Tools & Templates

Motivation isn’t enough. You need a plan

Everybody’s pounded themselves about “why am I not more motivated?”

Why can’t I get this or that job done? Why do I skip my run every day when I know it’s good for me and I want to? Why do I eat all the candy when I know I should just eat half? and on and on…

Even though there are things we want to do (spend more time with our partner, read to the kids, meditate - you finish the list) we just don’t do it.

If you think like that, you’re definitely not alone.

Because motivation is difficult.

Or rather. No.

Motivation isn’t difficult.

We’re often motivated.

Motivation shows up when we least need it

The problem is that motivation shows up when you need it the least.

You’re very motivated to run tomorrow morning - while on your couch eating cake (it’s piece number three, but it’s chocolate so you couldn’t say no). Next morning - not so much.

Right now, you’re very motivated to work on your book tomorrow. But come tomorrow you’d rather sleep another hour.

Sometimes it’s there - the motivation - other times it’s gone.

So, pounding yourself on the head, because yet again you didn’t do a morning run, does no good. It doesn’t make you more motivated.

It really isn’t motivation you’re lacking

Here’s the secret:

As James Clear writes in Atomic Habits: It’s not motivation you need.

What you need is a plan.

As so often, the scientists have the answer.

Plan what you are going to do, and you don’t have to be motivated

What the scientists did was this:

They worked with 248 people trying to help them establish better training habits. They spilt them up in three groups.

  1. A control group.
  2. A “motivation”-group. They were asked to track their training, read material about the advantages of working out and receive an explanation as to why working out improves health.
  3. The third group, in addition to the motivational explanation, were also asked to create a plan for their work out. Specifically, they were asked to complete this sentence:

At [specific time] I will [do behavior] on [specific place]

Yes, that's how simple it is.

Plan what you want to do, and you don’t need motivation.

It sounds perfect but of course it’s not quite as simple. Neither was it in the experiment.

Because even though all of 91 % of group three worked out during a week, against 38 % and 35 % of groups one and two.

Still, nine percent didn’t work out at all.

Enter the If […]. Then [..] Plan

So, if you want to be even more certain you’ll actually follow your plan you should also make an If/then plan. In short, you're planning what to do if your original plan doesn’t go as planned.

If you didn’t run, because your daughter threw up all night, if it rains, or… you finish (I know you have lots of excuses - because I do)

Complete the following sentence:

                      IF [insert obstacle]. THEN [insert your solution]


  • IF my daughter throws up all night and I therefore don’t go running, THEN I’ll in the evening before bed instead.
  • IF it rains and I don’t want to go run, THEN I’ll prepare the coffee before I run, so I have something to look forward to.