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How to Rejuvenate Motivation When You’re Tapped Dry

 The term “self-sabotage” is thrown about a lot these days, but it’s only ever meant one thing:

Self-sabotage is when you know you should be doing better – that it would be easy for you to do better, in fact – but you just can’t seem to get motivated.

And it tears you up inside, because you know just how easy it’d be to start getting shit done. You know you’re better than this laziness and slackness, but you just can’t get moving.

So what the hell is going on, exactly?

The psychological source of self-sabotage explained: 

The Unconscious Mind – the part of our thinking process that is literally outside of our conscious awareness – has one prime directive above all others:

It wants to keep us safe.

The Unconscious is obsessed with pain and pleasure. It has a full-time focus on moving us toward the latter and way from the former.

And once an entrepreneur starts forcing themselves to work, with rigid productivity hacks and iron-structured ritual, they start a process of delaying gratification… which explains everything about why overachieving entrepreneurs can be so damn miserable and unmotivated.

A type of mental negotiation happens between the entrepreneur’s conscious self and the unconscious mind at the beginning, and it goes like this:

Conscious self: “Ok, I want this big shiny goal – let’s stay a gold-plated Jet Ski – cos it’d be super fun and awesome. But I need us to work really, really hard to get it, okay?”

Unconscious mind: “Got it. Work hard now = a bit of pain now. Jet Ski later = a lot of pleasure later. I get that. Let’s do it!”

Initially, the unconscious mind is fully on board.

The unconscious mind gets in behind the desires of the conscious self. It understands the concept of delayed gratification and suspends its natural inclination for total hedonism to allow you to work hard in pursuit of your goal.

But business is way harder than most people think. 

Talented, “overachiever” entrepreneurs are used to everything being easy. They’re people who have always been told they’re full of potential. They’ve never had to give anything much a 100% effort, because everything has been pretty easy.

Such people – who find life, regular jobs and schooling (for example) a breeze – tend to underestimate just how hard they’ll have to work and how long it’ll take to arrive at that jet-ski-winning-business-success moment.

So the overachiever starts out their business career, and they’re flush with optimism and visions of Jet Skis. Or whatever. As they start climbing the entrepreneurial learning curve, the epiphany occurs: this is hard. The business learning curve is steeper and longer than almost anyone imagines.

Many give up. 

Those who remain have another epiphany: In light of how discouraging and difficult this whole business success thing, a few productivity hacks are needed. It’s at this point that entrepreneurs realize they can’t rely on their default work habits, so they become obsessed with productivity hacking, structure and discipline.

It’s all an effort to stay productive and work harder than ever.

Some entrepreneurs find themselves clocking crazy hours, never really switching off and eliminating almost all distractions in life besides their business.

These are the people who say, “My business is my (only) hobby”. 

I was one of them, a few years back. At my worst, I worked 10+ hours a day on my business, taking time out only to eat, sleep and work out. My social life consisted of networking with other entrepreneurs… to talk about business. I didn’t do things for fun, and I told myself I didn’t need to – that my business was fun.

The truth was that I was afraid I if I made room for true non-business fun, it’d compromise my success.

Sound familiar?

During this entrepreneurial phase, the mental negotiation between conscious and unconscious mind continues to unfold. Initially the unconscious mind cooperates, but as years go buy it starts to get suspicious.

Unconscious mind: “Hey, it’s been a few years of this whole “working hard” thing. And it’s kind of a drag. You’re now micromanaging your schedule down to 15 minute increments, for example. Where’s that Jet Ski you promised me?”

Conscious mind: “Yeeeeah, so it turns out this business thing is way harder than I anticipated. That’s okay though, I just need us to try harder. I need more motivation, more structure and more discipline. Then we’ll make it big, I swear!”

It’s at this point that the unconscious mind decides, “Fuck THAT!” 

All this time, your unconscious mind has been trusting that your conscious mind knew what it was doing. It trusted that a little bit of pain now would result in a ton of pleasure later. (Jet Ski, baby!)

Everything falls apart when your unconscious mind loses that trust. In a split-second moment, it realizes that either the pleasure is never coming, or that it simply isn’t worth all the pain and struggle you’re going through now.

When this epiphany strikes your unconscious, you won’t consciously realize anything… but your motivation will vanish.

Your unconscious mind’s primary job is to act as a pain/pleasure radar detection system. It’s constantly scanning your future, based on the actions you carry out in the present, to see where it thinks you’re going to end up.

Once your unconscious mind realizes that your future, at the rate you’re going, is going to continue to be just as shitty or shittier than the present… it hits the emergency breaks. 

Consciously, you’re just beavering away at your business, trying to implement all your productivity hacks. Then suddenly you find you just can’t get out of bed, or maybe you catch yourself watching Netflix all day, or surfing the internet when you should be working.

This self-sabotaging behavior is the unconscious mind desperately trying to squeeze some pleasure out of the present. It realizes how shitty you’re making your life with all this discipline and work. And it loses all faith and hope that you’ll ever accomplish the “good life”.

So it starts trying to squeeze as much fun (i.e. pleasure) as it possibly can in the moment. It looks for instant emotional gratification that’ll make you feel “good” in the simplest sense, with zero concern for the future.

For most entrepreneurs, surfing the internet is the only fun that’s left. You’ve rid yourself of all potential distractions to focus on business, so you don’t have a bunch of toys or opportunities to really enjoy yourself – you haven’t trusted yourself to be around such things for so long.

So the unconscious mind defaults to the most emotionally satisfying thing it has. For some it’s eating or mindless TV. It’s kind of sad that for many people, it’s Facebook.

If that doesn’t open your eyes to the problem, nothing will.

So what the hell is the solution?

What I’m about to tell you is the most significant idea in all psychology, if you want to win big success as a business owner:

You need to prove to your unconscious mind that your future, business success included, will be more hedonistically pleasurable than a life of half-assing everything and fluffing about on the internet.

You need to condition yourself so that every burst of motivation you can conjure up is immediately followed by something emotionally rewarding. Something pleasurable.

Something FUN.

Right now you’re unfulfilled, unmotivated and unhappy because your unconscious mind equates your business goals with hard work, struggle and misery. Visualizing golden Jet Skis coming in your distant future isn’t enough. Your unconscious mind doesn’t believe you anymore. 

The fact is, for the vast majority of unfulfilled overachievers, hard work only creates more stress and unhappiness. The unconscious mind actually starts to fear the side effects of success because, more often than not, it equates success with more responsibility and inevitable structure and discipline. Yuck.

When life starts looking like it’s going to get less and less fun, the unconscious mind will do everything it can to stop you from proceeding as planned.

 And since it has a monopoly on your motivation reserves, this is a serious problem. 

The solution is simple: Have more fun now. Stop delaying gratification. Try to make the gap between hard work and rewarding pleasure as small as possible. You have to reward yourself and your unconscious, so that it knows that motivation and hard work directly equates to pleasure and fun here and now.

Most people, when you really dig into their mind, have five-year goals – aka “when I make it big, THEN I’ll start living the life I want to” plans. This is broken thinking.

A big shiny goal in your distant future will motivate a green entrepreneur who hasn’t experienced any hard knocks or reality checks. If you’re a jaded veteran, you need something more.

I suggest you start with a 30-minute loop. Work hard for 30 minutes, then go do something you really love. Go have fun. Show your unconscious mind the rewards it can get when it gives you access to the motivation juice.

If you’re stuck now, it’s because your unconscious mind knows that more business success is going to make your life worse – not better. It’s that simple.

When you wholeheartedly and unconsciously believe that business success will be more fun and more pleasurable than the comfortable life you have now, you’ll effortlessly tap into the motivation you need to get you there.


+ Add Comment
    1. Hey Sue!

      Why yes I am, though I usually need to chat with you a while before I can really do the Jedi mind trick stuff. “fun in 30 minutes, not 30 years” should be the unofficial motto of this concept! Thanks!

  1. I can totally relate to this! Great article. It’s so true, there’s only so long you can ‘go without’ for the promise of some future pleasure, before you start to rebel!

  2. Your excellent article reminds me that working harder doesn’t work long term. Over the long haul, my work harder mindset or my fear-oriented, should-based motivation backfires. It’s as if my lethargy is a rebellious stand demanding conscious acknowledgement and reappraisal.

    Your article also reminds me that in being caught in the grind (and my mind), I’ve lost my vision and value about why what I was doing was important to do in the first place. My motivation became externalized. I started looking for the right external stimulus in order to make a different choice. What if instead of looking or waiting for motivation, I look for inspiration (what really ignites and energizes me) and choose to take renewed action from it?

    Thank you for the “go have fun” choice!

    1. Hi Sandy, thanks for stopping by.

      I think you can definitely find inspiration, but it’s always going to be like pushing uphill when you’ve conditioned your unconscious to perceive work as equating pain. If you make an effort to reverse that conditioning (by looping work to pleasure!) then when you find inspiration, you’ll find it gets you further.

  3. Totally on target for me too!

    While focusing and forcing myself to do owner stuff that I know needs to get done in order to live the life I want, I’ve forgotten what fun and doing things I enjoy is.

    Time to go home early from work, drink some eggnog and have family time 🙂

  4. So weird. I was just scanning class times at a local fitness studio and thinking to myself that I don’t know how to fit in one more thing. I guess we always have time for whatever we make a priority.

    Point taken. Thanks!

  5. Ahh Peter – nailed it.

    I resonated with your message. The shocker was that I just finished telling this to a client. I was thinking about that and nodding along when I realized that I was still working after 11pm at night.!Time to look in the mirror. Thanks for that. Oh and a special thanks for making the article so engaging – I kept reading!


    p.s. Thanks to Pat Mussieux for paying this forward!

  6. Hi Peter,

    This is a thought-provoking and very accurate post of many entrepreneur problems. Productivity is hugely important but it’s wasted unless there’s short-term rewards or treats. I currently find that 8 weeks of productive work (mainly!) justifies 1 week of reward or break.

    Would like to shift the 8:1 ratio to a more fruitful 1:8 though! 🙂

    Cheers – your content rocks!

  7. Since I found this article because I was taking a break on Facebook 🙂 yeah, I’d say that it’s pretty much right on! Thanks for reminding me to have fun.
    Fun? Fun? What’s that?

  8. Great read here. I think I get misled because there are so many entrepreneurs out there who claim they can work 70-80 hours per week and do like you did – eat, sleep, work, exercise, and that’s it. I’m beginning to believe that’s something only a rare few superhumans can do because I’ve tried it myself and I can’t.

    Yes, the unconscious thought is that if I focus exclusively on business now, I can enjoy myself later. But now, I am going through this very motivation slump just two years into the game.

    Do you think it’s possible to reach the peak of your profession, or any other, by leading a more balanced life, working fewer hours, and rewarding yourself more often?

    That approach runs quite contrary to what society says about professional success, but experience is forcing me to accept that viewpoint.

    Interested in your thoughts.

    1. Hey Dan,

      Not only do I think it’s possible, I’ve seen it first hand in a huge number of ultra successful entrepreneurs. I think there is a lot of misleading (and disingenuous) BS spouted by semi-successful entrepreneurs who are trying to appear to be successful – they tell the world (people like you) they’re super busy but they’re not actually busy being effective! They’re busy with busywork.

      The highest achievers I’ve met typically have the smallest daily to-do lists. A common one is 3 tasks per day and Peter Thiel believes we should all just have one focus.

      At a more macro level, I think Richard Branson is a great example of someone who has made an enormous impact (both capitalistic and charitable) and also is notorious for living with extraordinary work/life balance with an emphasis on adventure.

      While a lot of other successful entrepreneurs aren’t as public about their lives as he is, the same values are there.

      At the end of the day, you need to do what is pragmatic. Try out being more balanced – see if it works for you and you’re more effective.

  9. I am at that point right now where I just feel like giving up. Even now as i type this comment I do not even feel like cooking just sleeping and letting life take its toll.

    It looks like that would be the easy way out. My motivation for internet marketing business is and has really deteriorated. Though I know I have to keep going. I cant give up cause then I would have lost the battle for sure. Its just so discouraging.

    Great Article by the way.

    1. Hey Josh! We should talk buddy – this sounds like it’d be a great conversation to have via email.

      A crisis of meaning is what it is. Perhaps this kind of work isn’t for you. The key is to lean into whatever it is this crisis is happening BECAUSE OF … to look for whatever there is to LEARN in this experience. There is always *ahem* some powerful meaning behind a lack of meaning.

      Let me know how I can help, okay?

  10. Hey Peter,

    I was just sitting here reflecting on another very disappointing year when Andre Chaperon sent me a link to your article. Like many others have said in the comments, it’s like you’ve read my mind.

    After so many years of hard work and ZERO fun, I’ve forgotten what fun looks and feels like. Guess I’ll have to find something I enjoy other than sitting at my computer 10 hours a day and start doing that. Although I have no idea what it would be right now… my ‘fun’ gland is all dried up I guess 🙂

    Great insights into why I’ve been stuck and so ‘over’ the whole thing lately.

    Thanks for writing this.

    1. Hey Rocky! Glad you found your way here 🙂

      The key is to go back to the things you enjoyed as a child. You’re not alone in feeling like you’ve forgotten how to have fun – this is a common reaction for a lot of seasoned entrepreneurs I have this conversation with, who’ve been clocking un-fun hours for 5, 10 or more years.

      The thing is, “Play” is one of the first behaviors we learn as humans. It’s hardwired into our neurology and is the primary strategy we have for a) learning b) developing social skills and c) so, so much more.

      You haven’t forgotten how to play, you’re just out of the habit of it.

      Go back to the things you loved as a child. Go out and buy some legos if you have to – even if it’s embarrassing. Once you start, you’ll see just how powerful this is.

  11. Peter, if I may, I’d like to share with you and your readers what I think about this “tapped dry” issue, although it’s contrarian to what you’ve shared in this article.

    I don’t understand why you say that your unconscious brain agrees temporarily with the conscious brain when you set yourself to reach a goal, like getting gold-plated skis. If by unconscious brain you mean our base brain or “lizard brain”, then from my understanding, that part of the brain does not understand the concept of “future”. It only understands the concept of “now”. Feed now. Fuck now. Fun now. Feel good now and avoid feeling bad now. It doesn’t care about the goals of the higher brain at all; it only cares about immediate pleasure and avoidance of pain.

    Feeling unmotivated and tapped dry doesn’t really have to do with the lizard brain. If you feel discouraged, going out there and do something “fun” will not give you your motivation back; that’s just an escape. All that fun activity will do is shut up the lizard brain for a while, but once you try getting back to work, the base brain will bombard you with the desire to do more fun fun fun stuff. At it’s worst, feeding the lizard brain with “fun” will just make you addicted to more of that “fun”, and make it harder for you to work on what matters.

    To me, getting discouraged or tapped dry occurs not because you are not pleasing your lizard brain, but because you set the wrong expectations. If you tell yourself:

    “Oh yeah, I can totally get my gold-plated skiis 6 months from now!”

    And after working hard for that time you are still at zero dollars, then of course you are going to feel unmotivated and tapped dry. I think that we avoid this issue by setting more realistic expectations about our goals, and accepting them completely. Something like…

    “Ok, I have to be real with myself. It will probably take me about 10 years of hard work to finally get my gold-plated skis. I accept that. Now, let’s get to work…”

    Also, even if you set the right expectations, your lizard brain will still be attacking you with discomfort and rationalizations, demanding you feed it with “fun” activities instead of “all this hard-working crap”.

    I’d love to read your opinions on this Peter.

    1. Hey Neoglitch!

      This comment is awesome and I want to thank you for taking the time to write it out here. I LOVE it when readers challenge my ideas with this level of detail and psychological acumen.

      Now let me dive into totally tearing your opinions apart! haha just kidding 😛 … but I do think there’s a few problems with what you’re saying…

      The lizard brain is an interesting metaphor, with a basis in neurological science, that is useful sometimes. Made popular by Seth Godin and a few others, I love that you use it but I also believe it vastly over-simplifies the process of non-conscious cognition.

      The reason I often use the term “Unconscious Mind” is that it is artfully and specifically vague. It’s kind of a psychologist cheat word haha.

      The thing about The Unconscious Mind is that it refers only to any mental process that we are not conscious of. So that means: Breathing, blinking, emoting, feeling hungry, finding motivation, and thousands of examples more.

      What you call “the lizard brain” is contained within this definition of the Unconscious Mind but there is more (much more) to the unconscious than the reptilian only-the-present-matters concerns you mention.

      The unconscious mind marries the functions you describe as “the lizard brain” with a bunch of other neurological activity that is also outside of our conscious control. It’s also worth mentioning that this function doesn’t ALWAYS have to be outside of conscious control: Breathing is a perfect example of a behavior that oscillates between the conscious and unconscious mind – you’re either aware of it entirely or not at all.

      It’s quite clear that there conditioned, repeating unconscious processes dedicated to anticipating future events. Anxiety is a good example: When you go to bed at night, you don’t *consciously* choose to worry about that big interview/whatever tomorrow… but your unconscious mind does.

      Essentially, what I’m saying is that there is in fact an entirely unconscious part of our brain “scanning” our medium term future – assessing the pain/pleasure dynamic of where it projects we are heading. This part of our thinking includes but is not limited to what you describe as the lizard brain.

      The crux of your argument was:
      “At it’s worst, feeding the lizard brain with “fun” will just make you addicted to more of that “fun”, and make it harder for you to work on what matters.”

      … which is something that I believe to be fundamentally untrue. I’m not aware of any evidence that suggests we can become addicted to fun itself, without some other dynamic in place driving addiction.

      To use the common example of video games: It’s widely understood that video game addicts are not so much addicted to having fun (in fact, much of their relationship with the games are not fun at all) but rather they’re addicted to a) the isolation gaming provides from the real world and b) the socialization it provides (massively multiplayer games have boosted addiction due to this dynamic) and finally – and most importantly – they’re addicted to the gratification of being able to progress through a more linear and ultimately easier achievement progression than what the “real world” offers.

      It’s way easier to level up your character in World of Warcraft than level up your real life, in other words.

      But addicted to fun itself? Nope… doesn’t happen.

      Again, thank you so much for posting. I hope you find my response insightful 🙂

      1. “Again, thank you so much for posting. I hope you find my response insightful :)”

        Insightful?! Insightful. Doesn’t. Even. DESCRIBE IT!!! =D

        Your response made me very happy; I pretty much agree with everything you’ve shared here. Thank you very much for expanding my understanding Peter!

        The only thing is that I still don’t understand how exactly does the unconscious mind affect our motivation. Through what mechanism? Through thoughts we can hardly control, for instance? (Like… don’t think about a cyclops pink elephant… and don’t think about how you still don’t have your golden skis…)

        And isn’t going out there and do something “fun” just a temporal fix? Wouldn’t lack of motivation be a symptom of something deeper? One of those deeper problems could be, as I said, relying on bad expectations I think.

        Also, when I wrote about getting addicted to “fun”, what I meant was getting addicted to specific pleasurable activities outside of our work, like playing videogames (as you mention), browsing Reddit and meme sites, watching YouTube mindlessly, etc. I think I agree with you in that we don’t get addicted to “fun” itself, but I think we can get addicted to the high (or just the comfort) certain fun activities provide.

      2. Hey Peter,

        Could you please guide us on what counts as “fun” and what doesnt.
        Video game came as the first response to my mind, but then video games and facebook are not in that category.

        Like you said- do something that you liked as a child. But I cant seem to recall anything that I liked profoundly. Trying to recall doesnt help either, it seems like the rewind button is stuck.
        “eating” may be ?
        Please suggest,

  12. Wow. Andre sent me this link too. It’s even worse for me now that I seem to be at a “gun to my head”, as John Carlton calls it, point in life and business. Total freaking paralysis trying to make the jump from SEO to paid traffic.

    1. Hey Buddy, I’m glad you made it over here!

      Sounds like what you have is a bit of fear combined with the delayed-gratification-keeps-on-getting-delayed realization I described in this article.

      Still, there was never a better time to truly begin a-new. Start differently, this time round?

  13. Yeah, I never make New Year’s resolutions and I’m not waiting until the first of January but this is it! Thanks Peter.

  14. Hi Peter,

    I’ve landed on your site a few times in the past and your articles have always been enlightening.

    This one spoke right to me. It’s crazy as I find it hard to get up early and have been watching Netflix a lot. lol

    I’ve worked from home for 4 years and the isolation and loneliness makes me crazy.

    My solution is to join a co-working office so I can rid the pain of working alone that leads to procrastination. This will allow me to escape the isolation a fews days a week and meet some people. Hopefullly this will give me the burst of motivation.

    I have a lot more to say so will return tomorrow to discuss.

    Maybe a co-working office space is an idea that will be helpful to other readers here. It’s a good way to get out the house and meet people, possible business connections, clients, masterminds or just people to go for a beer with after to work on a friday night! 🙂



    1. Hey Chris,

      I’ve found the same thing actually – I think a lot of these motivational issues are a result of the internet revolution. In the past, entrepreneurs rarely were even ABLE to work in such an isolated environment. There was no building an empire in your PJs!

      I’ve found that constructing productivity rituals around commuting to and from an office is highly useful. Real freedom is built on structure!

  15. Hello Peter,

    I very much identify what was said in the article. In fact, I think I finally understand what has been going on all this time (and it has been a very, very long time).

    Two questions:

    (1) Do you find that entrepreneurs who are in this situation often end up resenting all those overnight “it’s so easy” super-success stories that the business world is so full of, i.e. because they begin to feel not only that it will never happen to them, but it’s like rubbing their faces in their own failure?

    (2) Can the same thinking as discussed in this article also explain why people want to do creative things, e.g. write novels etc., but find themselves utterly stuck once they make time to do it? Could the subconscious be thinking, “it’s going to be a hell of a lot of work just to get any good at this at all, and even then what’s the chance of any real success? After all, look how much time he’s wasting in his business… with nothing to show for it!”

    1. Hey Asoka,

      Great questions – thanks for contributing.

