The Motivational Myth: By Jeff Haden

This book argues the structure and functioning of ‘motivation’ is simply a basic unit of a process which is repeated over and over again. So it is futile to look for external stimuli to provide that dopamine boost. The central theme of Motivation Myth, which Jeff defines throughout his book expands on the notion of motivation, success, and the benefit of sticking to a process. In the progressive pages of this book, Jeff highlights step by step processes for some of the insights I’ll discuss within this summary. I shall distil and summarise influential points and draw out the lessons I’ve found highly beneficial.

Please note:

  1. This summarisation is bias and based on my perception.
  2. I hope that readers reach out and acquire the book themselves to draw upon their learning. Please assume all other substantive ideas are from the book.

Author: Jeff Haden – if you wish to find out more about him, check out his site.

Motivation, Success and Result

Motivation is not the Spark. Motivation is a Result.

To become successful is by setting a goal and then focus all your attention on the process to achieve that goal. The incremental success of a process, however small is a motivational tool that allows you to get closer to your goals. And, when repeated over time with the right habits and strategy can provide you with the desired results.

I once read action cures fear and as a byproduct motivation is a result.

Accept your weaknesses and work to improve them, and as you become stronger, your motivation provides comfort against those weaknesses. Initially, I hated parallel parking because I would find it difficult in pressured situations. Over time, I improved with copious amount of practice and now it’s my default parking manoeuvre.

Confidence comes from preparation and practiceThe anxiety you feel—the lack of confidence you feel—comes from feeling unprepared.

Stop sharing

This was something I was unfamiliar with and when I read this insight I knew I’d to share it:

Say you have a huge goal you want to accomplish: a massive, audacious, incredibly challenging, and ultimately worthwhile goal. You think about that goal, dream about that goal, obsess about that goal and talk about it with your friends and family. That last part can sometimes be a big mistake.

By sharing your goals, you’re less likely to achieve it. When people take notice of an individual’s identity-related behavioural intention – the individual adopts a premature sense of possessing the aspired identity.

The issue lies in our sense of identity. Each of us wants to be certain things, and we naturally declare those intentions, even if we have not yet become those things. Declaring what we want to be and how we will get there causes us to feel we are further along the path of becoming who we want to be—even though we have in reality done nothing but talk.

How to set a goal?

To achieve your goal, the focus should be on the process or routine that are used to build a system. And such a system is not driven by hope or wishing to achieve your goal. It’s driven by incremental steps of small progress that are consistent towards your goal. Through the use of the acronym “SMART”, every goal should be specific, meaningful, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.

  1. Specific – A breakdown of your goal that provides direction to specific detail. How will you know you’ve arrived if you never knew where you were going? And how will you follow the right process to get there?
  2. Meaningful – The more you work to find or contrive or manufacture some sense of meaning, the less likely you are to achieve the goal. Most of the time the meaning of a goal is immersing yourself in a routine.
  3. Attainable – If it’s attainable its a target, not a goal.
  4. Realistic – if you’re able to break down a goal into targets, tasks and objectives – you visualise the realistic value of that goal.
  5. Time-bound – setting an end date for completing is important, but it no way to help you focus.

How to create a successful process?

A successful process is a self-initiator to satisfy your itch for getting started.

  1. Set your goal – choosing a process and setting your mind towards that process which matches your comfort level.
  2. Be specific – breaking down areas of focus which requires attention within the scope of your day. By adding time and location to your objectives, you start to specify details for instance, reading at 6 AM in the study or going for a run at 7:15 AM around the park for 40 minutes.
  3. Rework your schedule – refine your daily routine to incorporate your newly established process.
  4. Map out your daily plan – Each day requires a commitment to your desired goal. The process should complement the progression of the goal by creating a daily plan.
  5. Work the process – a contributing factor to your process is build on the difficulty. So if initial miles feel difficult, start with something simple and build on your difficulty as you become comfortable.
  6. Fix your schedule problems – By adapting accordingly, fixing underlining issues that may have arisen within your process, for example, waking up 5 AM to read may not have always worked. It is best to evaluate your results before altering your process.

Don’t underestimate ‘I don’t’

Here’s something I want to share from the book:

Participants were told to set a personal long-term health and wellness goal. When their initial motivation flagged—as initial motivation inevitably does—one group was told to say, “I can’t miss my workout.” Another group was told to say, “I don’t miss my workouts.” (The control group was not given a temptation-avoidance strategy.) Ten days later the researchers found: Three out of ten control group members stuck to their goal. One out of ten “I can’t” group members stuck to their goal. Eight out of ten “I don’t” group members stuck to their goal. Not only was “I can’t” less effective than “I don’t”; “I can’t” was less effective than using no strategy at all. “The refusal frame ‘I don’t’ is more persuasive than the refusal frame ‘I can’t’ because the former connotes conviction to a higher degree.

How to become a serial achiever?

A serial achiever is someone who achieves this, and then that, and then that again all while working in an advancing career. The ability to expand your identity provides a realm of separation from others; it broadens your market value because you have a broader skillset.

If you’re thirty years old, that means you have eight to ten five- to seven-year periods ahead of you assuming you’ll live up to the age of 80.

This provides an opportunity for ten different phases of your life where you can accomplish concrete goals. And, over time achieving more than one goal, you become more than just one identity.

