The majority of people looking for motivation will wait for something, or someone, to come around and motivate them before they can get up and take action to motivate themselves.
This is the wrong approach.
I operated with this “motivation comes before action” mentality for years before finally realizing that I had it all backward…
I would look for ways to get motivated to exercise, to get up early, or to stop procrastinating and do my work… and I’d be motivated about doing these things for a little while, but shortly thereafter, the motivation would fade and I’d stop taking action.
Then I realized that the lifespan of motivation is, in a weird way, very similar to personal hygiene:
- You brush your teeth and your mouth feels fresh—until you eat a meal and need to brush again.
- You put on fresh clothes that make you look and feel sharp—until you drop ketchup on your bright white shirt.
- You wake up and take a shower every day to be clean and presentable—until the next day when you need to do it again.
Just like taking care of your personal hygiene is an important part of your daily routine, I want to suggest that taking care of your motivation each day is as well.
Which came first—the Action 0r the Motivation?
I think the late great author, Zig Ziglar put it best when he said,
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.“
This realization eventually led me to another simple discovery, which I now believe is the most important thing you need to know about motivation.
I call it The Action-First Principle, which states:
Action leads to motivation, not the other way around.
To put it another way: If you want to feel motivated, FIRST take action—and the motivation will follow.
The Action-First Principle
Here’s how most people approach motivation:
MOTIVATION → ACTION → MORE MOTIVATION
(In other words: if they don’t “feel” motivated to take action, they don’t.)
Here’s how motivation really works:
ACTION → MOTIVATION → MORE MOTIVATION
Regardless of what you want to get motivated about, the answer always begins with action.
Action is the impetus for motivation.
Action is the precursor to motivation.
Action comes FIRST, motivation comes after.
🛑 We want to STOP saying:
“I need to get motivated to take action.”
✅ We want to START saying:
“I need to take action to get motivated.”
I often tell people who struggle with motivation and productivity:
It’s easier to act yourself into a better way of feeling than it is to feel yourself into a better way of acting. — Share this on X
Grab your fattest sharpie and write that down.
Then tape it up somewhere you know you’ll see it on a daily basis.
And next time you find yourself thinking, “Gosh, I don’t feel motivated to do anything right now” — STOP.
Then remind yourself that:
ACTION COMES FIRST, MOTIVATION FOLLOWS.
How to apply the Action-First Principle
I have two challenges for you today. If you accept them, you’ll begin benefitting from The Action First Principle immediately.
Here’s challenge number one:
① Tomorrow morning, wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual
And get out of bed the moment the alarm rings.
The resistance you may feel about getting out of bed is the same feeling you need to contend with when you’re pushing yourself to make any change, in any area of your life. As hard as it might be to put mind over mattress and throw off those warm blankets, you’ll notice that once you’re up and about, it’s not that hard to stay awake anymore.
Furthermore, waking up earlier is not only an exercise in facing resistance—it serves as concrete proof (to yourself) that you CAN look at something you don’t feel like doing, and do it anyway. That’s powerful. And the confidence-boosting effect of getting yourself to do something that you’re feeling demotivated to do, but would be genuinely proud of yourself for having done, is also your first shot of confidence for the day… Which usually results in a positive upward cycle of confidence-boosting actions and emotions throughout the rest of your day.
All because you set the tone for success from the get-go.
But waking up early is just one simple exercise to demonstrate the power of The Action-First Principle.
My goal is for you to see how powerful it is, and to then leverage this principle to push yourself to do ANYTHING that matters to you—regardless of whether you’re motivated or not.
Which brings me to challenge number two:
② Make the following pact with yourself right now…
And say it out loud:
“If I know there’s something I need to do that could change me for the better, I promise myself that I will use The Action-First Principle to push myself to do it regardless of how I feel.”