      On 1), I think that resentment can build up. My opinion is that overnight success stories are usually an obfuscation of the true story. There’s usually years of “learning experiences” (failures and evaluative hindsight) that comes before hitting a home run.

      To answer 2), I think this is accurate. That type of thinking develops from being too focused on outcome – in this case, “having written a book” – without enough appreciation for the actual journey itself. The writing.

  16. Hi Peter,

    My attention was diverted your way after reading your “How to find more content ideas than you’ll ever be able to create” article on Copyblogger – which is also superb.

    This is a reassuring read. An approach I’ve been using for a few months now which I find invaluable.

    I’m a very enthusiastic, positive and optimistic person, often verging on hyperactive with my business. I normally jump out of bed at 5.30am to eagerly get cracking on my next idea.

    However I was always guilty of ‘banning’ myself from fun.

    That little voice in your head that says “you won’t get rich wasting your time doing this, will you” …

    Resulting of course in the slow, and eventual complete loss of motivation.

    Then, after taking a step back for a few days, I realised how refreshed I felt when given a break to muck about, or to get some fresh air, or to have that sinful lie-in on a weekend morning.

    I started to structure my day.

    A period of work followed by an hours fun.

    Monday to Friday, up at 5.30.

    Saturday and Sundays, up whenever I happen to wake up… And certainly not straight to work.

    I give myself time to play. Time to read my (unrelated to work) books. Time to daydream. Time to go for a wander with my family and play lego, trains and cars with my young son…

    And boy! What a difference that’s made. Rather than feeling busy all the time without really getting much done, I’m suddenly super focused and super productive. My ‘ideas’ pad is bulging with potential great content.

    ‘Potential’ content I finally have the time to act upon.

    And that spring in my step? It never disappears. Ever!

    A great read and I’m delighted to have found your site.


  17. Great timing Peter. I’ve been having this conversation a lot lately with friends. I think something about the Winter makes us hunker down and work and work and work. Less opportunities to go outside, less incentive to get out of the house when it’s 12 degrees outside. I know that’s what happened to me at least.

  18. Hi Peter,

    Great article! I’ve been looking for this to be explained as you have for a long time and it definitely hits a bulls eye for me in my life. I like the Pomodoro technique-like strategy that you list at the end.

    However, can we associate pleasure to hard work since our unconscious seeks pleasure (and away from pain)? Instead of 30 minutes of “work” to get to the pleasure could we set something pleasurable up near our work space so we see/feel/hear it more often? Maybe our favorite drink… take a drink at random while we are working. As long as we are in work mode and not transitioning into a lethargic state so as not to associate pleasure to laziness, of course.

    I would love to hear your feedback on this idea. Or maybe, the Pomodoro technique is perfect and does just that. But how would the results differ if we change it from 30 minutes work and 10 minutes pleasure to 20/5 or even less?

    1. Hey Shawn, thanks for stopping by.

      I think work itself can’t always be pleasurable and we’re kidding ourselves if we try to make it feel that way. Our unconscious mind is pretty good at figuring out BS when it smells it! 😉

      I think you’d be better served by really starting to build a sense of anticipation that hard, painful work is what it is… but leads to more pleasure and fun. That loop, from work to play, is the key.

  19. Thank you for this, Peter!

    This post really resonates with my husband and I, we’re both experiencing the ego deflation/motivation slump of delaying gratification for too long while overachieving. In fact, we still haven’t taken our honeymoon because we’ve both been working too hard, and waiting for that next success that will “allow us” to take the break! Now that I read this post, I’m planning and booking it this week!

    A reaction we had: so many of our friends take their pleasure through drinking, dining out, or expensive hobbies. We’re trying to make healthy, budget conscious choices so those pleasures don’t appeal to us. At first we were like, “great, there aren’t any free/inexpensive and healthy activities we can do for fun.” But when we started thinking about a list, there were tons of things we could do, and many involve playing with his kids. That’s when I realized we were even putting off enjoying the kids until we made it–but at 13 and 10, we could easily miss their childhoods while working towards “success”. Not worth it!

    Thank you,

    1. Hey Liz!

      Really glad that the post inspired you to take swift action. That’s why I write – because sometimes a small new idea is all that’s needed to make positive change happen.

      You’re totally correct about the kids too – sometimes the best way we can indulge our inner child is to hang out with some (real) children!

  20. I’m very impressed with the way you clearly scripted and clarified the dysfunction happening in my head. Understanding is often the first step to change.

    So for this, you’re already worth your weight in cash. Thank you for this freebie!

