Conversation 5: Your Values & Direction

Motivation: More than a Feeling

Motivation: More than a Feeling a recording of Julian McNally (5:35 min) 

(Motivation: More than a Feeling by RMIT Counselling and Psychological Services, Six ACT* Conversations, RMIT University is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Now what I’ve just said is somewhat contrary to conventional understanding, which has it that

  1. You carry out actions simply to attain goals or achieve objectives, and
  2. That if you are suffering and that is preventing or obstructing goal achievement, you need to get yourself fixed or somehow get rid of or get control of the feelings or thoughts that obstruct you.

In particular, when it comes to motivation for achieving your goals, if you don’t already have it, you are somehow supposed to just get it from somewhere.

Have you ever wondered how you’re supposed to do that? Well, there’s a paradox in there. You won’t get motivated until you feel like it. In other words, you have to be motivated in order to get motivated. It’s a chicken and egg situation.

We discussed in Conversation 1 that the problem with the strategy of trying to escape or avoid uncomfortable feelings is not with you and your poor ability to implement the strategy, but rather with the strategy itself. The same thing applies with the conventional approach to motivation. As the sports slogan says, when you’re hot, you’re hot. Well, good if you are.

man in black jacket and black pants standing on rock formation looking at the mountains
Photo by Alex Gruber on Unsplash

But if you’re not, now what? This is the point where many people give up. They just stopped working or making an effort until something external to them forces them into action.

To me this situation seems like sitting in the cold and refusing to start your fire until you feel warm enough to get up. Warmth will arrive as a result of your actions, not your wishes or feelings. Likewise with what most people call motivation.

There’s a statement I’d like you to test against your experience: Motivation follows action consistently. Action only follows motivation haphazardly.
Or if you prefer the brief version, motivation follows action.

Now let’s try this out.

Exercise 1: Motivation Follows Action

What’s a regular task you go out of your way to avoid –  the one you’re always putting off and telling yourself you must get around to? Making your bed, putting your clothes away, filing, ironing, washing the dog, the car or the dishes?

Actually, that last one’s mine, so we’ll use that for the sake of this exercise, but you can swap it for the one that you usually avoid.

Depending on what task you plan to work on in this exercise, you may need to play this audio so that you’ll have both hands free.

Step 1: Go to the place where the job needs to be done.

So, go to the kitchen for example.

Step 2: Get close to the current situation.

Take a look at the dishes there, piled in the sink, or on the draining board. Look at the caked-on food, the tea and coffee stains, and take a moment to breathe in the state of this situation.

Let yourself feel the emotional reaction you have to this sight and smell, if that’s part of it.

Now, if you’ve done the expansion exercises from Conversation 3, you may care to do one of those. Just let the feelings you have be there right now.

Step 3: Take the first two steps. Carry out the first two actions that comprise this task.

So for example, I would put on the rubber gloves and fill the sink. Yours might be to fill the tub and catch the dog, or clear the desk and pile up all the letters and bills next to the filing cabinet.

Now, stand there for a moment with your feelings and thoughts – taking in the current situation.

Okay, now walk away.


What did you feel just then when I told you to walk away? Was there a little twinge of disappointment, a little pang of sadness?

This thing I’ve been avoiding – at last I’m ready to do it, and now you ask me to walk away?

Just before the thrill and excitement of being told you’re now free to go off and watch television or surf the net.

Were you feeling perhaps a sense of relief that finally you were going to do this thing?

That pang of sadness that I mentioned is what happens when you act contrary to your valued direction.

The valued direction that you have when you’re standing at the sink with your gloves, on a sink full of hot, soapy water and dishes to clean, is usually (not always, mind you) going to be in the direction of cleaning up rather than walking away.

If you walk away at this point, a quiet little part of you is going to hurt. That’s your values speaking.

(An exception might be if you smelled smoke, then you’d probably go and check because in the context of the house potentially burning down, ensuring you can safely continue cleaning the dishes is an effective response.)

I hope this exercise has given you a small, albeit brief, contact with a value. You might label this value order or completeness or respect for myself or integrity. The name doesn’t matter. What’s more important is that through practise, you learn to honour it when your environment offers you opportunities to do so.

In the House on fire scenario, the environment offers you an opportunity to honour a value of preserving life, perhaps of caring for your loved ones. For the most part, though, your daily life provides you with a great number of admittedly less dramatic situations in which to express your values.

So that’s what I’d like you to do next!


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