Getting Things Done: Inner Vs. Outer Motivation

When it comes to accomplishing goals and getting things done one of the most common topics is naturally motivation. The more motivation we have, the more drive we’ll have to get things done and accomplish our goals. It seems there are two schools of thought on motivation for Getting Things Done.

School 1: Get organized, discipline yourself, make to-do lists and action plans. This is the school of thought that says, eliminate, delegate or do it. It’s philosophy says, stay disciplined and have a direct plan, do whatever it takes to accomplish your goals. We’ll refer to this school as the “Outer school.”

School 2: Follow your intuition and listen to your deep inner desires. Structures and rules aren’t necessary if you’re following your passion. If you need to force yourself to do something, something is wrong. We’ll call this the “Inner school.”

Now most people would naturally think there’s a conflict between these two schools. One is a very cerebral, left brained based thinking while the other is a more creative and “free-spirit” based approach. I however think that these two schools of thought aren’t necessarily at odds with each other, it’s just that they’re interpreted and applied incorrectly. If we try to approach our goals simply from a “get things done” and completing action plans, we’ll lack inspiration. In the same way, if we try to accomplish our goals simply by following our passions and our hearts desire, we’ll likely lack direction and a clear focus.

We need to create a balance between these two approaches. We need to have motivation and a structured idea of how we’re going to accomplish our goals. The key here is that these two schools of thought are not naturally competing with each other. We need discipline and structure to get things done. But we also need motivation and inspiration so we remember the reason for all our hard work.

Here’s an example of how I’ve implemented these two schools of thought co-operatively when working on my blog.

Outer Motivation: I need to accomplish promoting my blog, writing articles, creating networks with other bloggers and etc. By using a task list and items that I must complete for the day I can stay on track and keep moving forward. Using the outer school of thought, I’m also able to eliminate needless tasks such as checking email too often, and other distractions. My plan helps me stay focused.

Inner Motivation: Without inner motivation I’m likely to become apathetic and wonder why I’m putting forth all this effort to accomplish my goals. This is why I write down the reasons for doing each task that I work on. I need to feel inspired and remember why I’m striving to accomplish these goals, I remember that my mission and goal is to help and inspire other, to share with them what I’ve learned and use this blog as a means to become financially independent.

Here are a few ways to easily implement a more synergistic approach to your goals, combining inner and outer schools of thought.

  1. Create an action list, make an objective to complete your 3 most important tasks (MIT’s) for the day. This will be your outer motivation.
  2. After each task, write down the reason for this task. What is your inner motivation?
  3. At the end of your to do list make a reminder of the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing. I might have an action of sending 10 emails to blog owners to make networking contacts, commenting on 20 blog posts and make 10 posts in a personal development forum. By themselves these are just actions. If I write my end goal (the reason for my marketing efforts) of creating an audience to inspire and motivate others to personal growth, I remember the reasons for my actions. This helps me stay focused.
  4. Realize that different approaches may work for different situations. Where a disciplined and structured approach may work for one thing, an intuitive and emotional approach may work for something else.
  5. Use your gut to determine what approach will work best for different situations, or if a combination of both would be best.

Simply because you follow your passions doesn’t mean there won’t be hard work to reach your goals. That’s where structure and organization needs to be applied. But without serious emotional motivation you’ll easily become bored and apathetic. I believe there’s place for each approach and can work well when balanced correctly. I wish you all the best in achieving your goals!

If you enjoyed this article, please digg, stumble or share with one of the other links below. Thank you for your support, it is truly appreciated.

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply

12 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
9 Comment authors
PaulaFeeling Unmotivated? 5 Tricks I Use To Become Active (+ Additional Tips & Resources) - Self ImprovementaKukulyDebrajeromyoriendeleff Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
JEMi | Tips for Life, Love, You

Wow. If I were to attempt to describe the brilliant timing of this post for me- I’d shamefully would be doing the actual feeling a great injustice. This is a struggle for me – particularly as of late. This week, my natural high has been somewhat dimmed because of this clash. As much as I admire the Type A folk ( I really do ) I’m just not. However I have several goals that could use discipline. Today I read somewhere that discipline isn’t something done TO you (the punishment I always see it as) but rather, something FOR you… Read more »

Maya Mah

Hi Johnathan,

Excellent article. Really like the bit about the inner motivation. So many of us miss that part when making mile long To-do lists!



@ Jemi: I’m glad that you could gain some insight from this. It’s definitely difficult to stay focused sometimes. I know I often succumb to a number of setbacks, worries about how I’m going to get things done, do I have enough time, where do I get the energy, fear of failure, etc. I think it’s best sometimes to just step back and ask ourselves “is this what I want?” and start plunging away. Otherwise we end up using a lot of the energy we could have used moving toward our goals on worrying about an endless number of obstacles.… Read more »


Hi Jon,

I’m agreeable that no one approach is best. It really depends on the situation. I don’t necessarily have a structure all the time because I like things to be fluid. However, sometimes I find it necessary especially when things start to pile up.

Thanks for the post. Stumbled!


Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul

Hurray! Someone who brings up intuition when it comes to accomplishing our goals! I firmly believe that sometimes, in spite of all of our well-meant plans, there are days where it serves us better to do something other than what we planned. There are days where my inner voice just says – nope, this article isn’t ready yet. Or days where I absolutely have to write, rather than do my filing or keep my books. I think we are well served in creating most important tasks for the week, rather than daily. That way, we still get done what we… Read more »


@ Evelyn: For me a really basic approach works best. Just write everything down and start taking action. As soon as I finish one thing I cross it off and move on. I think if anything it’s not the structure or rules that helps me stay organized, it just helps me stay focused.

@ Andrea: Intuition is definitely important. I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of people often neglect that aspect. If we’re choosing our goals and aspirations wisely we shouldn’t need any complicated systems or planning to achieve what we desire.


[…] Mead has an interesting write-up on inner versus outer motivation. Some interesting […]


Great article thanks!!!


FINALLY, someone who seems to understand what motivation really is and what it is not. That it isn’t about “JUST DO IT!” or about rewarding yourself with that scoop of ice cream after a task is done. THANK YOU!


I am about to cry. I am 28 yrs old and have had to overcome so many obstacles while trying to succeed at what I do…and still have not achieved much of anything yet. It has been extremely disappointing and have suffered a GREAT deal. I am just now “getting it”. I am somebody that have had too many problems at once and so it was very hard to identify why I could not succeed. First I had to go through lots of soul searching due to some childhood traumas together with cultural shock (I am from southamerica and moved… Read more »


[…] Getting Things Done: Inner Vs. Outer Motivation […]


This is genius!
I have been left brained for so many years that now planning and structure give me nausea (literally) Marrying the both worlds might be my ticket out of stuck

Previous post:

Next post: