interesting that we’re using timeless advice and perennial wisdom (the gem of all there is human wisdom) in order to motivate ourselves to some basic things like going to the gym, jogging, reading, staying honest, taking action towards our goals?
Thank you,
Lilian Saum
Personal Development For Savvy Consumers-

LotusFoodLtd June 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Yes, that last point, especially. I always forget that trying to make a perfect beginning is a recipe for failure. Just get going and it will get better in time. Patience is often a key to self-motivation.

Allan Gregoire June 4, 2011 at 6:52 am

The single most important thing to stay motivated is to do what you love. When I first started my website, it was all I could think of and I couldn’t wait to get home after a hard day at work to work on it. When you follow your passion you don’t have to motivate yourself.

Torey June 8, 2011 at 4:14 am

I really enjoy your articles. I am a therapist and can use a lot of your positivity for not only my clients but also myself. Thank you.

Social Natural June 29, 2011 at 7:15 pm

I got to admit Henrik…your photo for this post got my attention. :) Huge surfer addict!

Motivation is one of those temporary fire you need to take advantage of, it’s an emotion and emotion changes everyday. That’s why it’s important to have external motivation whether that is as Anthony Robbin best put it “move away from pain, or seek pleasure”.

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