Motivation Is Bullshit, with Terri Trespicio


Today I’m talking to Terri Trespicio about her take of motivation. Terri, whether she likes it or not, is a motivational speaker. Terri’s Ted talk, Stop Searching for Your Passion, has over 6 million views. She’s currently working on a book of the same name. Also, I’ve known Terri for years. She was my editor when I was a contributing writer at Whole Living magazine and talking to her and hearing her ideas and insights has always gotten me revved up about making an idea real (and turning it in on time, ha).

In her work and in her life, Terri often has a contrarian view that makes people think about things in new ways. True to form, when I reached out to her about coming on the podcast today to talk about motivation, she said, “Well, I just have to warn you that I’m not sure I believe in motivation.” Which is when I knew I HAD to have her on. Because Terri gets all kinds of impressive things done. And if she doesn’t believe in motivation, how does she do it?? Let’s. Find. Out. 

Listen To The Podcast Here

Welcome, Terri! Great to have you. 
OK, let’s dive right in. You told me earlier that you don’t believe in motivation. Please explain. 

Motivation is a big bag of chips. You know, you eat one, you feel like you want another one. And then you think you can ever face hunger without it. And I just think that motivation having become sort of an industry in itself relies too much on the idea that in order to get something done, we need to rely on a force outside of us. I do not believe that.

Oh, that’s really interesting.

It’s commodified. People are selling you motivation, right? People are. And there’s a reason. Look, we’re all doing things. Anyone in the world that seeks to motivate or encourage someone else. We have to turn it into something that someone else can consume. However, too much of a dependency on that need to consume motivation makes us believe we can’t manufacture it ourselves.

Okay. So you still have to get your stuff done somehow, right? So it’s not going to come from outside of you. And if you don’t believe in motivation as a bag of chips, what takes its place? How do you get stuff done? How do you care enough to get stuff done?

I also want to add about the bloating factor of eating too many chips. Because when you eat too many chips, you get bloated, and then you feel bad about yourself. If you only seek sources of motivation, you still end up hungry. And the thing is, the world provides lots of spark for your motivation. But motivation by design comes from inside. So how do you get stuff done?

I’ll give you one thing that has never failed me. And it is creating the conditions to do the work I want to do. So for instance, my brain is luggage between 2 and 5:00 PM. I don’t do my best writing or thinking then, so I don’t try to grind through then. I go, “Hmm. When do I do my best work? When do I have my most energy and focus?” And that’s early in the morning. And so it’s not that early, quite frankly, but morning. So I make sure that I get enough sleep. It  sounds simple, but if I’m tired, I can’t get anything done. So I worry less about what motivates me. And I worry more about feeling the way I want to feel.

Because when I feel good, I feel like I can get anything done. So how do you create those conditions? Well you figure out when you’re at your best. You figure out what makes you feel like crap. If you eat it or drink it, whatever. I love wine in the evenings, but I’ve noticed that if I have wine a little too early, the rest of my night is shot. So I was like, all right, well, how about, I’m not giving it up forever? How about just some nights I don’t drink wine so that I can get some stuff done. Right? So that’s one of the things.

Okay, great. Oh, this really ties in with my personal theme of I’m doing a dry January.What about getting yourself pumped up to do the stuff that feels hard, or scary? You know, not your basic to-do, but something like, writing a book, or looking for a new job, or breaking up with the person you know isn’t right for you? 

Well, first of all, you’re assuming too that I ever feel like writing my book. I often feel like doing something else. First of all, the conditions for doing your best work, whether you know what work that is or whether you need courage to face it. The conditions matter. But what’s more important is not motivation, but momentum.

So there’s plenty of things I don’t feel like doing, but I need to do them. I want someone else to have what I’m creating for them. Or that have asked me to do it. Any of those things. Whatever falls under those things. Even doing the thing you just said, ending a relationship. Doing something very difficult, uh, that I don’t know. I don’t know, you’ll have to tell me if you think break up works into this action item.

But I believe that the momentum is more important. That means you have to start working on it. You start working on it. You don’t think it through first. And you don’t try to figure it out before you do it. I think the best thing for that has worked for me has been not trying to plan or think ahead.

But to dive in whatever I’m creating. A proposal, writing a book, writing to someone, and it’s going to be a difficult conversation. I just rough draft everything. I go, “Okay, I’m not going to think about it.” Because thinking is not my friend. And thinking is not often your friend either, you meaning anyone. I don’t trust my thoughts. And I don’t trust my feelings sometimes. Because they just want me to sit on the couch and be safe.

Instead, I start. I just write whatever. I go, “This is dumb, but let me just write this out, blah, blah, blah.” I try to get ahead of my critic and just start. I’m telling you, even the things you hate. the more you think about not wanting to do it, the harder it becomes to do it. So momentum, not motivation. And rather than trying to think through first, start in any ragged, rough way, you can. So that you can point to it and say, “Oh, look at that!” You’re doing it.

And Kate, I will add one thing. The stuff where I go, “It’s so hard. I don’t know how to get inside of it. I don’t know how to do it.” All you have to do is actually get inside of your work. Whatever work that is, whether you like it or not. Rather than jump in and try to do it in 15 minutes, which we know is not easy. Can you get inside of it and give yourself a good hour, hour and a half to just tinker around inside the work? Before you know it you’ll be doing the work. It’s just that. It’s not that we don’t know how to start. We don’t give ourselves enough time inside of it.

You’re reminding me that I often tell myself, I just need to break the seal. If it were a bag of chips, I would just need to open the bag of chips. Oh man. All right. So what’s something practical listeners can do the next time they have the thought. I just don’t feel like doing this thing that I know I need to do.

I say acknowledge the feeling. “Okay. I Don’t feel like doing this. I’d rather do this.” Look. We’ve all made deals with ourselves. I’m currently way addicted to Boggle. Kate,  will you play boggle with me on my app?  I’m running out of people there. I’m just like, it’s your turn, go! Like I’m putting a lot of pressure on my Boggle partners. But Boggle gives you two minutes to play Boggle and then it’s the other person’s turn.

So I’ll go, “Okay, I’m going to start this and I’m going to work a little bit. And then I’m going to stop and play Boggle for two minutes.” And it resets me. I don’t give in to every distraction. If I want to go do something like, “Oh, let me see if those Athleta leggings are on sale.” I’m going to write it down on my list so I’ll remember to go look up the Athleta leggings later. But I try not to let myself open that new browser window because then you’re off. That distraction is the problem. It’s not that you’re not motivated internally. It’s that you’re easily, like we all are, distracted. And we have everything at our fingers to go look at and do instead of what we want to do.

So think about, I look at my list and I go, what’s most important and most urgent. What to do sooner or what will have a bigger impact faster. Let me get that done. And I clear it out. I don’t try to do everything. If you try to think of, “Why aren’t I motivated to do everything,” it’s cause you’re trying to everything. You pick one thing and you bargain with yourself in any way you can to give yourself at least 30 minutes to start doing that thing. Even if you don’t like it.

So I’m going to do this thing for 30 minutes and then I can go play Boggle

Two minutes with me with Boggle. And then you go back to it and you say, look, I’m visiting the work, right? We put these metrics on like, did I do it? Was I productive? There is no one metric for productivity. You don’t write a book in a day, you write 500 words. You edit one page, 10 pages, whatever. But if you put time ,what they say in Peloton, time under tension. How much time under tension. If we relieve that tension so quickly at every second, we’re looking at something else. I do this too. We’ll go to Amazon, blah, blah, blah. You don’t want to be. Don’t relieve that tension. Stay under tension, the Peloton instructor says, stay in the saddle, keep pushing for another few minutes. Those moments are the ones that count. And there’s no reason you can’t do it.

Awesome. How can folks who want to connect with you find you? 

I’m the only one with my name. So it’s actually very easy to find. I’m on all the platforms, all the things. And if you want a way, a method for unlocking your own genius and getting inside of the work in a way that pushes through and pass that critic. Just go to my name, That’s where my free guide is and you can do an audio version if you don’t feel like reading. And then you can figure out how to get past those blocks yourself.

Daily Tiny Assignment:

Two things Terri talked about that stuck out for me where just getting started, and the power of combining time with tension. So, for something that you’ve been resisting, can you set a timer for 15 minutes or 30 minutes or even an hour–depending on your schedule and what this thing is–and just make it your goal to break the seal and get a decent start on this thing?

Even if the work you do isn’t all that great, you will be building momentum. And then you can go reward yourself with something fun–like Boggle. I’m SoManyKates on there. If you’re on there, or decide to sign up too, find me and let’s procrastinate productively together.


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