in: Advice, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: September 29, 2021

Podcast #367: The Motivation Myth

It’s a new year and you’ve likely set some new goals for yourself. Now you just need some motivation to work on them. So you read motivational quotes on Instagram, listen to a motivational podcaster yell at you for thirty minutes while you commute to work, and repeat affirmations about crushing it every morning and night. 

You’re feeling motivated. Really motivated. You start to take some steps to accomplish your goals. 

But then a few days later, you’re not feeling so motivated, and because you’re not feeling it, you stop working on those goals of yours. Then you start feeling guilty about not working on your goals, so you return to reading motivational quotes on Instagram to help pump yourself back up to get going. 

Sound familiar?

If so, my guest today argues that you’ve likely fallen for the “motivation myth.” His name is Jeff Haden and his latest book is The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win. Today on the show, Jeff explains what the motivation myth is and why it’s so alluring. We then discuss the real secret to lasting motivation, and no, it’s not reading motivational quotes or listening to motivational speakers. Jeff then walks us through specific tactics you can start using today to tap into this genuine catalyst for achieving your goals. 

If you’re a motivational junkie that doesn’t have a lot to show for all your inspired intentions, this episode is for you.

Show Highlights

  • How Jeff got started researching motivation 
  • Myths about motivation, and why they’re so alluring 
  • How do you get into the virtuous loop of self-perpetuating motivation
  • Why you shouldn’t necessarily tell people about your goals 
  • Why you need to find a pro, and not a coach 
  • Focusing on the process over the goals 
  • What to do on a day-to-day basis to follow those processes you’ve set up for yourself
  • Why you need to have a why behind your goals and processes  
  • How and when to refine your processes 
  • “I can’t” vs. “I don’t” 
  • What keeps people going after achieving their goals? 
  • Becoming a serial achiever 
  • What Jeff means by “work your number” 
  • How Jeff did 100,000 pushups in one year 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Book cover of The Motivation Myth by Jeff Haden.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Well, it’s a new year and you’ve likely set some new goals for yourself. You just need some motivation to work on them, right? You read motivational quotes on Instagram, listen to motivational podcaster yell at you for 30 minutes while you commute to work, and you repeat affirmations about crushing it every morning and night. Then you start feeling motivated, really motivated. You start to take steps towards accomplishing your goal. Then, a few days later, you’re not feeling so motivated; and because you’re not feeling it, you stop working on those goals. Then, you start feeling guilty about not working on your goals, so you return to reading motivational quotes on Instagram to help pump yourself back up to get going again.

Sound familiar? Well, if so, my guest today argues that you’ve likely fallen into the motivation myth. His name is Jeff Haden. His latest book is ‘The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves up to Win.’ Today on the show, Jeff explains what the motivation myth is and why it’s so alluring. We then discuss the real secret of lasting motivation and no, it’s not reading motivational quotes or listening to motivational speakers. Jeff then walks us through specific tactics you can start doing today to help tap into this genuine catalyst for achieving your goals. If you’re a motivational junkie that doesn’t have a lot to show for all your inspired intentions, this episode is for you. After the show’s over, check out the show notes at Now, Jeff joins me via …

Jeff Haden, welcome to the show.

Jeff Haden: Thank you, Brett. It’s an honor to be with you.

Brett McKay: You got a book out called ‘The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves up to Win.’ Tell us a bit about your background and what was the impetus behind writing ‘The Motivation Myth.’

Jeff Haden: Well, I’m going to answer part of that question. My background is really boring. We’re going to skip right on past that and get to the fun part. Although, all right. I’ll give you a snapshot. I worked in manufacturing for 20 years, decided I wanted to write instead, worked really hard at it as a side hustle, got to the point where I thought I could take a chance. I bet on myself and have done fairly well with it.

The impetus for writing the book. I was sitting with Kirk Hammett, the guitarist of Metallica. I know that’s a shameless name drop. We were talking about their 40 years and 100 million albums sold, and all of that cool stuff.

I said, “You know, it must be really neat to have started with this goal in mind and actually be there.”

He looked at me and he said, “Dude, I never cared about being a rockstar or anything else. I wanted to learn to play a guitar better and I wanted to be able to play well enough that I could play with my friends.” That’s still what he cares about. I thought about that, and then I thought about all the people that I know who feel stuck or stagnant, or who haven’t been able to reach any of the goals or dreams that they have.

