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Build a Better Sh*t Sandwich – 3 Ways to Take Action When You’re Not Motivated

When I was a little girl, I couldn’t wait to shave my legs. I didn’t really have any hair, but by age 12, it was on my radar. I would sneak my mom’s razor in the bathtub, hold it, and look at it for a while.

I had no idea where to begin, so I’d start above my knee cap, and my hand would shake as I slowly moved it to mid thigh. I couldn’t tell if it was working or not because there was no hair on my leg, but it felt rebellious and damn good.

Fast forward quite a few years to when I had a serious boyfriend (I know that’s confusing for some, let’s not talk about it). I was at the age where you start messing around, so my motivation to shave was high. I’d spend 30 minutes in the shower, playing twister with myself, trying to get every last piece of hair off. Shit takes patience, precision, and flexibility, and I had all three.

After a few months of the full body shave, my patience started wearing down. I didn’t want to take 30 minutes to shave, especially since the rambutan I was dating didn’t take any time to create a beautiful presentation. Six months in, I was over it. He could deal with my peach fuzz.

When did my enthusiastic motivation for shaving turn into a chore? When the novelty wore off and it started to feel like work.

When One Month = Eternity

The unfortunate truth is this happens with everything we start, and it couldn’t be more true for fitness and nutrition.

In fact, I was recently working with a new fitness client who had been training for three and a half weeks. He had never done any kind of fitness before and completed exactly seven sessions in those three and a half weeks.

He was stoked and super motivated at first, but by the end of the third week, he expressed frustration that he had been working out and making different food choices, but didn’t look much different.

He was feeling better overall and had great progress in his lifts. Even though there was measurable progress, the work he felt he put in during those seven hours (of the 332,800+ hours he’d been alive) didn’t reflect where he thought he’d be.

It took three and a half weeks and seven sessions for the novelty and motivation to wear off and for him to realize that the work was just starting. That’s pretty quick.

The Honeymoon is Over

What happens after the honeymoon phase is over and you’re not feeling motivated like you were before?

If you’ve ever been around the MFF Clubhouse, you’ve heard our newest daddy, Brian Patrick Murphy say, “The rent is due every day.” That is something you want to start to wrap your brain around.

Motivation is is fleeting. It comes in cyclic waves. If you’re lucky enough to be in the upswing, ride it as long as you can, but you can’t rely on motivation to get you to where you want to be.

A lot of times we use lack of motivation as an excuse as to why we’re not taking action. But if you really think about it, how many things in your life are you actually motivated to do?

My guess is you do most things because you have to do them, or at least should as some kind of social norm, but not because you are motivated to.

You don’t pop out of bed motivated to take out the garbage.

Are you really burning with desire to stick your hands in the filth and rot of last week’s life, only to have to tie it up, carry it down three flights of stairs and grab the hepatitis-infested bin handle, while seeing a rat, three cockroaches, and a random shoe along the way?

Probably not.

But you do it anyway – because you physically can’t push it down any further, the lid is popping open, and you don’t want your apartment to stink. You don’t wait until you feel motivated. (Hopefully!) You do it when it needs to be done.

We can apply this to everything. Especially fitness. If you’re waiting around to feel super motivated, I have sad news for you. You’re going to be waiting for a really long time. The wave of motivation that gets you started will inevitably come crashing down and the real work will begin.

Mark Manson, who is known for his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, asks the question, “What do you want on your shit sandwich?” The idea is that no matter what you choose in life, it’s going to be hard to some extent.

So, what do you want?

Process, Not Result

When you’re choosing what you want, a better question than asking, “What result do I want,” is “What process do I want?”

It gets really easy to see a result and want it.

“I want a six-pack!”
“I want one million dollars!”
“I want to be on Ellen!”

We see people with these things all the time, but what we don’t see is the day-to-day process they go through to get there.

Take our beloved cult master, Mark. You might see pics of him enjoying drinks or eating ice cream, but what you don’t see is that motherfucker cutting a brussels sprout in half to hit his macros exactly 90% of the time.

You don’t get to see his workouts scheduled into his 15-hour day or hear about the coach he pays to do his programming and nutrition so he can be shredded for the Burn. All you see is the result without the years of work.

Remember, when you look at people, you see the outcome, not the process. The process is usually very unsexy, and that’s where the shit sandwich comes in.

What do you want on your shit sandwich?

If we are talking fitness, being unhealthy, tired, and emotionally frustrated can be on your shit sandwich. Or, making time to workout, cooking food when you don’t want to, and planning in advance can be on your shit sandwich. You get to choose. Both will be hard.

Here’s the best news: it’s not all shit. You can enjoy the process and actually look forward to it… eventually.

It’s not going to be easy, and there will be a lot of emotions along the way. If you know emotional swings are coming, you can combat them, or at least acknowledge and validate them, and then do the thing anyway.

Remember the hospital “faces of pain” chart? Looks something like this.

This very accurately depicts the scale of emotion for everything we start until we accept the fact that what we choose on our shit sandwich is now life.

