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. 

Intrinsic or Extrinsic Motivation?

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.

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 only the start, not the end.

I favour creating an environment, daily rituals and habit-building that lessens dependence on motivation and willpower and increases the likelihood that I 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.


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.

Frequency beats time invested.

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

Fire to wire new neural pathways. 

James Parnell is the founder of The Wellbeing Gym, which provides online wellbeing, performance and productivity programmes to individuals and corporates. He is also co-founder of TheWellnessOrchard.com, the fast-growing network and platform for corporate wellbeing participants.

You can book his webinar on Motivation and Focus here.

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