Almost every one of them will tell me, “Well, I haven’t found my passion yet.” Or, “I haven’t found that motivation that I need.” Or, “I haven’t,” there was always this … They were waiting for some lightening bolt to strike them. Then I contrasted that with Kirk, and I’m lucky enough that I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of really successful people. I thought I’ll talk to Richard Branson, Venus Williams, Roger Penske, Jessica Alba, Jimmy Johnson the NASCAR driver. I’ve got this huge list of people and none of them ever talked about a lightening bolt of motivation or inspiration that started them on their path.

They all just said, “I’m interested in this. It seems like fun. It seems like it might be rewarding, seems like something I might want to do. Let me go start that and see where it leads.” That really is the impetus behind writing the book. There are so many people that sit and wait for that big dose of motivation or passion, or inspiration to strike. What really works is if you just create that on your own. We can talk about how you do that, but that’s the main premise of the book is that you don’t have to wait for motivation. You can create your own.

Brett McKay: Right, so what are … Besides that idea that motivation, you don’t need to wait for motivation. You can create it. What are some other myths about motivation that we have? Why are those myths … I mean, that’s one thing; but the more important question is why do we believe them? Why are they so alluring?

Jeff Haden: Part of the reason is that it is tempting to rationalize that the reason you haven’t done something that you really want to do, or if you’re sitting around thinking, ‘Wow, I would like to accomplish something great,’ whatever that might. It’s easy to think, ‘Well, I just haven’t figured out what that is yet.’ Or, ‘I haven’t found that motivation that I need that will get me there.’ That’s a tempting rationale that you can use that can let you sit and say, ‘Well, maybe it’s better if I wait because I need to wait for that.’ You know what waiting does, it just means you sit and you’re stuck in the very same place. Out of the people that I talk to, that seems to be why they’re stuck. They’re waiting for motivation because it’s something that’s going to occur to them.

Brett McKay: Right. The other problem with motivation, you talk about this in the book, is that motivation is a feeling.

Jeff Haden: Yes.

Brett McKay: Feelings, like we all know, are fleeting. You can feel happy one moment, and then sad the next, and then you’re not sad. I think the same thing goes for motivation, too.

Jeff Haden: Absolutely. If you look at someone who has achieved something really big, and you think, … It’s easy to think, ‘Well, but yeah, they had this special something that I don’t have,’ whether it’s talent, or experience, or connections, or … The list can go on and on, but they’ve got something special. Really, they didn’t have something special when they started. They got to a special place because they’ve put in the work, and the effort, and the time to achieve whatever it was they wanted to achieve. That motivation side of it where it’s like, ‘Wow, if I … as long as I’m motivated, I can keep going.’ That doesn’t sustain you across that huge journey that you have to take between here, which is I’m starting out to do something new, and there, which is where you’ve achieved something really big. It doesn’t carry you across because it’s a feeling that you can’t sustain.

What you can sustain is every day, doing what you set out to do, accomplishing that. Maybe not your huge goal, but what you wanted to do today that will get you there, and then feeling good about that success, which gives you the motivation tomorrow to get up and do it again. Then you’re successful, then you feel motivated to do it again. It creates this really cool virtuous cycle or loop of success, gratification, and motivation. You get these little doses every day, so you don’t need that big feeling because you’re going to get little drips of feeling every time.

Brett McKay: Right, so let’s … Okay, so we want to get into this virtuous cycle where you do something, you experience a bit of success. That motivates you to keep going. The question is, how do you bootstrap that? How do you get that going when … It’s like the chicken or egg. I don’t feel like doing this thing, so I’m not going to do the thing. How do you force yourself to do the thing, even though you don’t feel like it?

Jeff Haden: Well, hopefully whatever it is you’ve decided to do is at least something you’re moderately interested in; although it doesn’t have to be. We can talk about that in a second.

What you have to do, and the only way to get past that boot strap part is you have to say, “Okay, if I want to,” … I don’t know, let’s use the classic example. “I want to train to run a marathon, and I’ve never run a mile even.” You have to get through that week to week and half period where it feels insurmountable and it’s really hard. What you have to do is commit to yourself that no matter what, I’m going to create a plan for my first week and a half to two weeks, and I am going to follow that plan. If I get to the end of the two weeks and I decide this is not for me, okay. You can make that decision if you want to. Invariably, though, if you get to that two weeks, you will have improved a little bit. You’ll feel a little bit better about what you’re doing. You’ll have internalized the habit a little bit.

