Here’s Why You’re Not Motivated (And How To Find Motivation)

Not feeling engaged by your work? Your decisions could be out-of-line with what naturally gives you motivation. This understanding is crucial to make wise decisions about your future and just how you choose to invest your time really. The kind of decisions you can still feel great about 10, 20, 30 years after you’ve made them. And we already know there’s not too many of those… 🙂

In 1949, 3 psychology professors put 8 monkeys in separate cages. In each of the cages they put a little contraption they had created: Small mechanical puzzles that although simple to solve for humans, should have been more difficult for the little chimps. 

The scientists put the devices in every cage, and observed. Hoping to be able to test the monkeys’ problem solving skills at the end of a 2-week period. 

What they observed was surprising to say the least: Almost immediately, and without any encouragement from the scientists, the monkeys began to play with the puzzles with focus, determination, and what seemed like enjoyment.

Very quickly the monkeys were able to solve the puzzles. And when they were tested 2 weeks later, most of them could solve the puzzle under 60 seconds. 


The puzzle they had to solve: Remove the vertical pin, unhook the ring and lift the flap. Courtesy of


This study shocked the world of behavioral psychology in 1949 because it seemed to show that these primates where not acting from either of the 2 dominant theories of drive and motivation at the time, which were:

1. Biological drive (hunger, thirst, sex, etc)

2. Reward & Punishment from the environment 

The monkeys were not being rewarded in any way for solving the puzzles, in fact there was never even a hint of any sort of reward coming their way if they were to solve those puzzles and solve them well. 

That’s what shocked the scientists. 

This study and many that came after it (and involved humans) allowed psychologists to postulate a third theory of why we are motivated to do things. 

It turns out that what these monkey were so engaged by was the task itself. Not the prospect of any reward that could come as a result of performing the task, but indeed the performance of the task itself seemed to provide the gratification. 

You and I function the same way, and behavioral psychologists call this intrinsic motivation. 


Intrinsic motivation is a powerful driver of behavior.


Doing things for no other reason than… the act itself. For the pleasure that is derived from the performance itself. That’s intrinsic motivation.


This is known today in the spheres of psychology, and taught in text books. 

I think it’s valuable for lay people like you and I to bring this understanding into our daily lives because it allows to legitimize what we’ve always experienced as reality: 

You and I both know that there’s some activity somewhere that you would do 10 hours a day, absolutely for free, if you could afford to do that. 🙂 

This is because those activities engage us in a way that our current jobs probably never have: They challenge us just the right amount so we feel drawn in, but not so much that we feel turned off. 

This “optimal” state of arousal is called flow, and not unlike love, it’s hard to “feel it” when you’re not dealing with that special person. 

It’s just one of those things you absolutely can’t fake! At least not to yourself. You’ll always know what true motivation looks like. 


Motivation is the push, inspiration is the pull. 

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The reason you’re not feeling pulled by the work you do is probably because it’s not something you would be intrinsically motivated to do. 

If you could be doing anything else without having to worry about pay, would you be working towards what you’really working at right now? 

For those of you that are satisfied with your occupations the answer might be yes. But for everyone else the answer is almost certainly no. 

Decisions can be made on the basis on financial return, or perceived status (which is also a form of reward we receive from society). 

Of course this only “works” to the extent that said high financial gain/ high status position is also aligned with the third primary driver of human behavior: Intrinsic motivation. 

In the absence of this crucial alignment, demotivation will ensue. 

Now,  I’m not suggesting you and I drop out of school, or quit our jobs, and go for low paying/high passion jobs. 

Understanding more about how our mind works and what really motivates us can support you and I in making better decision moving forward.


What I am suggesting is that we start asking ourselves better questions.

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We’re working off of the assumption that better questions lead to better decisions, which in turn lead to better outcomes. Outcomes like feeling fulfilled in life, and not constantly in a state of anxiety or extreme boredom. 

  • Which path is more lucrative? 
  • Which path is both reasonably lucrative AND engaging to me?

This is really one of those issues that force you to look at your philosophy on life. 

I remember having had this discussion with my father when I was very young. He would tell me: 

” Son, in this life you can’t always do what you want. Sure if you can do what you want and pay your bills on the 31st it’s great but, at the end of the day it’s more important to pay those bills.” 

As I’m able to reflect on those moments now I realize my dad he’s always been about that bottom-line. 🙂 

And actually I think he’s right you know, for some of us it is strictly about the bottom line. Maybe temporarily. Hopefully temporarily. 

But as soon as you see that daylight man.. that hint of possible bottom-line + shit I’d be happy to do for free opportunity.. MY advice is you shouldn’t even think of hesitating. 

If it’s there for you, TAKE IT. But to see these opportunities from where you are you have to change your focus from bottom-line, to finish-line. 

You’ve got to think farther, like what you’d want to do over the course of however many years you have left. Because that’s what’s going to lead to your well-being later in life when the bottom life stops being a factor. And you don’t want to have 20, 30 or 40 extra years pass before you have it figured out.

It starts by asking yourself the right questions. 


So what inspires you? 

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What is something you would do for free if you could afford it? 

What are you already able to talk about for hours on end on a Friday evening?  

Tough challenges call for big measures. Make no mistake, this subject we’re on, it’s a tough one. Figuring out what you could be doing differently in life requires imagination. Questions are tools that can get you sparked, so start by answering them for yourself.

If life won’t show you your path you’ve got to look at the clues and images you do have and then reverse-search your way to it. 

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