We’ve Got the Formula Backward

by Michael Plank

It’s January 4. New Year’s Resolutions are fresh in your mind. Goals are set. New year, new you. This is going to be better than last year.

How do you make sure that’s true? How do you stay motivated to achieve your goals?

Motivation is important, right? If you’re not motivated, or at least disciplined enough to keep going on days that you’re not motivated, you’ll never have success. Right? (Hint: that’s a trick question)


The formula that makes sense to us, and the one that we’re fed all the time is: Motivation + Success = Results.

In fact, the reverse is true: Success + Results = Motivation

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say we’re brand new to fitness and our goal is to exercise five days per week. What we think has to happen is that we have to be motivated to go to the gym. If we stay motivated, then we’ll be successful at our goal of getting to the gym five times. And if we’re successful with that goal, then we’ll get the ultimate results we’re looking for. Sounds good on paper. It’s good logic. The only problem is that motivation is something that happens emotionally, not logically. How it plays out is that you bend over backward to make it to the gym 5 times in the first week. The second week, you’re stressed because of how much you had to move around in week one, but you’re able to pull it together again and make it to the gym 4 times. But you missed your goal, so you’re disappointed. The third week you only make it once, and now you’re in the shame spiral. You feel bad about going only once and so the fourth week you don’t go at all.

What we’ve found to be much more effective when it comes to goals and results is to set small, easily achievable goals. Getting to the gym five times per week might not be easy. Especially if you have a spouse and a job and kids and friends and other interests. So the other way to look at this is to ask: “what’s a goal that I’m at least 80% confident I can achieve?” In other words, what’s an easy goal? Your easy goal might be getting to the gym once every week. So you set that goal and 4 weeks later you’ve been to the gym 4 times. It feels good to check that box off in your mind and that becomes a positive feedback loop that makes it even easier (i.e. you’re more motivated) to get to the gym next time. And even if you only go once a week for a year, how much fitter are you after 52 workouts than you would be with the 10 in our last example?

It’s not that you need to be motivated to find success. You need to find success to stay motivated.

And how do you do that? By plotting out easily achievable mini goals along the way to your big goal. You can do that on your own, but if you need help, that’s what we call coaching, and it’s our specialty.