4 Culprits Hijacking Your Motivation and Daily Performance

Why don’t we set meaningful goals? And if we do, why do we often fail to achieve them?

What internal forces cause our behavior to stay constant despite our desire to change?

Why do we neglect the development of essential skills that would transform our lives and professional performance?

We resist change. This resistance expresses itself in four key ways: neurotic fear, limiting beliefs, disempowering habits, and inner voices.

Once you understand how these little culprits operate, you’re empowered to make any change you can imagine.

Culprit #1: Neurotic Fear

Fear is at the root of most of our excuses. Doing something new creates risk. Risk evokes fear. Fear is the primary barrier that keeps us from following through on our goals and ambitions.

Fear occurs because of a subconscious assumption that if you do the thing you want, you’ll experience more pain than pleasure, more hardship than enjoyment.

Sometimes we fear failure: What if I fail? What will it mean about me? What will other people think or say?

We also fear success: What if it works out? How will be my life change? What if people perceive me as different?

Healthy fear triggers a flight or flight response. Neurotic fear immobilizes us. Any time you’re not following through on something you want it’s because of this fear.

There’s a cure for neurotic fear: do the thing you fear. Develop competence in this area and the fear, which has no substance, vanishes.

Culprit #2: Limiting Beliefs

Beliefs are challenging to uproot because we’re often unaware of them. You might consciously believe you’re capable and worthy. Subconsciously, you feel you’re incompetent and unworthy. These beliefs dominate our behavior.

“I’m lazy” is another common belief. We all have a lazy part within us. But we also have a disciplined, willful part. If you’re only identifying with your lazy part, examine your life. You’ll discover at least one area where you get things done. (Assume that’s true or your mind can convince you otherwise.) You can consciously access that part by getting in the same state you’re in when you’re willful. Evoke it. Call on it to support you.

And watch your language. If you’re calling yourself lazy or undisciplined, your mind will believe you. It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What you focus on grows. Be mindful of your thoughts and beliefs regarding your behavior, your abilities, and your strengths and weaknesses.

“I don’t have the time” is another common belief. Challenge this belief. Maybe you can you carve out 30 minutes in the morning. Or perhaps you can stop doing something that’s not serving you. Or maybe you can learn how to eliminate distraction and focus better. If you invest time in what you’re interested in, you’ll build energy and momentum that will enable you to be far more productive with your day.

When you challenge your limiting beliefs, opportunities present themselves.

Culprit #3: Mundane Conditioning

Poor habits are common for most of us. Cultivating empowering habits and behaviors takes conscious effort.

Common poor habits include procrastinating, getting distracted, being busy, addictive behaviors, and going to sleep late. The list is endless.

As long as we link more pain to doing something (fear) or more pleasure to avoiding it, we procrastinate. All of this conditioning results from our environment.

The science of willpower has shown that changing your environment is more effective than exerting your will. Psychologists call it situational self-control. For example, if you want to stop watching television when you get home from work, put the remote control in an inaccessible place and remove the batteries. This self-imposed inconvenience will delay the habitual impulse and give you time to make a different decision.

Distraction is pervasive in modern life. The habit of eliminating distractions is vital to getting things done. Block off time in your calendar to work on projects important to you. And honor that time.

Close your email program. Power down your smartphone. Close your door. Put on some inspiring music. Set up the environment that allows your brain to enter an absorbed, focused state.

Realize that busyness is an unsupportive habit. We often use it as an excuse to avoid making progress on what’s purposeful to us. Be clear on what’s most important and meaningful to you. What lights you up? What interests and challenges you? Focusing your attention on those things will shift you out of busyness and into a state of flow.

Culprit #4: Inner Saboteur

There’s always a voice within us that gives us reasons not to do something. It’s often called the Inner Critic or Inner Saboteur. It seeks to sabotage or undermine our progress.

In stories, this part is symbolized by conflict, by the many trials, tribulations, and enemies the hero must overcome on his path to personal transformation. Although this sabotaging part is trying to protect us, its efforts hijack our performance and development.

Learn to listen to this inner critic. Allow it speak because if you repress it, it will control your behavior. Instead, let it voice its concerns. Then, dialogue with it. Refute its claims when appropriate. Respect it and make friends with it.

Breaking Through Resistance

Overcoming these four culprits isn’t something you do once. New fears emerge, old disempowering beliefs creep in, unconscious behaviors take over, and the inner saboteur speaks his mind.

Breaking through new layers of resistance is how you walk the path to self-mastery. With daily practice and observation, however, it gets easier.

Mindfulness of these four barriers is the first step. Observing them at the moment reduces their subconscious influence on us. So remember:

  1. Take action in the face of fear.
  2. Challenge your disempowering beliefs.
  3. Establish habits that support you.
  4. Dialogue with your inner saboteur.

The art of following through on our interests brings greater joy and personal meaning to our lives. Focus on that. It will help pull you toward a compelling future.

Scott Jeffrey is a writer and business coach. He’s the author of numerous books including Creativity Revealed: Discovering the Source of Inspiration. Join his mailing list to receive free personal development guides and research-based methods for realizing your potential.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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