How To Assess Your Motivation Using This One Simple Phrase

“It’s always been a dream of mine…”

Today I procrastinated by learning about procrastination, from a master procrastinator himself — Tim Urban, the man behind the blog Wait But Why.

Tim’s 2016 TED Talk, Inside the mind of a master procrastinator, is not only one of the most popular talks out there, garnering over 27 million views, it’s also remarkably funny. Tim uses his MS Paint style stick figure illustrations to tell the story of the goings-on inside the mind of a procrastinator, featuring the main characters Rational-Decision Maker, Instant Gratification Monkey, and the Panic Monster.

Tim demonstrates how the mind of a procrastinator works by sharing his experience in creating his presentation. When invited by the folks at TED to give a TED Talk he said yes, of course. And he quipped,

It’s always been a dream of mine to have done a TED Talk in the past.

This statement — It’s always been a dream of mine to have done a TED Talk in the past — was an equally hilarious and eye-opening statement for me. And having heard that statement, I opened Medium to procrastinate no longer.


While in Tim’s case we can safely assume that he’s joking, I’m not so sure how many people want to do things for the experience of doing them versus being able to say they did them.

Actually, I’m going to use the affirmative — there are things that I’ve decided to do, not because I enjoyed doing them, but because I got to say I did them.

If only I knew to assess my motivations using this phrase —

It’s always been a dream of mine to have done [this thing I’m considering doing] in the past.

If I am otherwise uncertain about doing the work required or having the experience itself, and if reciting this statement creates congruence, then I’ll know that I’m making a decision for all the wrong reasons.

This scenario can apply to countless situations: do I want to be an entrepreneur, and have all of the positive and negative experiences that invariably come with being an entrepreneur? Or, do I have a romantic view of being an entrepreneur and just want to be able to say that I’m an entrepreneur?

Do I want to be vegan or just say I’m vegan? There’s a whole category of pseudo-meat eaters — flexitarians — who are doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Do I actually care about (or understand) art, or do I just want to be able to put photos from that art museum on my Instagram story?

Why do we do this? In one word: ego.


In Ego Is The Enemy, Ryan Holiday writes that one area in which our ego can take over is when we aspire to accomplish bigger and better goals. Ryan argues that when we aspire, we must do it for the right reasons.

Our ego wants recognition & compensation. We have expectations. Let the effort, not the results be enough.

Tim’s ego wants only to say he’s done a TED Talk in the past. The ego doesn’t care about the work required to create a compelling TED Talk, or about all of the previous work required to even get invited to give a TED Talk in the first place. Ryan writes,

Ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success.

We aspire for the right reasons when we’re doing something for more than mere recognition. Rather, we aspire for the experience, the effort, and for the learnings. Tim’s mission through his tutoring company ArborBridge, as well as Wait But Why and his TED Talk, is to teach people. And presumably, the congruence between his work and his mission, is why both his blog and his TED Talk have been wildly successful.


So, why do you aspire? What is your motivation?

If you’re uncertain, fill in the blank — It’s always been a dream of mine to have done [this thing I’m considering doing] in the past.

How did that statement feel? How do you feel about the work or experience required to say you did that thing?

I’m not saying that you’re always going to enjoy the process. But if you’re not enjoying the process at all, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it, no matter how badly you want to be able to say you did it.

I just wrote a blog post. It’s always been a dream of mine to have written viral blog posts. No, it’s a dream of mine to merely write on blog posts, irrespective of how many people read it. I’m enjoying the process, the value I’m getting out of the experience, and the value I’m (hopefully) providing to those who are reading what I have to say. And with that, I am successful.

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