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Life by the numbers part 3 -Effort / Motivation

Welcome once again! My hope is that you are coming to part 3 of Life by the numbers having read parts 1 & 2 and that you have a handle on your money and your time. In each area we have challenged a change of mindset to make a seemingly daunting situation better by changing how we perceive it and therefore how we feel about it. In part 3 we will deal more directly with the mechanics which cause these feelings (good news! There are no spreadsheets for this one).


Conventional thinking dictates “If we are motivated to do a task then we will spend effort on doing it”. We spend motivation to buy effort, but what happens when we are not motivated or the effort required outstrips motivation? We end up in a deficit. Our feelings associated with a task change from a positive sense of achievement to a negative sense of duty. Now of course not every task can be motivating but luckily we can work around this by looking at where our sense of “motivation” and “effort” come from.

Take a moment to think about that and then ask yourself three things:

  1. Who pays me “motivation”? — where does it actually come from
  2. Who decides the effort “cost”? — why does effort cost motivation
  3. How can I get more motivation? — how can I grow this resource

Now forget budgets, time-sheets, goals; take a deep breath and relax.

Who pays me “motivation”?

You do. At the most basic level we are motivated by the things we want to do. Why we want to do them is a totally different matter, it may be financial gain, physical prowess, emotional well being or just for giggles. For the things we want to do, motivation appears to come from thin air but once you get down to the mechanics of it our brains release doses of endorphins, our feel good chemicals into our brains. The pattern is addictive, once we get a taste we associate it with an activity and then are more willing to repeat that activity in future. Even when the task itself is tough or not particularly enchanting there is usually an associated reward which makes us push through to get it done. So beyond our feelings on the matter there is the chemistry, remember this, it’s important!

Who decides the effort “cost”?

You do. For better or worse the only real “cost” when it comes to expenditure of effort is set by ourselves and how a task or situation makes us feel. This is most prominent in the tasks we have to do repeatedly which do not themselves have a reward. Inherently such tasks are like being “forced” into a fight or flight situation which causes us to stress out. Repeat this enough and the brain learns this behaviour. Since we are able anticipate many difficult tasks we have a greater tendency to react preemptively. This means over time our fight or flight response gets stronger in effect and triggers earlier. As anyone who has experienced it knows, this is exhausting and often erodes any energy we had to do the things we love. Once we enter this state it is very difficult to restore a balance due to the adrenaline rush. There is is again, behind our feelings there is the chemistry.

How can I get more motivation?

Perhaps “getting more” is not exactly accurate. Motivation comes from within (specifically chemicals in our brain) so what we are really going to do is try and hot-wire your brain. It’s worth saying now that initially results will be patchy, consistency comes with practice. Once we get over the hot-wiring, re-wiring will begin.

Let’s change our original hypothesis from:

“I need motivation to spend effort”


“I get motivation from spending effort”

That changes the landscape rather suddenly. There is opportunity everywhere to earn motivation from even the simplest task. By associating reward with every task, no matter how small and balancing the “need-to-do” with the “want-to-do” we can reap the rewards we make for ourselves.

Here is what you can do:

  1. Tick-Tock Tasks — Do something you have to do, then immediately reward yourself with something you want to do. The underlying objective is delayed gratification. This way you take care of what needs done and can enjoy your reward fully rather than languish in guilt for neglecting essential tasks. Revel in your successes.
  2. Keep a To-Do List — This may sound obvious but it needs to be said. Setting achievable goals at the beginning of the day and then ticking them off one by one can be immensely rewarding. If you do something not on the list, ADD IT! Seriously, doing something which was not on the list is in no way a failure, you still achieved something! When you feel the motivation slipping the to-do list becomes an achievement-list, take pride in what you did.
  3. Take some reflection time — Take fifteen minutes at the start and end of everyday to review your to-do list and prepare a list for the following day. This small allocation of time gives you permission to take a breath and decide what is achievable for the upcoming day.

But wait what happened to the chemistry? These three simple steps do three simple things. You get your feel-good chemicals from the things you achieved whether you felt like doing them or not. Your to-do list transforms into a done list, more feel-good chemistry. Keeping a to-do list and preparing it for the following day prepares you for success and reduces your fight or flight responses. Less stress, more feel good!

In summary…

We now know how to manage our time, our money and our feelings with only the smallest of changes which collectively conclude in a huge impact on our lives.

We applied these tools to three of the most common problem areas people experience but you can apply the method to any task you undertake. Our life by the numbers series started with the simple assertion “do the math” which brings to the secret of true success, solving problems. Nothing worth having in life comes easy but solve enough problems, work smartly and most importantly work with yourself rather than against yourself and you will succeed.

I wish you dear reader every success.



Technologically competent, idealistically extravagant, wanna be entrepreneur (perhaps).

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Dave Taddei

Technologically competent, idealistically extravagant, wanna be entrepreneur (perhaps).