Your problem is not motivation, it's friction

May 15, 2021
5 min read

Lately I've been pretty lazy. Once I admitted that to myself it was time for a change. But instead of going the usual route through writing a todo-list and a handful of willpower I decided to take a different route. I was going to finally find out the "why" between these stints of crazy productivity and utter laziness.

Why am I unmotivated?

During my self-reflection and research I came across an interesting concept, that's a core concept in marketing and sales, but is rarely talked about in a personal context: friction.

Friction is most commonly known as a breaking force that slows down your velocity and acceleration. Let me emphasize on that "breaking force". Friction is a force that stops an object from moving, and, applied to your life, friction is what stops YOU from moving.

But how does it work?

How friction works

Let's say your apartment is in desperate need of cleaning. Your kitchen sink is full of dishes, dust is collecting under your couch, and your bathroom could use a good rinse as well.

You don't feel comfortable with the current state of the room, so motivation is not the issues. The moment you think about cleaning you are actually motivated to do something about it.

But, motivation can be damped, or even suffocated by this mental force of friction. Everything that's in your way will make doing this task so much harder (at least in your subconcious).

In this case you might have an old heavy vacuum cleaner with a long and annoying cable that's just a giant hassle to clean with. Or you don't have window cleaner ready, and using the soap requires much more effort.

Maybe you're self-concious about your hands and you don't want them to look like they've been soaked in cleaning water.

While you're reading this, these hurdles I just mentioned might seem like they're insignificant and just "first-world problems".

Right at that moment where you're weighing out weather you should clean or not, those are the exact things that have a major influence your decision making process.

How do you fix this?

How to fix friction

Decreasing friction is not always this easy, but in most cases the most important metric you need to be looking at is effort. Effort equals time.

The more effort you have to put into things, and therefore the more "difficult" the task seems to you, the less likely you're going to go do it.

So to decrease the effort, you have to make the task easier – or at least seem easier.

In the case of cleaning it might involve getting good cleaning gear (like gloves, the right cleaning products etc.) or a new battery-powered vacuum cleaner to bypass the cable-nightmare.

Your brain loves doing easy tasks

You will not believe it. I switched from washing dishes to a dishwasher, getting a dryer to accompany my washing machine and spent a hundered bucks on good cleaning gear (like a mop that's easy to rinse).

All of a sudden I looked forward to cleaning. No exaggeration. Ok, that was when I first got these products, but at least it didn't bother me as much afterwards.

My apartment is so much cleaner now compared to when I was too lazy to use my old dusty vacuum cleaner that had to be emptied every time it was used.

Applying less friction to other things

Once I saw my success in this category, I started to apply this to other fields in my life:

day to day:

  • actually get a coffee machine that doesn't require 15 mins to brew a f-ing cup
  • get the coffee machine ready the night before
  • make breakfast in advance (overnight oats are GOAT)
  • lay out clothes for the day or just wear the same thing everyday (jokes, don't do this unless you're Mark Zuckerberg)


  • buy a faster laptop
  • get a good, big monitor (nothing is harder than reading small text and coding on a 13 inch screen)
  • get an ergonomic chair, -keyboard and mouse
  • multi browser setup

(no links provided, do your own research)

Will this hurt my willpower?

Some may argue that making things "too easy" in the long run will lead to the shrinking of your willpower-muscle. While I would argue that yes, that may be the case, I would ask those people "Have you tried cleaning your apartment after a 10 hour shift at work?".

The truth is friction and willpower are closely interconnected. Effort depletes willpower. Therefore high-friction tasks are depleting your willpower much faster than low-friction.

Willpower will help you to get going in the morning, hence why many successful people put a big focus on morning routines. But willpower will eventually deplete for every passing minute of the day until you go to bed, where you have nothing left.

Why do most people come home from work to open a bottle of bear and watch TV? Because it's easy, it doesn't require as much willpower as, let's say, going for a run or working on your side-hustle.

Willpower will get you to the finish line, but if the obstacles are only half as high, you will get there twice as fast.

Give it a try. And then tell me what you think on Twitter.


Photo by Erick Zajac

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