Is Choice the Key to Motivation?

Start by doing what’s necessary; then what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.  – Saint Francis of Assisi

Do you ever struggle with motivation or with motivating others in your family or business?   Do you have dreams of someday writing a book, starting a business, being debt-free, improving your health, or changing careers?  Is there something that would you love to do, but are afraid to start?

What differentiates people who follow their dreams from those who just get by each day?  What motivates us to actually DO what we want to do, instead of merely thinking about it?  Why do we struggle to do what we WANT to do?  What we know would be best for us in the long-term?

We are in good company.  Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15

So what should we do when we are not feeling motivated to do what we know would be best for the long run?  As leaders, either in our family, church, or business, how can we encourage others and motivate them?

What is motivation?

Merriam-Webster defines motivation as, “the act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something”

Motivation bridges the gap between thinking and doing.

Is choice the key to motivation?

In Charles Duhigg’s book, Smarter, Better, Faster:  The Transformative Power of Real Productivity, he explains what every mother who has raised a toddler already knows. When we feel that we have a CHOICE, when we can exert some control over the situation – we are more motivated to act.

Handing your two-year-old a cup of milk can, in certain moods and circumstances,  turn problematic.  Asking your two-year-old if he would like his milk in a red cup or a blue cup changes the dynamic completely.  He turns his attention to pondering his choice.

“…an easy method for triggering the will to act: Find a choice, almost any choice, that allows you to exert control.”

Duhigg, Charles. Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity (p. 20). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

As moms we see this all the time.  Just last week I was struggling with a bad attitude because I was playing the martyr while  cleaning up for company.  But when I remembered to set out the list of the things that needed to be done, and asked  my kids to CHOOSE which ones they wanted to do, they were motivated to help out with a good attitude and do a thorough job.

In experiments, people are more motivated to complete difficult tasks when those chores are presented as decisions rather than commands.

Duhigg, Charles. Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity (p. 20). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In his book, he writes that self-motivated people have a strong “internal locus of control” – they believe that their choices strongly determine their future.  People with an internal locus of control don’t blame external factors – other people or circumstances –  for what happens to them, but instead take responsibility for their own actions and believe that their actions matter.

Why not turn a chore into a choice?

Instead of dreading that thing I don’t want to do, I’ve been trying this for a while and I have to say that it works!  I know that I have to make that phone call, deal with that problem, or spend some time planning for that event.  But once I make a choice about it – when to make the call, what the first step will be in trying to solve that problem, or where and when I’ll do that planning session – it seems to relieve my mind and I can move on.

So, the next time you find yourself procrastinating that important thing, give it a try.  Turn it into a choice.  You may find that you’ve gained some momentum toward that path you’re being called to take.

What is it that you want to do but need to just take that first step?  How do you motivate yourself to do that hard thing?  Please leave a comment and let me know!

Stay tuned for the next posts in this series: Should Christians Care about Motivation? How Do We Motivate Others? and  Is Motivation a Learned Skill?


  1. Ah. A choice. What an interesting thought. I admit that I struggle with when to allow my kids to choose and when they should just obey. There’s a line somewhere. As they have gotten older, it has become very important for them to choose for themselves and then own the consequences, good or bad. It’s been liberating for our whole family.
    As for myself, when I feel frustrated with life, it is often a huge step in the right direction if I take a moment to remind myself that I have already chosen. I have chosen to stay at home and not have a career. I have chosen to homeschool. I have chosen to spend my time and energy in a specific way. And although these choices have often come with burdens, they have also come with great freedom, joy, and blessings for others. I most often enjoy this freedom when I “choose” to submit to my Heavenly Father and spend some time with Him. So perhaps choice should follow submission? Hmmm…

    1. Yes, submission. Thank you for the beautiful and wise response. It is so freeing to choose, as long as our choice is in His will. And being in His will should be our biggest motivation, shouldn’t it? Circling back to submission.

      Once I started writing on this topic, it grew and grew, so I split it up into multiple posts. I hadn’t expected it to get theological. But everything does if we go deep enough, doesn’t it? The next post is on how Christians view motivation. I’ll look forward to your thoughts on it.

      I’m glad you liked the post. A wise friend once suggested the topic.

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