The Room Where it Happens

I could be 100% wrong, but when Lin-Manuel Miranda was writing Hamilton, my guess is he wasn’t all high eye-browed with butterflies circling his head the whole time. Do you think when the idea hit and he was super motivated to get the ball rolling, he just smooth sailed the entire time?

Probably not.

My guess is there were a lot of faces that looked like 10, and 4, and 8, and 6, with doubt, and dread, and discomfort, with some splashes of 0’s and 2’s along the way. We all know how it ended — with more 0’s than I’m sure he ever imagined, but that was after six years of relentless work. He really had to be okay with the process because there was no guaranteed outcome.

This is fitness. This is nutrition.

There will be days you go to the gym kicking and screaming because you don’t want to. There will be days you spend a few hours prepping meals when you’d rather be outside. There will also be days you feel excited to work out and days you feel great after eating a meal you prepared.

It’s not linear. You will not be motivated all the time. You will not be excited a lot of the time. You will experience all of these feelings.

Mr. Outcome Bear

Sometimes I like to pretend that Mr. Outcome Bear is observing me from an aerial view. What does he see when he looks down?

In my head, I could be going through a rollercoaster of emotion, fighting with myself about if I’m going to do the thing or not, how I feel about it, or if it’s fair.

He experiences none of that. He just sees me sitting on the couch. He has no clue I’m playing tug of war on the inside. He observes me doing nothing.

The tricky part is, Mr. Outcome Bear only sees and rewards action. He doesn’t know about emotions. He doesn’t experience them.

Our emotions and internal dialog are the biggest thing holding us back from the outcome we want to produce. It’s completely normal. Every human experiences this. It’s the people who choose to take action in spite of their emotions or lack of motivation that get the outcomes they want.

How do you do it?

3 Ways to Take Action When You’re Not Motivated

Doing something you aren’t motivated to do will always be challenging, but it’s a practice just like everything else. Here are some tips from the pros you may want to try.

1. The 5 Second Rule

If it’s an easy task like cleaning your room or doing the dishes and you’re just procrastinating, author and coach Mel Robbins has a great concept called The 5 Second Rule.

The gist is, when you think about doing something, you have about 5 seconds before your brain floods with excuses as to why you shouldn’t do it. If you can take any kind of action before you start coming up with reasons you shouldn’t, you’re likely good to go.

She suggests treating it like a rocket launch and counting backwards from 5.

Need to do the dishes? Count 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and stand up before you can talk yourself out of it.

Want to get out of the “snooze” habit? When your alarm goes off in the morning, count 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and catapult yourself out of bed. You’re not going to want to do it. You just do it.

2. Set a Timer

Another simple strategy is using a timer.

You can pick the amount of time, but make it kind of short, like 5-10 minutes. Make a game to see how much you can get done in that amount of time.

I do this with my work emails because it gets easy to get distracted or want to do other things.

Since I only have 10 minutes, it forces me to be completely present and focus my energy on the task. It also rarely takes longer than that if I just sit down and do it.

3. Create a Value System

This one isn’t as simple as the other two. It requires some thought and introspection. However, if you can come up with a small list of things you value, it will be a lot easier to make choices that align with those values, and you won’t have to wait to be motivated to take action. It will just be part of your daily life.

My finance coach Jodi Carter had me pick my top five values. Knowing what my values are makes it so much easier to differentiate between what’s important and what isn’t. It helps me have a clearer vision, take action, and set goals accordingly.

Here’s a good values exercise if you want to try this.

If you find your top five values are something along the lines of balance, happiness, freedom, relationships, and fun, having the goal of a six-pack might feel like a lot of work and take some extra dedication. There isn’t a lot of autonomy in achieving that outcome, and your motivation to get there might take a backseat to freedom, balance, or fun.

I’m not suggesting if your goals aren’t in line with your values they aren’t achievable. But, if you can get them to match up, the chances of you following through statistically increase by a million. You won’t have to try to feel motivated because you live in line with your values.


  • Motivation is fleeting.
  • Being unmotivated is completely normal.
  • There are ways to mindfuck yourself into taking action when you don’t want to.

Mindfuckers Guide to the Galaxy:

  • Acknowledge: “I am not feeling motivated to work out right now.”
  • Validate: “It’s totally normal to not feel motivated all the time. No human does.”
  • Accept: “There will be days I feel better than others, and it’s okay. This is part of the process.”
  • Act: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, do the thing.

You have to be okay with taking action in spite of your emotions.

You can talk yourself in circles with all the reasons why you should or shouldn’t do something. There will be constant push and pull, and you’ll have to shoo away the chatter and realize it’s never going away. If you know your values and choose your actions accordingly, you’ll never have to be motivated again. You’ll just show up and pay the rent.

Wanna join a fitness community that encourages you to pay the rent every day? Schedule a Strategy Session at Mark Fisher Fitness.


Amanda Wheeler is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Precision Nutrition L1 Coach. She is the cofounder of Formation Strength, and a mentor in the peer-to-peer coaching group Strength Faction. When she’s not training the Ninja Army, she is kissing puppies and picking up heavy stuff. You can connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.


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