Why motivation doesn’t work and how to leverage science to double or triple your chance of achieving your goals

Why motivation doesn’t work and how to leverage science to double or triple your chance of achieving your goals

I get asked all the time “What’s the secret to getting results”

That could be… losing weight, building strength and muscle, running a marathon or recovering from an injury.

The average person might think it’s all about “GOALS”

Without goals you are lost right? Well kinda… see once you say what it is you what, that’s the goal.

“I’d love to fit into my old “32 inch waist 501 jeans” well then the goal is weight loss.

We all have goals. And what’s the first thing most of us think about when we consider how to achieve those goal?

“I need to get motivated.”

“If only I had the willpower”

“I need to get in the Zone”

There’s what you’re gonna learn in this post.


– What 73% of insta peeps see as their biggest health obstacle, Psst… It’s NOT

– What science says about why you fail to achieve your goals and what you can do about it.

– The only two reasons goals breakdown… No. 2 might surprise you!!!

– One simple trick to make exercise easy even if you don’t feel motivated.

– The easiest way to get back on track FAST when you fall off the wagon.

In an instagram poll I ran over the weekend 73% of people picked motivation as their biggest health obstacle.

Instagram Poll: What’s your biggest health obstacle?

The crazy thing, that will surprise you motivation isn’t what people are lacking or what they need.

I’m going to share a research study that reveals why motivation isn’t the key to helping you achieve your goals and offers a simple strategy that actually works.

The best part? This highly practical strategy has been scientifically proven to double or even triple your chances for success.

Here’s what you need to know first…

Why Don’t People Take the Necessary Action To Achieve Their Goals?

If we knew what stopped people achieving their goals in the first place,  we could help them make a better plan to achieve their goals right?

So let’s start there, what is a goal? and what’s stopping people from taking the action to achieve those goals?

A goal is a desired outcome. Plain and simple.

When you set a goal you’re giving yourself instructions to perform certain behaviour in order to achieve your desired outcome.

The problem is that most people fail to follow the instructions that they give themselves.

They don’t do the behaviour what will get them closer to the goal.

They fail to take action.

Peter Gollwitzer is a Professor of Psychology at New York University. His research centre on how goals and plans affect cognition, emotion, and behaviour.

According to Gollwitzer , this failure to follow your own plans, or the breakdown between goals and actions, can manifest in one of two forms:

  1. You set a goal, but then you don’t get started on it (you need help with action initiation). {I’ll start on Monday, but Monday never comes}
  2. You set a goal and you get started on it, but then you get pushed off track (you need help maintaining goal directed behaviour). {Feast – Famine, Monday to Friday perfect diet then the weekend binge kicks in}

These two failures to of behaviour are explained below.

Failure to Get Started With Your Goal

Why do people set a goal and then fail to get started taking the necessary action in order to achieve their goal?

This happens for three reasons you…

  1. Forget to take the necessary action.
  2. Fail to act at the right  moments.
  3. Have second thoughts at the critical moment

You forget to take the necessary action. 

For example, you set the goal of drinking more water, so you say to yourself I must write down how many glasses of water I drink throughout the day. But, you keep forgetting to write it down or drink the water.

You fail to act at the right moments. 

For example, you set the goal to exercise more. You arrive to work and take the elevator instead of the stairs, you go shopping and look to park as close as possible to the door instead of further away and walking. You may also fail to act at the right moments when you are unsure of what the right action might be to achieve your goal.

You have second thoughts at the critical moment.

For example, you want to lose weight and know that cutting back on processed food and adding more fresh fruit and vegetables will help, You get home from work late look in the fridge and realise you haven’t got any fresh food to cook, You start thinking to yourself wouldn’t it be easier just to order a Domino’s pizza plus “That new Netflix show everyone is talking about is on tonight”, and I’m so tired. I think “I’ll just sit on the couch and watch TV.”

Getting Derailed Before The Goal Is Achieved.

Getting sidetracked

Even if people do succeed in getting started on their goal, it’s very likely that within a short period of time they’ll get derailed and stop taking the action necessary in order to achieve their goal.

Again,This happens for three main reasons:

  1. Impulse control.
  2. Sliding back into bad habits.
  3. Cave in to negative states.

Impulse control.

For example, you set the goal of losing weight, You walk into the kitchen you smell coffee brewing and then you see unmistakable green, white and red Krispy Kreme box on the counter. You suddenly find yourself standing coffee in hand, with cash in one hand and a brownie in the other.

Sliding back into bad habits.

For example, you set the goal to quit drinking coke,  You have a longstanding habit of drink coke while at work, the fact you must walk by the vending machine to get to your desk and all drinks are free makes things more difficult. It’s lunchtime; immediately after eating as you pass by the vending machine you grab a coke, crack open the can and before you know it the can is empty.

Cave in to negative states. 

When you are in a bad mood you have a tendency to prioritise mood repair over other goals. For example, you set the goal of eating less chocolate. Then you a blazing row with your partner which makes you feel like crap, those closest to you always know what to say to trigger your emotions. So you head to the fridge grab a family size dairy milk bar and eat every square all to yourself, in that moment you feel great.

Using The Research To Help Make Exercise Easy {Hint: Make It A Habit} Here’s How.

Over the years I’ve seen that the people who actually get long term, lasting and consistent results do things differently than those just looking for a quick fix and it’s actually backed by research.

Behaviour scientist  have discovered that while many people are motivated to workout (i.e. they have the desire to workout and get fit), the people who actually stick to their goals do “one thing” very differently from everyone else.

The behaviour scientist discovered the “one thing” that makes it more likely for you to stick to your goals…

In 2001, researchers in UK began working with 248 people to build better exercise habits over the course of two weeks. The people were divided into three groups.

