Ritual beats Motivation

Credit: Jan Kopriva

Motivation. That which impels us to move. The reason why we do things. We all love a good motivational speech. It inspires us, calls us to action.

Then we go home. 

To our usual environment, where the rubber hits the road. The place where we make micro-decisions thousands of time during the day, each one in-the-moment.

Intrinsic or Extrinsic?

These decisions are influenced, less by external motivation, more by our values, habits, subconscious, environmental cues and our rituals. The problem is, we overestimate our ability to make a conscious decision, to set a goal and to achieve it.

That’s why new year’s resolutions – driven by both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation but often lacking in environment-building and habit-forming, often fail.

Goals are the start, not the end.

Environment beats Decisions

Create an environment, daily rituals and habit-building that lessens dependence on motivation and willpower and increases the likelihood that you will repeat healthy choices over and over again.

As James Clear put it in his book, Atomic Habits, make the new habit obvious, make it easy, make it attractive and make it satisfying. That will increase the chances that your subconscious brain – which consistently seeks comfort and the easiest path to reward – will do it once and hopefully repeat it.

Frequency beats time invested.

Casting Votes

Do that well, and you decrease the willpower you will need to consume.

You can create a new environment that matches the person you wish to become. And cast votes for that new self as often as you can.

Repetition is how we learn – and this is brain change. So be patient. The reward curve is exponential.

Fire to wire new neural pathways. 


Morning Routine Download

The Morning Routine below is a sample routine for you to try daily.


James Parnell is the founder of The Wellbeing Gym, which provides online wellbeing, performance and productivity programmes to individuals and corporates.

The AWE Programme is designed for motivated people to make the most of this year, together. Applications open.

He is also creator of The Wellbeing Academy with micro-courses and mastermind programmes such as the Productivity Mastermind.

1 thought on “Ritual beats Motivation

  1. Deirdre Mellotte Reply

    Love this idea of casting votes James. All the more chance of preserving willpower for all the other decisions we need to make! In the book ‘The One Thing’, I was blown away by the the concept that on any given day, you have a limited supply of willpower, so decide what matters and reserve my willpower for it…. thanks for the reminder 🙂

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