What to do when you don't want to do what you said you wanted to do
February 12, 2020
I really don’t want to write today.

It’s a cold and rainy February morning here in Western Arkansas.

Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash

It’s Wednesday, and we haven’t seen even a glimmer of sunshine since early Sunday morning.

Which means I haven’t walked Mr. Winchester, my 13-year-old Shih Tzu.

He desperately wants to romp and play and head out to the abandoned railroad bed, where he picks up scents of squirrels, possums, raccoons, rabbits, and - on occasion - deer tracks.

All I want to do is scroll through my baseball feed on Twitter because this is the first day of spring training workouts for my St. Louis Cardinals.

That’s not quite true - I’m rather enjoying staring out the window at the rain.

A nap might be nice, too.

My motivation is low, but here I am, thinking of you reading this at some point in time, and sharing my struggle.

Sometimes it seems as if a writer is supposed to have answers to questions that readers seek, but the reality is that writing - or any sort of teaching, really - is as much about asking the right questions as having the answers.

A year into the Reboots Podcast - where I ask people how they managed to navigate profound change in their lives and businesses - I realized that one of the keys to successfully working through unwanted changes is to ask the right “why” questions.

In his best-seller, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek advocates that leaders influence human behavior through inspiration.

He argues that when we first understand the “Why” we then have the motivation to figure out the “What” and the“How.”

Whenever I help people who want to build a gratitude practice, the first assignment is all about the “Why.”

Even if I were a guru of habits and gratitude (I'm not), a master manipulator/motivator (I'm not), or the best teacher on the planet (still not), the student will not progress unless she understands why she wants to invest a few minutes a day sitting in gratitude.

Because we have such short (and shrinking) attention spans, we forget our “why,” which is why my students write their why on an index card or sticky note and put it somewhere that they’ll see it every day.

They’re reminding themselves of the vision they have for their future selves if gratitude becomes part of their daily lives.

I didn’t want to write today.

Honestly, I still don’t.

But I have an image of the book I want to finish, publish, and sell before the end of March.

My aspirations are monetary, yes.

But it’s more complex than that. The idea all along - since the beginning of Reboots Podcast in 2017 - has been to earn a living by sharing what I’m learning about change.

And the only way this will happen is if I keep doing the things I need to do (like write), even when motivation is low.

Twice each week, I’m studying behavior via Zoom with Stanford Professor BJ Fogg - along with another 500 plus students who bought his book Tiny Habits. 

He’s walking us through how motivation, ability, and prompts influence behavior, and how all of it fits into the things we aspire to do, or the humans we aspire to be.

Professor Fogg’s behavior model is:

B=MAP - behavior happens when motivation & ability & prompt converge at the same moment.

Fogg contends this is true of all behavior - whether it’s good or bad. 

He explains the Fogg behavior model this way:

A behavior happens when the three elements of MAP - Motivation, Ability, and Prompt - come together at the same moment. Motivation is your desire to do the behavior. Ability is your capacity to do the behavior. And Prompt is your cue to do the behavior.

When motivation is low and we don’t do the habit our past selves said we would do to meet our aspirations, we beat ourselves up, yes?

Fogg says that self-flagellation habit makes things worse - “Self-criticism is its own kind of habit.”

He advocates that when we want to effect change in our own lives, we get to:
  • Stop judging ourselves.
  • Take our aspirations and break them down into tiny behaviors.
  • Embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.

Here’s an example of how Fogg’s Behavior Model works in real life - where behavior equals motivation, ability, and a prompt.

I live with my mom and the other day I forgot to put a liner in the kitchen trash bin when I emptied it.

As a result, we both ended up throwing in some gnarly food, coffee grounds, and tea leaves. 

I saw her having to deal with the mess as she emptied the bin absent the liner, apologized, and thought about how the Fogg Behavior Model might help me remember to put the liner where it belongs next time I empty that trash bin.

My motivation is good. I don’t want either my mom or me to deal with that icky garbage. 

My ability is solid. It’s even easier to put in a liner as it is to tie up the old one and move it to the trash bin in the garage.

What was missing was the prompt.

According to Fogg, if we’re looking to influence change in someone else’s life (which is always a dangerous proposition but parents and employers sometimes must step into this zone) we should do the opposite of our tendency to judge someone’s motivation.

It would have been easy for my mom - in her frustration - to have fussed at me for being responsible for such a big mess. 

For that matter, I had to pull my own self back from the abyss of self-flagellation. 

“How could I have been so thoughtless?” goes to my motivation.

“How could I have been so stupid?” goes to my ability.

Instead, I stepped back and asked, “Where’s my prompt?”

So the Fogg recipe goes like this:

When I tie up the kitchen trash liner, I will reach for and install a new liner BEFORE I take the old trash bag to the garage.

Now I no longer rely on my memory to install the new liner after I come back from the garage.


No judgment. 

Let’s get back to this rainy February morning when I’d rather be napping, staring out the window, or soaking in the Florida sunshine vicariously via Twitter.

I somehow managed to recall my “Why.”

Why I want and need to write about 5,000 words today.

Imagining you and praying for your current and future self, that when your eyes meet these words they will offer you a glimmer of hope on a dreary day - whether the sun is shining where you are or not.

Then I invoked my Fogg “writing recipe.”

The recipe has absolutely nothing to do with a word count. 

I told a friend this morning that I’d “like” to write 5,000 words today.

I knew, though, that the 5,000 wouldn’t come unless I simply opened my Ulysses app - which is the tool I use to write on my Mac or my iPad.

The recipe goes like this:

After I read my devotional and a few pages of a non-fiction book, I will open Ulysses.

That’s it.

While I have an outline for the book I’m writing about the principles of change navigation, this morning I opened Ulysses and just started writing.

That the words flowed into one of the principles of change navigation is a gift, I suppose.

Principle 5, you see, is Ask the Right Why Questions.

About you

Are you beating yourself up over a lack of motivation? 

Think about the thing you want to do.

Figure out your why, assess your ability, then design a prompt.

When you do x, then you will do y.

And make sure the thing y is a ridiculously easy action.

Let me know how it works!

Hey, thanks for reading.

It feels really good to think maybe I helped you today, in addition to finishing 1,300 words - even with almost zero motivation.

Interested in more ideas like this?

I typically post a few times a week.

Thanks for reading.


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