Then, it won’t seem like such a hard thing to keep going; but there is that commitment that you have to make to yourself where you just say, “You know what? I am not going to stop for that two weeks. I’m going to give it that long,” because those first few days are awful. You know how that goes.

Brett McKay: Right, so I guess the success you experience in that moment then isn’t that you ran for two weeks. It’s like, okay, you experienced this because, ‘I ran today.’ You try to really savor that, and that feels good, so you do it the next day. That’s kind of the interesting … It’s kind of a weird paradox. You talk about in the book, in order to stay motivated, you have to forget about your goals, or don’t focus on them as much. At the same time, you have to create really small goals that you’re trying to go after that aren’t really related to that big goal.

Jeff Haden: Right.

Brett McKay: I mean they are related, but they’re not.

Jeff Haden: Yeah, that’s … We’re back to that here and there thing. If you want to run that marathon and you’ve never really run at all, when you go jogging the first day and you stagger your way through your first mile, if you look at your whole goal, which is to some day run 26.2 or 3 or whatever it is miles, it is way too far from here to there for you to even imagine getting there. Instead of being motivating, it’s incredibly defeating. In all likelihood, you will give up.

The first step in achieving anything big is to figure out what that is and what it looks like, but then to say, “Okay, that’s my goal. Now, I’m going to focus on the process that will allow me to get there.” It’s almost like you set the end goal aside and say, “I know that’s out there, but it’s somewhere on the horizon, and it’s soft and fuzzy. I can’t … I’m not even going to think about that. I’m going to think about today and tomorrow, and accomplishing those things.” If you keep going and you keep following your process, and you revise and adapt it some to make it fit you and to make sure that it’s as successful as it can be, some day you’ll pop your head up like a gopher.

You look, and you say, “Wow. I’m actually really close to where I was trying to go.” Of course, that’s a really fun and motivating moment, but then you have to put your head back down and say, “But I’m not going to worry about that. I’m just going to keep focusing on my daily tasks.” Here to there is the quickest way to feel defeated and to quit if you focus on it. If you just focus on today, and you do what you have to do today, you’re golden.

Brett McKay: You’re not saying don’t make goals. You’re saying make the goal, and the goal directs the process, and the process is what you should focus on.

Jeff Haden: Yeah, you set it and then you forget it, and then you focus on the process.

Brett McKay: All right, it’s kind of like that quote, where it’s like build your castles in the cloud, then build the foundation underneath it, or something like that.

Jeff Haden: Yeah, exactly. He said it much better than I just did; but that is the premise.

Brett McKay: Yeah, this is interesting. This idea that okay, you set goals, you kind of forget about them, get caught up in the process. You talk about this interesting research that kind of goes contrary or against the grain of most goal setting advice, or success advice. Is that, okay, you make a goal. You need to tell as many people as possible so they’ll hold you accountable. Then, you actually highlighted research like, ‘No, actually it’s going to make you less likely to do the thing you said you were going to do,’ so what’s going on there?

Jeff Haden: Well, the difference is in how you describe what it is you want to do. I live in Virginia, midway roughly on the Appalachian Trail. It’s this long hike, 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine. Lots of people do it every year. It’s one of those bucket list kind of things for hikers. Let’s say that you decide you want to hike the Appalachian Trail.

If you tell your friends, “Hey, I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail.”

They’ll say, “Oh, that’s really cool. What’s involved?” Then you start talking about the pack you’ll have, and the nickname you’re going to get on the trail. You start talking about all the experiences that go along with that. Research shows that the feelings that you get from talking about it actually make you feel like you’re part of the way there, which means that you are much less likely to actually do that because all that gratification that you might somehow have gotten has gone away.

While you think you’re telling people, “Hey, hold me to this, because peer pressure’s a wonderful thing. You know, I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail,” what you’re actually doing … I mean there’s research, I have a bin of research that the researchers say when other people take notice of an individual’s identity related to behavior and intention, this gives the individual a premature sense of possessing the inspired to identity. That’s researcher speak, which I can’t write that way. In my words, it means that you’re already getting a big kick out of people thinking that you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail, so now you’re actually less motivated to actually do it.

The key to that, if you feel peer pressure is important to you and you want people to hold you accountable, then don’t tell them … Well, you can tell them your goal, but then right away say, “And so here is what I’m going to do for the next X period of time in order to get there,” and share what your process is. Then you say to them, “Hold me accountable to my process.” If you’re doing the trail and your process is, “Okay, for the next week, I’m going to hike four miles a day, and on Saturday, I’m going to do an eight mile hike up this mountain.” Tell people that, and then say, “Hold me accountable to that.” Don’t say, “I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail,” because you’re already experiencing some of the fun.

It’s like that research that says that people get some major satisfaction out of planning a vacation. It almost makes them as happy as having taken the vacation. It’s kind of the same thing. It’s aspirational. If you like peer pressure, share your process with people and tell them to hold you accountable to that.

Brett McKay: Gotcha, so again, focus on the process.

Jeff Haden: Yup.

Brett McKay: Okay, let’s talk about the process a bit. How do you go about developing a process that one, facilitates motivation, and two, leads you to achieving that big picture goal you have?

Jeff Haden: Probably the easiest way is … I don’t know if you know the Monty Python movie, ‘Life of Brian,’ but there’s the scene where Brian is telling the crowd that they’re all individuals.

One person raises his hand and says, “I’m not.”

We are all individuals, but at the same time, there are all these perfectly good wheels out there that we don’t have to reinvent. The easiest thing to do is pick someone who has achieved what you want to achieve, and forget about all the things that they brought to it like, again, education, experience, money. Whatever it might be, and just focus on what they did to get there. Create, figure out what that process is, and then follow that. At some point, yeah, you’ll deviate a little bit. You’ll revise it. You’ll shape it a little bit to suit you, but in large part, what works for other people also works for us if we give it a chance. If you fall prey to the, ‘Yeah, but I’m special and unique, and I’ve got all these special qualities about me, so my process has to be unique to me.’ Well, you’re never going to get there because you’re going to make something that you want to do, and not things that you need to do.

For me, the best way is to just look around and say, “Who has done this? And who has done this really well, and I’m going to follow their process. I don’t have to be them, but I will do the things that they did.”

Brett McKay: Guys, this is the chapter in the book you have. It’s ‘find a pro and not a coach.’

Jeff Haden: Yup. Yeah, and I’ve gotten a lot of push back on that, especially from people who are executive coaches.

Brett McKay: Of course you would.

Jeff Haden: Yeah, of course. The point is … the point that I’m making is that let’s use my marathon example again. Say I decide I want to run a marathon.

If I go to my local gym and talk to the trainer there and say, “Hey, I want to run a marathon.” His process is going to be to access where I am now, talk to me about my goals, talk to me about things that are unique to me, and then he’s going to create this customized plan that will theoretically get me there. What it will do is take into account all the things that I say that I can’t do or don’t want to do, and I will end up with some plan that basically is sugar coated.

What I did when I decided I wanted to ride this gran fondo. A gran fondo is a mass participation cycling event. It’s not a race, but well, people do race. It was 100 and some miles, and 1100 feet of climbing. It was this disastrous thing that I had no business of thinking of trying; which was the perfect reason to try it. I had four months to train, so I went and got a guy who’s a local mountain bike professional. He’s won national championships, and almost made the Olympics.

I said, “Hey. I want to do this thing. I got four months. If you were me, what would you do?”

First he looked at me, laughed and he said, “Well, I wouldn’t try.” Then he said, “No, but seriously, if that’s all the time you have, here’s what you need to do.” The first day I went riding, I had to ride for two and a half hours, which is hot death for two hours and 29 minutes of it, because I had not ridden at all. In the course of that, by pushing myself and doing what I had to do, and not what I wanted to do, I actually got there.

To sum that all up, I realize it was kind of long winded. To sum all that up, a pro is a person who has done the things that you want to do, done that one thing that you want to do. They know what it’s like. They know what it takes. They know the steps. They will tell you without any sugar coating, ‘Here is what you have to do.’ A coach often times will coddle you and sugar coat it, and try to customize it for your own special needs, and all of that kind of stuff. You’re much less likely to get there because you’re starting out with limitations that you think you have, which you really don’t. I think our biggest limitations are self imposed ones.

If you find a way to get past that and just say, “Tell me what I have to do, and I will do it,” you can go a really long way.

Brett McKay: Yeah, it’s an interesting point. Yeah, coaches might sugar coat things. They want to keep you as a customer.

Jeff Haden: Well, there is that part of it, too.

Brett McKay: Right.

Jeff Haden: But they’re also supposed to be kind and cuddly, and responsive to your needs. None of those are bad things in and of themselves. If you’re trying to do something really, really big and you want to do it in a relatively short period of time, there’s not a lot of room for sugar coating.