    It’s also very reassuring, even if it might be for the wrong reasons, to know that I’m not the only entrepreneur suffering from this syndrome. I actually wonder to what extent this is not a natural and innate issue in most entrepreneurs. Does it come with the nature of job (you have to work hard to be a successful entrepreneur, and harder and harder in these challenging and uncertain economic times) or does it come with the nature of the individual (most entrepreneurs are highly driven overachievers that can easily kill themselves at the task, and for whom also the task is often directly linked to the main household revenue which is a huge stick too)? It’s probably a combination of both but I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    I definitely need help (and you have no idea humbling that is for me to say), and I’m going to sign up to your Test Drive Consult. Reading a blog post and having wishful thinking to change such entrenched bad habits doesn’t happen overnight and one needs several kicks in the ass (excuse my French) to make change happen…

    I have two questions for you (if I may):
    #1 How does the brain deal with the issue when the Conscious Self warns the Unconscious Mind that the perceived pain of the consequences of not working more or harder justify not having fun right now. In other words:

    Unconscious Mind: I’m starving for fun and pleasure, I need it now! You owe big time!
    Conscious Self: Yeah but look at what’s going to happen if we don’t work more / harder now: more pain = not more promise of fun later.

    Is the emotional shutdown we experience after abusing this dynamic for too long, the Unconscious Mind basically taking over and shutting down the show because it’s the only to stop the banter and constant threats from the Conscious Self?

    #2 Is lack of fun like lack of sleep?
    In other words, you can’t gain back the sleep you don’t get. If you sleep 5 hours a night for over two years (when you should healthily sleep 8 to 9 hours), there is no way that even a month vacation with 12 hours of sleep a day, will make a dent into the sleep debt. Perhaps a six months to one year sabbatical might work, but that’s extreme.

    So my question is how much fun actually works when your “Fun account” has be overdrawn for years, sometimes decades?

    What do you think?

    1. Hey Joe,

      Thanks for the great comment and for asking good questions. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.

      To answer your queries:

      “Is the emotional shutdown we experience after abusing this dynamic for too long, the Unconscious Mind basically taking over and shutting down the show because it’s the only to stop the banter and constant threats from the Conscious Self?:

      Yes. Basically, the unconscious mind eventually “throws a tantrum” in most cases. Severe threats to your basic survival (the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy) might delay the tantrum some… but it’s rare that any entrepreneur is actually working for YEARS just to keep warm and fed. As soon as you get some comfort, and keep driving yourself to work, the unconscious mind starts to grumble.

      So my question is how much fun actually works when your “Fun account” has be overdrawn for years, sometimes decades?

      This is a good question. I think it might be a little different between individuals, but ultimately if your unconscious mind perceives more business success as equating with MORE PAIN… then your “Fun Account” isn’t going to matter. Vacations won’t matter. There has to be a connection between the work you do and the fun you have, for you to be totally aligned motivationally regarding the work.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

  21. Thank you for this! I am a student and I am studying Math for 2 days now and i felt so miserable! I must figure out a way to make learning fun. Maybe reward myself after every solved math problems! Breath. breath.

  22. Peter,

    First, it was so great to meet you at the Foundation Live event in COS, amazing time! Please let me know if/when you are producing “guided” meditations, talks etc…I am a buyer!

    Secondly, thanks for this timely post — I am struggling big time and even 30 min of hard work seems impossible now. I have the “Overcoming Procrastination” by Fiore book on my shelf, which talks about the similar concept, but I am having trouble bringing myself to do any meaningful work, work that I know will move the proverbial needle. Part of it, is that I know that these 30 minutes will not make *significant* difference, and I would have to come back for more and more pain of work, while never getting enough fun afterwords. As we say in Russian, before death you can never breathe enough air.
    What’s your take on that? Should I just use the same approach as I have done in the past with gym, and learn to love the pain, because of the gratification that comes after? At least with the gym there is very significant hormonal spike during/post workout 😉


  23. peter, I think you are so brilliant and I would like to thank you for helping me in my life already in the few days since I first heard you on EOFire. I actually had fun yesterday! It was the first time in I can’t tell you how long. I am on the quest to have fun in my business as a heart centered entrepreneur. I just want to serve people and love them and learn not to see them as a paycheck. It pains me so deeply that I think I may be self sabotaging here and run back to being a nurse again because if is safe, while I crave more then anything to be a successful entrepreneur! I have a goal of having a session with you soon. Thanks again!