The first group was the control group. They were simply asked to track how often they exercised over the course of two weeks.

The second group was the “motivation” group. They were asked not only to track their exercise but also to read some material on the benefits of exercise. The researchers also educated the group on how exercise could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, improve heart health and how it could help them lose weight.

The third group was the “Intension” group These people received the same educational information as the second group, which ensured that they had equal levels of motivation. However, they were also asked to formulate a plan for when and where they would exercise over the following week.

Specifically, each member of the third group completed the following sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”

After receiving these instructions, all three groups where asked to go about their lives as normal and record what happened over the next two weeks.

Implementation Intensions

The Surprising Results: Motivation vs. Intention

In groups one and two, 35% to 38% of people exercised at least once per week. (surprisingly, the motivational presentation given to the second group seemed to have no significant impact on behaviour.)

But 91% of the third group exercised at least once per week more than double the normal rate.

Simply by writing down a plan that said exactly when and where they intended to exercise, the people in Group 3 were much more likely to actually follow through.

A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that 91% people who planned their intention to exercise by writing down when and where they would exercise each week ended up following through. Meanwhile, people who read motivational material about exercise, but did not plan when and where they would exercise, showed no increase compared to the control group.


Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that having a specific plan worked so well, was the fact that motivation didn’t work at all.

Group one (the control group) and Group two (the motivation group) performed essentially the same levels of exercise.

Or, as the researchers put it, “Motivation … had no significant effects on exercise behaviour.”

Looking at the instagram poll above and how most people talk about making changes and achieving goals. Motivation, willpower, hunger, desire, goals get tossed about. But the truth is, we all have these things to some degree. As soon as you think about making a change, as soon as you think it or form the picture in your then you have some level of “desire.”

The researchers discovered that what pulls that desire out of you and turns it into real–world action isn’t your level of motivation, but rather your plan for implementation.

Implementation Intentions

The sentence that the third group filled out is what researchers refer to as an implementation intention, which is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act.

That is… how you intend to implement a particular habit.

The cues that can trigger a habit come in a wide range of forms:

– Feel of your phone buzzing in your pocket.

– Red message icon flashing on your phone screen.

– Smell of freshly baked bread as you walk into the supermarket.

But the two most common cues are time and location.

Implementation intentions leverage both of these cues.

The format for creating an implementation intention is:

“When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.”


Hundreds of studies have shown that implementation intentions are effective for sticking to our goals.

What to Do When Plans Fall Apart

Sometimes you won’t be able to implement a new behaviour — no matter how perfect your plan. In situations like these, it’s great to use the “if–then” version of this strategy.

You’re still stating your intention to perform a particular behaviour, so the basic idea is the same. This time, however, you simply plan for unexpected situations by using the phrase, “If ____, then ____.”

If Then Statement

For example, if…

  • I eat fast food for lunch, then I’ll stop by the shops and buy some vegetables for dinner.
  • I haven’t exercised by 7pm, then I won’t turn on the TV until I do 1000 steps.
  • My meeting runs over and I don’t have time to workout this afternoon, then I’ll wake up early tomorrow and run.

The “if–then” strategy gives you a clear plan for overcoming the unexpected stuff, which means it’s less likely that you’ll be swept away by the urgencies of life. You can’t control when little emergencies happen to you, but you don’t have to be a victim of them either.

Use This Strategy to Achieve Your Goals

If you don’t plan out your behaviours, then you rely on your willpower and motivation to inspire you to act. But if you do plan out when and where you are going to perform a new behaviour, your goal has a time and a space to live in the real world. This shift in perspective allows your environment to act as a cue for your new behaviour.

To put it simply: planning out when and where you will perform a specific behaviour turns your environment into a trigger for action. The time and place triggers your behaviour, not your level of motivation.

So what’s the moral of this story?

Motivation is short lived and doesn’t lead to consistent action. If you want to achieve your goals, then you need a plan for exactly when and how you’re going to execute on them.

Example 1 – Using Implementation Intentions to Lose Weight

Weight loss is a common goal that many people are struggling with.

Let’s look at how we could use implementation intentions to help with achieving this goal.

  • If I work late tonight and miss the gym, then I do 100 press ups at home.
  • If I get up in the morning late and miss the gym, then I immediately put on my gym gear and do a 15 minute home workout.
  • If I get home from work late, then I immediately have a pre bought healthy meal (even if I don’t feel like it).
  • If someone offers me an unhealthy snack, then I stay resolute and decline the offer and congratulate myself.
  • If I feel like giving up, then I call my coach.

Easy enough.

Let’s look at another example…

Example 2 – Using Implementation Intentions to Stop Procrastinating

I’ve been struggling with procrastination all my life, so here are some of the ways I’m using implementation intentions to overcome this obstacle.

(This works like a charm!)

  • If I get up in the morning and feel unproductive, then I immediately write down the most important task for that day and get started on it.
  • If I’m getting on my laptop for the first time in the morning, then I immediately start working on my most important task without checking email or Facebook, or anything else.
  • If I don’t feel like doing the important work that must get done, then I set a timer for 5 minutes and just get started (YES!). (Over time this becomes a powerful habit.)

Does it help me procrastinate less often? YES!

So if you’re struggling with procrastination yourself, try this out… it works.

Example 3 – Using Implementation Intentions to Become More Productive

We could probably all waste less time and be more productive.

Let’s look how implementation intentions can help.

  • If I feel like hitting snooze in the morning, then I immediately get out of bed and celebrate with a fist pump.
  • If I get home from work, then I immediately eat something healthy before watching TV.
  • If it’s 10pm, then I turn off all electronics and go to bed for some pre-sleep reading.
  • If I find myself on Facebook during work, then I immediately close it.

Now it’s over to you.

What’s your biggest takeaway from this blog?

Comment below.


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