Brett McKay: Right, if you’re going to look for a coach, look for a coach that says, ‘Yes, I fire people. I fire clients all the time if they’re not doing what I say.’ That’s a good sign of a coach who is going to help you become a pro.

Jeff Haden: Yeah, I did a thing … I’ve been doing a series … I write for Ink magazine. I’ve been doing a series where I take a successful person who fitness is a part of their success, not that they are athletes necessarily, but the fitness helps them with whatever their profession or their goals are. I got hooked up with Jimmy Johnson’s triathlon trainer.

I said, “Okay, what do I do for this?” He emailed me this schedule, and I emailed him back and said, “Seriously?”

He said, “Well, if you don’t want to do it, we don’t have to do this.”

I thought, ‘Okay, that’s true.’

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Jeff Haden: ‘I don’t know why I’m whining. I asked for this. Why am I complaining?’ You’re right. People who are willing to say if you’re not willing to do what you need to do, then probably this isn’t the best use of our time. That’s the perfect person.

Brett McKay: Right. Let’s talk about this process more. You establish your process. You figure out your goal, let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. You come up with a program for yourself to get that goal, and then you forget about it. What can you do to ensure that you follow the process on a day-to-day basis? Is it about scheduling it on your calendar? Is it creating a ritual that people talk about a lot? What can you do on a day-to-day basis to ensure you follow the process?

Jeff Haden: There’s a lot of stuff. I would say that the first place to go is to look for any area that would cause you to lose the willpower side of it. I think we all have a finite amount of willpower. If you’re making tons of decisions throughout the day that require you to actually make a decision that needs some willpower associated with it, then by the time you get to whatever it is you have to do that may be really hard, you might be out of oomph. I like to, at least from my point of view, I like to do things … whatever’s most important to me for that day, I like to do it first. Now, if this is a personal goal, that might be hard to do, especially if you have a job in the profession and stuff. I guess the best way for me to say that is this is one case where people are unique and individual.

Take a step backwards and deconstruct and say, “What in the past have I done, if I’ve done something successfully, what did I do to create the environment to make sure that I did that?” Apply that to whatever it is you’re trying to do. Then, the other part of it is to do the Simon Sinek, ‘What is my why? Why am I trying to do this? What is the reason?’ If you’re trying to get … I don’t know, if you’re trying to get fitter because you want to look better, that may be a goal that works for the Kardashians. For the rest of us, looking better is too fuzzy of a thing.

Maybe you pick out, ‘I want to complete this,’ … I don’t know, ‘I want to run a … I want to do a small triathlon.’ In the process of doing that, you will look better because you will be fitter. Or maybe it’s ‘I want to lose 15 pounds,’ or maybe it’s ‘I want to be healthier because I want to be a better parent to my kids.’ There’s all kinds of reasons for why, but finding that ‘why’ is a really important thing. It carries you through those little bumps.

Brett McKay: What does refining the process look like? You said you’re working the process, but it’s not giving you the results you were hoping. Should you refine on a daily basis, a weekly basis? What does that look like?

Jeff Haden: If you’ve gotten a process together, like say you’ve gotten a pro to help you create a process. Or, say you’ve just really worked hard to deconstruct someone else’s process and follow it; then you need to give it more time than you think. It’s really tempting to say, ‘Wow, this isn’t working,’ because again, you’re falling back on that special thing. To me, if you start something on a process you’ve been given, or if your pro gives you guidance, if you don’t give it … I don’t know, if your journey’s going to take you six or eight months and you don’t give it at least a month to shake through it and find out where you stand, then I think you’re making a mistake. You’re probably going to rationalize the changes you make, rather than making them for positive reasons.

There does come a time when you can look and say, “I wonder if I’m getting as much out of this as I can.” With the cycling example, I was in my … early 50s when I did that. I’m 57 now. I was in my early 50s. The conventional wisdom was that as you get older, you need more recovery time; which I think is true in most cases. I actually do better with fitness things if I have less recovery time. I basically rode six days a week instead of three, to four, to five. My body responded better to that.

There is some experimenting you can do, but you have to experiment objectively. If you’re … Again, if we use the fitness thing, if you’re lifting weights and trying to get stronger, and your gains have started to plateau, you can change your process slightly; but then actually look at the results that you get to identify not how it feels. If it feels easier, or it feels better to work out a certain way, but that’s not getting you to the goal that you wanted, well then, I don’t care about your feelings. I care about your outcome.

I think the rule of thumb is wait longer than you think to revise a process because it may just be a matter of time that is what you need.