  24. Hahaha… I was on Facebook, which led me to Twitter, which led me to this article 😀 Earlier today I was thinking, “It is so pathetic that I am turning to Facebook [in desperation] just to escape thinking about all the things I should be doing instead. I don’t even LIKE Facebook…”

    I have been self employed (successfully) for 7 years. I have a new project I really, really want to get off the ground but my subconscious just will NOT support me after 7 years of working nonstop only to get back to Square 1.

    Thanks for the article — I am going to use these ideas starting immediately!

  25. NIce article….really informative & interesting.

    I’m not an entrepreneur but still found it useful 🙂

    We should connect sometime

  26. Thanks for your article.

    My ultimate goal when I started out in business 10 years ago was just to survive. The thing is I’ve kind of done that as I now have a steady stream of customers, but I don’t have the riches or lifestyle to prove it.

    I’ve started looking for something to remotivate me, like a new business concept, but everytime I start one it just seems like a whole new mountain to climb and it just compounds the demotivated feeling.

    The concept of having fun sounds exciting, but I can’t think of a series of fun things to do every 30 minutes that won’t just seem a bit contrived or won’t end up being business related in some round about way.

    I think this relates to your article about “Why you don’t trust yourself”. I’ve spent so long trying to be an adult/dad/entrepreneur, that I’ve stopped myself having fun and now having fun seems to be a weird concept. It feels like life’s become a drag.

    Nevertheless, I’m not going to give up. I’ve got nothing to lose other than to give this fun thing a go. I’m going to set my timer after I’ve submitted. I’m going to start off with a “mad” dance to the radio – at least it’ll be exercise as well and will get the blood flowing.

    1. Just an update on the above – the alarm went, I didn’t dance, I had to finish the work I was doing. So now I’ve let myself down. Here lieth the problem!

  27. I’m not an entrepreneur, yet, but my work ethic towards my day to day work has always been of that ilk. I stopped one day 3 years ago and questioned why was I juicing my self out at work? and found no answer. I feel like this is seen with entrepreneurs because they tend to be the “questioners” that want more out of life than a steady job and don’t ignorantly follow the world around them, but I REALLY feel your on the mark with how people live in general. One ignorance stops driving your machine, you’d better have some fuel to back it up with. I feel like I have a direction to head in now to fix myself and get back on top form! So much gratitude.

  28. Hello! Grad student here! However, I can totally relate to this. I have been studying for a while now (finals coming up). I really want to ace them and so far my days were productive but now it’s like my mind couldn’t care any less about the test. I am simply unable to push myself to work hard. No amount of visualisation helps and I feel like the irrational side of my mind (or Unconscious mind, as you put it) now just yawns everytime the rational side shows it the same reel of imagined victory!
    Thank you so much for this article! You nailed it. This was really helpful.

  29. This is my second visit today Paul, after asikng my self what am I doing and how does this relate to what I’m doing I think I wrote a better blog post. So a small step in the right direction.

  30. Dear Peter,

    As a Psychologist and a Bus.Coach, I can say you hit the nail on the head.

    I will shorten my structured work time from 1 hour to 30 min.

    It’s great to have confirmation that I am on the right tract.


  31. This is a phenomenal piece of writing, thank you so much. You’ve tapped in to what’s going on for me this very morning having been up since 4am typing my book, which in all honesty wasn’t holding that much joy for me today.

    There’s also the aspect of receiving feedback isn’t there? And for a new entrepreneur it’s hard to know whether all the work you’re putting in is actually getting you anywhere. Without feedback you aren’t able to gauge whether what you’re doing is having any impact.

    You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  32. Hello Peter,

    Thank you so much for your article and your thoughts. I have been a realtor for over 10 years now and am getting stuck in this exact behaviour you describe but my goal was a new car ‘if I do this many deals then I can buy a new car.’ It is a bit demodivating as the econmoy is down right now and lots of deals falling apart. I will implement smaller fun goals as you said as this will feel better now.

    Appreciate your ideas!


  33. Hi Peter,

    Very good article and good timing for me as well :). Thank you! I want to start my own business by discovering and having the courage to do what I really love, but I bumped into some self-sabotage along the way and was a bit discouraged before I red your article. Although I was partially aware of the psychology behind the self-sabotaging behavior, your practical explanations clarified it for me and it encouraged me to start again with more faith and with a more conscious approach this time. Thank you so much!

    All the best,

  34. The article is quite informative. In essence, you are indicating that it is the unconscious mind that is working in the opposite direction? And, when we are a little bit dry we have to swim in the pool of motivation — having exercise and some fun and back to business!

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