How to Avoid Interruptions?

Interruptions are the curse to productivity. Having contingency in motion is an optimum way to avoid being disturbed, especially when working on high calibre tasks that require your optimum attention.

  1. Let everyone know you won’t be available – this is achieved by putting a sign outside your study or having an email alert that highlights your availability.
  2. Decide how long you will work – stick to a timeframe that you can obey and commit.
  3. Commit to how long you decided to work – in the scope of that timeframe retract from any peculiar distractions, build contingency to avoid using your phone, or going onto social media. Use this timeframe of 60-90 minutes as your daily highlight; a means to achieve your deep work.
  4. Start your EPD at an unusual time – this steps expands on the fact we should utilise the advantage of (5-7 AM), use this to our advantage to work on ourselves and devote this time for personal growth. 
  5. Delay and space out your rewards – Your treats are like your productivity ammunition, a supplement used to boost your productivity as you begin to plateau. Recently, I have been experimenting with mushroom coffee, which I found to love when doing deep work. I’ll leave a link here for you guys to check it out.
  6. Refuel before you think you need to refuel – A productive body in motion helps the mind stay productive. This draws upon the need to keep your body engaging in exercise and the benefits it presents to your productivity.
  7. Take productive breaks, not relaxation breaks.
  8. Take your breaks at a counterintuitive moment.
  9. Don’t stop until you’re done—even if finishing takes longer than expected.

How to have the most productive mindset?

  1. Stop making excuses for doing less – I recently came across a well-practised productivity trick and this has been an absolute game-changer in how I manage my tasks based on its importance and urgency. Consider using the Eisenhower Matrix.
  2. Stop letting disapproval, or even scorn, stand in your way – Aristotle who once lived 384BC told us exactly how to avoid criticism is by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing. So as long as you doing anything worthwhile in life – you’ll be criticised, so take pleasure from it. Use it in a positive connotation, instead of viewing it as a criticism.
  3. Stop letting fear hold you back – and to overcome such fear is through action, however incrementally small it may be.
  4. Stop waiting for inspiration -creativity is the result of effort: creating, editing, drafting and experimenting. The work itself results in inspiration. Don’t wait for ideas.
  5. Stop turning down the help you need – Asking for help is a sign of strength and is the key to achieving a lot more. In asking help, you’re positioning yourself to learn. You’re allowing yourself to grow like levelling up to the next level.

How to strengthen your willpower?

Tips you can use to accomplish your goals, without needing to possess incredible willpower.

  1. Eliminate as many choices as possible – This is something that was also highlighted by Derek Sivers in his new book called Your music and people. By implementing restriction is a means of establishing a parameter used to limit juggling between options.
  2. Make decisions tonight so you won’t need to make them tomorrow – create a default activity by deciding on what you intend to wear, what will you have for breakfast the next morning, for lunch and dinner. The end goal is to sleep the night before making those decisions and avoid excess mental energy being utilised for non-essential activities the next day.
  3. Do the hardest things you need to do first – this draws on the idea of waking up early in the morning, utilising your 5-7 AM to carry out tasks that require the greatest amount of mental energy. If you wish to explore this – I’m currently reading the 5 AM club by Robin Sharma, check it out here.
  4. Refuel often – turns out glucose is one of the foundations of willpower. Although your brain does not stop working when glucose is low, it does start doing some things and stop doing others: It responds more strongly to immediate rewards and pays less attention to long-term outcomes.
  5. Create reminders of your long-term goals – I found this step to be energising because I’ve never positioned myself to create reminders of my long-term goals. Having a visual representation of the goals that you wish you achieve through a reminder provides a sense of closeness. Hence, I’ve decided to invest in a vision board
  6. Remove temptation altogether.

Fewer the goals; greater the resolve

The more goals you try to achieve at one time, the more questions and decision you are pushed to make. The result of such outcome tends to leave you with decision fatigue. And, then you utilise your willpower to overcome the decision fatigue.  Willpower is a finite resource; the fewer decisions you make, the less willpower is required.

The 1% advantage

I’ll share this example from the book:

In 2009 Sir Dave Brailsford, a former director of British Cycling, was seeking funding for the program. He told the British government he could build its first-ever Tour de France winner in four years by using a strategy he termed “aggregate marginal gains.” His plan was to break down each individual component that goes into making a world-class cyclist and cycling team and improve each of those elements by 1 per cent. Not 5 per cent or 10 per cent or 20 per cent, but just 1 per cent. Three years later Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky won the Tour de France and an Olympic gold medal. And for three of the next four years, Chris Froome of Team Sky won the Tour de France.

We overestimate the value of one defining moment and underestimate the value of small incremental improvements. The “1 per cent advantage” works well for one reason: Small improvements add up to a major overall improvement. The compounding effect of making small incremental changes plays a big role in improving drastically.

In the book Atomic Habit by James Clear also highlighted improving 1% isn’t measurable at the moment but built over time can be astounding.

Let’s provide some math for clarity:

  1. If you improve in a given subject every day for one year, you’ll end up improving by 37x.
  2. If you don’t make any improvement in a given subject for the same amount of time, you’ll decline below zero.

I would love to get your feedback or thoughts about this summary, so please consider leaving a comment below 🙂

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I am a writer and a graduate engineer working in Leicester, UK.

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