Brett McKay: Or, the problem could be, like you’re not even actually doing the process.

Jeff Haden: Right.

Brett McKay: You think you are, but you’re not.

Jeff Haden: Most of the time, that is what happens. It’s ‘Yeah, I’m supposed to be doing these things,’ but if you really objectively look at it, you’re not. That happens with diets all the time. When people actually track what they eat, I think research shows they take in like 45 to 30% more calories than they thought they did. All of that stuff is off. You have to have a process that’s clear enough that it has objective measurements to say, ‘Hey, I did these things,’ and then you can look at the outcome.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about some other tips you put in the book about how to stick to the process. One of them I found really interesting is this idea of you don’t say ‘I can’t.’ Instead you say, ‘I don’t.’ That actually can have a big effect. Can you talk about that a bit?

Jeff Haden: Yeah, there’s this … these researchers did a study and they broke people into groups. There was this simple temptation that they were all faced with. They gave each group a coping mechanism. One group was told to say, ‘I can’t do’ whatever that temptation was. Another one was told to say, ‘I don’t do’ whatever that was. Then, there was a third group that didn’t use any kind of strategy at all. The participants that said ‘I can’t,’ gave in to the temptation over 60% of the time. The ‘I don’t’ people only gave in about 36% of the time, which is a pretty clear difference.

Then they went a step farther and they gave them each a … They told them to set a personal health goal, like a fitness goal, and then said, “When it comes time to do your workouts, if you’re struggling,” one group said, ‘I don’t miss workouts,’ one group said ‘I can’t miss workouts,’ and one group was given no coping mechanism at all. The results of that after two weeks, eight out of ten of the ‘I don’t’ people stuck to their goal. They didn’t miss workouts. Here’s where it gets funny. Three out of ten of the people that had no coping mechanism, they stuck to it. That’s still okay. Only one out of ten of the ‘I can’t’ miss a workout group actually stuck to their goal. Saying ‘I can’t’ was a worse tool for sticking to something than not doing anything at all.

The reason for that, I give you more research speak, but I don’t want to bore you with it. The basic premise was ‘I can’t’ relates to a choice. Like, ‘Well, I can’t, but you know what? Actually I can if I want to, and maybe this time I will.’ Whereas ‘I don’t’ was more of an identity thing. There wasn’t a decision there. It was like, ‘I’m not that kind of person.’ In simple terms, if you’re a parent, do you ever have to sit there and decide whether or not you’re going to take care of your kids? You’re a parent. It’s your identity. That’s what you do. There is no choice.

By applying ‘I don’t’ to certain things, then in time, that becomes part of your identity and you’re a person who doesn’t do whatever that thing may be. Now, you can use that for negatives, like ‘I don’t,’ … I don’t know, ‘I don’t take drugs,’ or ‘I don’t kill people,’ or something silly like that. Or, you could do it in a positive to say, ‘Here’s something I want to always do, and I’m the kind of person that’s always going to do that, so I don’t miss workouts.’ Or, ‘I don’t eat … at the buffet for two hours.’ Or, ‘I don’t,’ whatever that might be.

‘I don’t’ is the best way to look at that because it internalizes this part of your identity, and it’s part of becoming something new. I think that’s the coolest thing about trying to achieve a big goal. If you’re going to run that marathon, when you first start out, you’re a guy that’s trying to jog. At some point along the way as you progress, you become a runner. In your mind and in the mind of people around you. When that’s part of your identity, you’re an ‘I don’t’ person implicitly, and it makes it much easier to keep going because that’s part of who you are. It’s not something that you do and have to force yourself to do. It’s part of who you are. That’s really the power of the ‘I don’t’ when you’re trying to stick to a goal.

Brett McKay: That’s the whole … That should be the main goal with this focus on the process thing is get to that point where it just becomes part of your identity. You just do it automatically.

Jeff Haden: Yeah. It will never be totally automatic, but it gets really close. You go from … Kirk Hammett goes from a guy trying to learn to play guitar a little better to being a musician. That is who he is. I started out a guy that was riding a bike and felt terrible about it. At some point, however gently or mildly it was, I felt like a cyclist; recreationally, sure, but I felt like a cyclist. I felt like I belonged both to a community of people that do that, but that was also an identity I had in myself that helped me … I don’t know, it actually made me a little more confident and made me feel better about myself. I had gotten to some place and become something.

