A Simple Exercise to Overcome Motivational Barriers

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / December 13, 2013


Have you ever wanted to know why it is you manage to talk yourself out of taking action on goals you were originally excited about? It’s so frustrating isn’t it? Most of you reading the under30CEO articles are probably highly motivated achievers, but I bet even you have some goals that just don’t work out as well as others. For business-minded achievers these are most likely to be in the areas of health and relationships.

In all my years of coaching and training I have discovered that motivation is almost entirely controlled by three main factors:

  1. Desire (also known as Importance)
  2. Courage (also known as Confidence)
  3. Resources

The amazing thing I have learned, and something I thoroughly enjoy passing on to my clients, is the truth about motivation: you are in complete control of all of these factors. This means you can completely control your level of motivation as long as you:

–        Understand which of these factors is letting you down

–        How to increase motivation through addressing the problem-area

So the first step is to actually realize that motivation is an issue for you. This means you can clearly see that you are not doing as well with one or more of your goals as you expected to. Forgive yourself, we all have motivation issues – this is how fear can control us. Time to take control back!

Grab yourself a piece of paper and a pen; we’re going to diagnose the problem. At the top of the paper write out your goal clearly. Then write out where you think you should be with this goal by now. Finally, the hard bit: write down where you actually are with the goal.

It might end up looking like this:

Goal – I will go to the gym three times per week to complete the XYZ Program by the end of Dec 2013

Progress I should have made by now – I should have lost about 10 pounds or look a lot more toned than six weeks ago

Progress I’ve actually made – because I keep missing sessions I’ve hit a plateau and am now starting to put weight back on, after some earlier success. Makes me feel really disappointed in myself

Writing it down like this creates a commitment from yourself to actually do something about it, and also will start to give you clues as to where the problems lies. Even if it doesn’t, it’s ok, because we’re going to figure out what the anchor is holding you back.

Step one: rate each of the three motivation factors

Write down those three factors (desire, courage and resources) and rank each of them out of 10. You do this by asking yourself some key questions, like:

–        “How important is it for me to complete this goal?” (desire)

–        “How confident am I in my ability to complete this goal?” (courage)

–        “What do I have to help me achieve this goal?” (resources)

Include a quick little description as to why you’ve scored it that way. So let’s say you’ve got that pesky gym goal that you keep procrastinating on. Maybe your scores look something like this:

Desire – 6/10 – while it’s vital that I take care of my physical health in order to run my business, sometimes I can’t be bothered because I’m too tired from work and the sofa is so appealing

Courage – 9/10 – gym is right near my house and I know the program really well so no issues with confidence there

Resources – 10/10 – got a program, gym is easy to get to, and I know how to do the exercises

Right away we can see the problem area: desire. You want to achieve the goal but you’re inconsistent with in-the-moment enthusiasm.

Step two: strategize how to address the problem area

Once you’ve identified the main problem area, you can for now basically forget about having to take action in the other areas. If they ain’t broke, don’t fix ‘em! Sometimes you may identify issues in two or even all three areas. For now just choose the lowest scoring factor.

Now it’s time to get creative. You’re going to figure out how to increase the score in the problem area. The key here is to take baby steps. Rather than trying to raise a 6 all the way to a 10, focus on how to raise the 6 to a 7. This will make the action seem almost too easy, rather than intimidating.

Ask yourself this question:

“What can I do to raise the score from X to Y?” (e.g. “What can I do to raise the desire score from 6 to 7?”)

Brainstorm as many ideas as you can think of to raise the score in that problem area by just 1 or 2 points. Using our gym example, it might be a list like:

–        Do a self-talk exercise prior to gym time to pump myself up

–        Change the time I go to the gym to morning before work because I’m more enthusiastic then

–        Take a friend to hold myself to account when I’m being lazy

You get the idea.

Step three: test and measure

For the next week or two focus on implementing the strategies you’ve decided on to address the problematic area. Set a date to come back to goal and score the factors again. If you come back to the exercise and the scores have increase, then congratulations! You have figured out the solution to your motivation barrier.

Came back to it and the score is unchanged, or even lower? I’m afraid your strategy is not doing the trick and it’s time to try something else. If you can keep trying you will break through, probably a lot sooner than you think. Stamina is the true key to success!


It’s vital that you are honest with yourself when you are scoring these areas. No one but yourself will see this exercise (unless you’re brave and smart enough to share it with a partner or someone to hold yourself to account), so you’re free to be totally vulnerable. If you’re not, this exercise will not work.

Be prepared for your strategies to only have a small effect at first. When you’re suffering from motivation issues your creativity will probably also have barriers. Keep pushing yourself for other ideas, or even better, do a bit of research into how others overcame similar issues. This is where having a coach or mentor helps a lot.

Remind yourself that when you wrote/planned the goal you were sure of it. Something has changed since then and it’s probably just your motivation – some part of you is still very enthusiastic about the goal. Don’t lose sight of that.

Dan is a lifestyle and career coach, with his own company The Inspirational Lifestyle Ltd. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand, and loves to share his advice and opinions on how to attain success. Make sure you checkout more of Dan’s advice at: TheInspirationalLifestyle.com

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.