Waiting for Action

Waiting for Action

A few days ago, a friend of mine forwarded me this link to 10 Steps You Can Take To Guarantee Failure. Ordinarily I am a leery of top ten lists with “attention-grabbing” headlines, but since it was passed along by a buddy I checked it out. And a good thing too, because there was one item on the list that whacked my perspective in just the right way (emphasis mine):

Wait until you are motivated – Let’s face it, it’s much too difficult to go jogging or open a mutual fund account when you simply don’t feel like it. So just wait. Waiting gives you the peace of mind that someday, you might do something. But not yet, the timing isn’t right and you aren’t motivated anyway.

Motivation. Feeling. Waiting. These were familiar themes I have struggled with in the past. However, what’s NEW is my realization that I expect motivation to feel like something all-encompassing and dramatic. In my head, I’d be out enjoying the New England autumn, and then the Universe would manifest itself next to me, tap my shoulder with a smile, and whisper into my ear The time is now, Dave! Go! and THEN I’d know what it was I was supposed to do.

I’ve never consciously vocalized this expectation until just now, but I realize it’s true. Here’s a secret: beneath my hard-boiled “skill, competence, or death!” exterior beats the heart of a romantic. I have been expecting / wanting / hoping for a call to action. There’d be trumpets and smoke machines and disco lasers, and Ed McMahon himself would leading a procession bearing a GIANT CARDBOARD CHECK FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE’S SATISFACTION. I’d shake hands with Ed, smile for the cameras, and then buy a facility somewhere in the hills of New Hampshire to build my content creation empire. Mua ha ha ha!

Meanwhile, back on Earth, real-world Dave waits for the tap on the shoulder. And gets older.

Kinds of Non-Motivation

I’ve been crabbing about my lack of motivation many times before, thinking it might be related to extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation, a failure in the feedback mechanism of accomplishment, or even some fundamental lack of maturity, but these have all presumed that I understood what motivation was in the first place. I think there are at least two ways I can look at it:

  • Not Feeling Like It — Laziness, basically. We all feel it…would rather be doing something “fun” than “tedious”. How do you deal with this? You use incentives that make the tedious task “worth doing”. Or you get someone to kick your ass. This is where my previous strategems have focused.

  • Not Feeling It — This is the unknown-but-felt expectation manifesting as doubt and hesitation. This is different than “not feeling like it”. It might be our subconscious telling us that something’s not right, and we feel our energies are not being applied in the right way. However, when pressed as to WHY we’re not “feeling it”, we’re unable to say. How do you deal with this? I think you need to build a relationship of trust in yourself and the world. A prerequisite is having the ability to assess when the relationship is working toward your mutual advantage, and not against it.

Lack of Feeling = Opportunity

I have wondered what the difference is between “go getters” and the “procrastinators” for a while, and I think it may come down to “Not Feeling It”. The assumption that the go-getters make is that we’re being lazy, when actually it’s more of a question of “why aren’t I feeling the motivation and drive to do this thing I know will be good?” Our frustration arises from our lack of feeling. A “conscientious procrastinator” wants to feel motivated and full of energy, as evidenced by all the people on 43Things pulling together. We want to feel passion, and because we don’t feel it, we assume something is wrong with us. Well, maybe nothing’s wrong. And therein lies opportunity, if you look at your lack of motivation a little differently:

  • If you do not hate the idea of doing something that you know is good for you, that means you have no resistance to doing it. Sure, it’s not the life-affirming surge of passion you’ve been waiting for, but it’s not a kick in the face either! Count your blessings!

  • If you do believe the thing to do has benefits to you, then you can be absolutely confident that doing even a little bit will pay off. Getting anything done at all is amazing…you’ll get to like it. Just do it for an hour or so, and stop. Congratulations! You’ve CHANGED YOUR CORNER OF THE UNIVERSE a little bit, gained some experience, and are a little smarter. Good job!

  • If you are particularly spiritual, you can also believe that if you keep doing things (whatever they are), the Universe will manifest itself before you and whisper in your ear. The path to that, though, is paved with the works you perform between now and then.

  • But beware: the ability to assess your relationship with the world is crucial. It’s up to you to make it work, or change the parameters of the relationship to the best your circumstances will allow.



p>Theory: There’s two forms of non-motivation: not feeling like it and not feeling it. The first is laziness, the second is that sense that you’re supposed to feel something powerful.

Hypothesis: if you don’t feel anything, that’s not necessarily bad. You could look at this lack of passion as a sign that nothing is resisting you except for the idea that you’re supposed to feel something. There are a million tasks I can think of that I don’t feel passionate about; I’ve thought by concentrating on the passionate ones I would make the “best use” of my energies. Another case of inappropriate life optimization.

Practice: I have learned to trust that when I make something, I become more expert and accomplished. This is a good feeling. I can use that trust to support the doing of those “non-passionate” tasks that I don’t actively hate. I know that by doing them, I’m doing a good thing for myself. Also helpful is the notion of living artfully, which a friend of mine introduced me to last week over dinner. He had been visiting his daughter’s art studio, and commented that every object in the space seemed to have been arranged as part of the work she was doing. What a fabulous idea.


Just Do It has never worked on me, because I always need to know WHY. The rational side of me understands why most of the time with function and survival are the criteria, but it was the feeling side of me that was looking for that surge of affirming passion and excitement and holding things up. The WHY in this case is “WHY DON’T I FEEL THE PASSION?” The explanation to myself is now this: “It doesn’t always, but trust me…by doing these things, you’ll feel good. In the meantime, keeping on the move is the best thing you can do.”


  1. Jodie Miners 17 years ago

    Hi David, thanks for the excellent article. Once again, you are articulating exactly what’s going on in my head but I could not put into words. Now I can just give myself a break and understand that I’m just not feeling it at the moment. I like the idea of not feeling it = lack of resistance, I will try and use that idea next time I’m stuck.

  2. warren 17 years ago

    hey dave.

    seems like we’re on the same wavelength… i have a lot of work booked at the moment but I’m just not feeling it… the thought of an extra 25% income this month, even with a new mortgage has only just motivated me enough to overcome my inertia.

    even still, i feel like i’m nibbling around the edges rather than really getting stuck in.

    this has worked for me in the past, the downside is that i need to do at least an hour’s work every day, otherwise i totally lose momentum… weekends just kill me, and i forget where i was up to.

    add to that the fact that nothing encourages procrastination quite like a new house, half unpacked boxes and a yard that needs landscaping. :-)

  3. Adam 17 years ago

    Thanks again David, on another beautifully articulated article on what I have come to think of as pragrammatic existentialism.

    I enjoy your blog a great deal. I just wanted to say thanks.


  4. Alvin 17 years ago

    Hey Dave,

    You’re really good at analysing stuff, breaking them down and building them back up. No wonder you’re an information designer ;)

    And you’re pretty good at reflecting on yourself. It almost seems like writing these posts are meditative for you.

  5. Dave Seah 17 years ago

    Jodie: Thanks! Good luck to you as well! :-)

    Warren: It’s an interesting (if unwelcome) state to be in, isn’t it? I guess I do also want to feel like I’m sucked into something and totally driven, but it does as you say seem to require a great deal of momentum. A simple mantra I had adopted recently was to keep physically moving, and not sit still too long (typing counts too). Maybe building relentless momentum is a goal to reach toward too…hm! That’s an interesting idea.

    Adam: Pragmatic Existentialism!!! What an interesting idea!!! I’d love to read more about that.

    Alvin: Thanks! Some would say I overthink things, but yes, there is very much a meditative quality to the posts. I just start writing and see where I end up. I get all blocked up if I think too much about it before I start :-)