I think that’s a really powerful thing. You can set out to achieve a goal, and achieving the goal is fun, but it’s almost like buying a new house. Within a couple months, your new house is your old house. It’s no longer as exciting. If you become something, then you achieve a goal; but you still get to carry that, ‘But this is the kind of person I am. This is the kind of things that I do.’ If you are a good parent, you carry that around within you and that makes you feel good about yourself. You can do that with all sorts of other pursuits.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s one of the pitfalls of setting goals. You set the goal. You talk about this in the book, and I’ve experienced it in my own life. You accomplish the goal that you set, and then it doesn’t feel as good as you’d hope it would. It’s sort of a let down. It’s like, ‘Why do I keep going?’ You see this with … like the Metallica guy.

Jeff Haden: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Like why is he … Arenas, stadiums. He keeps going, like Warren Buffet. Why does Warren Buffet keep making more money? It’s like making more money isn’t the goal. He enjoys the process a lot.

Jeff Haden: Right. Right. Yeah, and that’s … Kirk said … He gave me examples that I won’t name of some people that he knew that … musicians who had, had very successful bands, did really well for a while, they kind of faded. Now they’re out on the summer festival tour type stuff; which is still-

Brett McKay: Playing Six Flags.

Jeff Haden: Excuse me?

Brett McKay: They’re playing Six Flags.

Jeff Haden: Yeah, which is still cool.

Brett McKay: Right.

Jeff Haden: But, he says he knows some that hate it because they wanted to be rockstars. Now they’re not really rockstars and they’re playing Six Flags, like you said. They don’t really enjoy that because the goal was to be a rockstar, which is not something you can really wrap your arms around. Whereas musicians, maybe you’re high. Maybe you’re doing really well the minute you’re playing clubs or something, but if you enjoy playing music and you see yourself as a musician, you’re going to go play where you can play and you’re going to feel good about that.

You’re exactly right, though. You can achieve the goal and once you’re done and you get over that momentary glow, you are left with whoever you are. If whoever you are is the kind of person that enjoys the process and enjoys those daily, ‘Hey, I set out to do this, and I did it, and I feel good about myself,’ it’s the front porch thing. ‘I worked hard today. I did the things I wanted to do. I feel good about myself. It was a good day.’ You can carry those good days for your whole life.

Brett McKay: Even though there’s a section in your book about becoming a serial achiever, and it’s not … I thought this was interesting. First of all, what do you mean by becoming a serial achiever and how’s that important to keeping that motivation going?

Jeff Haden: Well, that’s a … Actually, early in our conversation, you asked me about some of the myths about motivation. That is another one that many people have. They assume that you have to choose one thing, whether you find it or whether that lightening bolt strikes you, that you will do and that becomes your life’s purpose and your life’s activity. You’ll carry that the rest of your life.

A lot of people won’t start something because they think, ‘Well, but I really can’t see myself doing that for the rest 40 years, so I don’t think I’ll do that.’

A serial achiever is someone who says, “You know what? I’m going to be a,” … I’m using air quotes now like Dr. Evil, but, “I’m going to be an and … I will be a person who is a writer, and an entrepreneur, and a cyclist, and,” whatever it may be. You can do those in conjunction, which is a lot harder because most of us don’t have time to follow five or six different pursuits at the same time.

Or, you can set out and say, “You know what? I think I’d like to run a marathon, and I’m going to work at that, and so I’m going to follow my process. When I get there and I’ve run it, I can look around and say, ‘Hmm, that was really cool. Now I think I’d like to go run the Boston Marathon, so I’ll train for that.'” Or, you might look around and say, “That was really cool, and I really enjoyed it, and I feel good about that. But, I’m starting to have an interest in,” whatever else it may be, cycling. “I think I’m going to go do that.”

People assume that switching to some other pursuit means that you wasted all that time that you put into the initial pursuit. That is so far from correct, because you carry all the experiences with you. You carry some of those skills with you. You carry the knowledge that you know how to follow a process and achieve something really big, which is a confidence inspiring thing in and of itself. You bring all those experiences with you, so whatever it is you do next …

If you decide you want to try something and you spend five or six years achieving a certain level of skill and accomplishment, it’s okay to then look around and say, “You know, this was really cool, but I think I want to do that.” When you started ‘Art of Manliness,’ did you picture yourself doing podcasts? There weren’t even podcasts.

Brett McKay: They didn’t exist, right.

Jeff Haden: You didn’t have an idea. You cruise along. You’re doing your thing.

You look at that and you say, “You know what? I think I want to learn how to do podcasts. I want to learn how to interview people better. I want to provide something to my audience in a different format, and I’m going to learn how to do that.” That’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with that.

The idea of serial achievement is just that your life can be broken down into different stages where you accomplish a number of really cool things that you’re interested in. You carry all those with you. If our goal is to be happy and fulfilled, which I hope it is, then why would you give up a chance to spend four or five years feeling happy and fulfilled if you have the chance?

Brett McKay: Are there any people you’ve interviewed and talked to over the years with your work that are good examples of serial achievers?

Jeff Haden: Venus Williams is a really good one. Clearly she’s a great tennis player, but she has a design company where she does interior design for hotels, and health clubs, and places like that. She has a clothing company where she designs clothing and things. She’s got her masters degree in some kind of design. She’s the perfect example of an ‘and’ because she’s a tennis player, and an entrepreneur, and a student, and a designer. People criticized her for taking time off years ago to follow some of those pursuits; because it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, you’re a tennis player. You should only be a tennis player.’

She said, “My life is not just tennis. My life is my life, and it should follow the paths that I want to take.” Kirk Hammett does the same thing. He started a pedal company, guitar pedals, because he likes the creative side and he doesn’t need the money. There are all kinds of examples of those people. If you look at almost every successful entrepreneur, they are doing a variety of things. They’re not maniacally focused on just one. If you look at the people around you that are just happy in their lives, they have several things that they do; all of which combine to lead them to this happier place.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about this idea of working your number. This kind of goes along with sticking to your process. Where’d that … What do you mean by ‘work your number,’ and how does that boost motivation?

Jeff Haden: Well, there are some things that you can do that really are just a … How do I say this? They really … The outcome is based on just doing a number of repetitions, and getting the right number. That started with there were a couple young ladies that started a company. They were complaining because they said it took them like one … I don’t … one out of every five calls they made to land a new customer. That was really frustrating and defeating.

I said, “You need to look at it the other way around. If you know that one out of five will land a customer, if you create a process that you can contact … let’s say you need four new customers a month. You can contact 20 people, then you’re probably going to get your four, so you’ve got that. Then along the way, you can refine how the conversation goes. You can better at closing. You can make your process better so that maybe you’re strike rate is better. But if you know your number, why not just work your number?”

You can use that to accomplish any goal that requires just a certain number of repetitions. To prove that, I did this really silly thing. I decided it would be fun to do 100,000 push-ups in a year. I broke that down into 374 a day. I also did sit-ups along the way, but I did half as many sit-ups because I just hate sit-ups. There was no tangible outcome to doing all those push-ups other than I got in better shape; but I just wanted to prove to myself that I could wrack up a really big number by deconstructing it and making a small number per day. The cool thing is along the way, I learned a little bit about myself. I learned what triggers cause me to not want to stick to a process. I learned how to overcome some of those things. I learned how to construct my day so that it made sure that I accomplished that. I did my 100,000 push-ups. It sounds like a lot, but it really was just 374 a day.

If you can break something down into numbers and say, “If I do this many of this thing on a regular basis, I will, over the … some time period, accumulate a lot in order to achieve my goal,” then it’s a really simple way to approach it. I’ll give you one other example. If I decided I want to ride that gran fondo again, I’ve ridden enough now … I haven’t ridden a bike in probably six or eight months now, other than casually. If I decided I wanted to go do that, I know that I need to put about 2,000 miles in my legs over a four month or so period, and I’ll be fine. That would be my numbers. I would just create a process that says, ‘Okay, I’m going to get that much cycling in, and then I will be good.’ It sounds really weird, but it’s a really simple way to approach something, and it gives you a very clear path to follow.

Brett McKay: I love it. Well Jeff, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?

Jeff Haden: I write for Ink, so if you go to and search my name, there’s about … 1500 articles there. I’m on LinkedIn influencer, which is the only time I’ll ever be on a list with Richard Branson and Bill Gates; so you’ve got LinkedIn on there. Then, my website is Somebody, I cannot imagine there is a Jeff Haden out there that has accomplished anything worthy of having a website, me included; but nonetheless, somebody’s got the dot com. I’m

Brett McKay: Awesome. Well Jeff Haden, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Jeff Haden: You’re welcome. Thank you.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Jeff Haden. He’s the author of the book, ‘The Motivation Myth.’ It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. Also, check out our show notes at where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic. …

Well that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at If you enjoyed the show, if you got something out of it, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute or two to give us a review on iTunes, or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please share the show with a friend. As always, thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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