How To Create Motivation for Goals (E26)

motivation for goals

Episode 26 – Goal Attainment with the As If Technique

Hello – and welcome to episode 26 of the Men’s Self-Help Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. John Moore. I’m a licensed counselor, out of Chicago, Illinois – and I’ve been involved with therapy and coaching work for the better part of 15-years.

In addition to these things, I also teach college courses psychology and business.

If you are a regular of this show, you probably know that I’m trying to reach three groups of men.

The first are guys who are open to topics about wellness and just naturally gravitate towards anything related to self-help. So that’s one.

The second group are men who might have experience with therapy. Perhaps you fall into this group and are trying to better understand a diagnosis, like anxiety or depression.

And then there is this third group. These are men who are never going to come knocking on the door of someone like me – a therapist – to talk about things going on in their life. Sorry Charlie but it’s just not in their deck of cards.

BUT – they might be curious enough to tap on an app and listen to a podcast that in somewhat relates to something going on in their life.

Regardless of what brought you here today, I’m very glad you are here.

Now here is the thing.

I recognize that women also listen to this podcast. There are lots of reasons for this but in many cases, they just want to better understand the male mind or are looking for ways to better support a in their life.

If this describes you, I’m thrilled to have you.

Now quick disclaimer everyone. I’m not your personal therapist and this podcast isn’t designed to act as a substitute for mental health counseling. Instead, think of this show as a pathway to learning.

Creating motivation for goals

OK – with all of that said – if I were a betting man, I’d wager that part of the reason you’re here is to gain concrete, actionable steps for use in real life.

Does that sound about right?

Well, if it does – then we’re going to explore something big today: Turning goals into reality.

Now I’m not talking in generalities here. If you ask me, there’s too many people out there giving generic advice that goes along the lines of: “Just Do It”.

When they say this, they act like some kind of light switch is magically flipped in your head that instantly puts you on the path to success.

I wish it worked that way and I bet you do to. But as we both know, in the real world, stuff happens.

You know what I mean, right? I’m talking about problems with self-esteem or trying to work through a mental health challenge, like depression.

Have you ever been there in life – where you know exactly what you want to achieve but the desire to do it just ain’t there? Well, you aren’t alone – I promise.

And so, as part of this show, I’m going to introduce you to an approach called the “As If” technique. Incremental in nature, the “As If” technique is designed to help you build up to the change process.

Now, right off the bat, I need to say this isn’t a cure all. It’s not that light switch stuff I alluded to earlier.

That said, I have seen it do wonders for many people.

As a pathway to learning, I’ll share with you the story of Luke; a thirty-eight-year-old man who badly wanted to get into shape and lose weight.

But because of problems with self-esteem and depression, he felt completely stuck.

Maybe you can relate?

Here’s what I know about change – well – at least lasting change. It’s never an “instant” thing.

Instead, it’s more like the movement of an aircraft carrier. Have you ever seen one of those things make a turn? Well, let me tell you, it doesn’t happen quickly. Instead, the process is slow and deliberate.

I’m using this as a visual metaphor so that you can refer to this imagery on your own path to goal attainment.

So, there’s that.

We’ll also explore a listener’s email this week from a man who wants to move in with his girlfriend before getting hitched – but worries that it might send the wrong message.

Are you contemplating marriage right now with someone in your life? Hoping to test out the waters before walking down the aisle?

If the answer is yes, you’ll want to listen to this part of the show.

Strap yourself in because we’re going to be covering a lot. I’m really glad you’re here.

Depression and Motivation

So, when we are struggling with self-esteem or depression or a little bit of both, it can be difficult to gain momentum on the path to goal attainment.

There are lots of reasons for this that go beyond the clinical aspects of depression, like having a down mood and serotonin imbalances.

Here, I’m talking about feeling crappy and just being in a negative place. Know what I mean?

If you’ve ever been depressed, I bet you can relate. The hard truth is trying to find the energy to do even the smallest things, like washing the dishes or responding to email can be a real chore.

But even when we’re in this unpleasant place, it doesn’t mean we aren’t thinking about our goals.

Translation: Wanting something and having the motivation to do it are two different things.

So, I guess this would be a good time to tell you a story. If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you already know I have OCD.

But what you may not know is that part of living with OCD can mean – for some people – going through periods of depression.

Often, it’s mild but there are times when it can get intense. I’ll put a link in show notes to the website Very Well that explains how the two connect.

That said – I’m giving you this information for background.

So, the summer after I graduated from high school, I can remember how badly I wanted to enroll in college that coming fall. I was all wired up for it.

But – for that to happen, I needed to write an essay and take a placement exam. And then there was the tuition thing; something my folks didn’t have money for.

In short, if I wanted to go to college, it was all on me.

Now I wish that I could tell you that through hard work and effort, I put in a herculean effort and made that goal come true.

But the reality is that didn’t happen. In short, college that fall never panned out.

Some of this was because of financial issues but a bigger chunk of it was all about that OCD-depression mix thing I mentioned earlier.

You see for me, because I was feeling crappy, finding the motivation to start writing that entrance essay seemed impossible.

Studying for a placement exam seemed even harder.

And earning money for the tuition? Forget about it.

By the time autumn rolled around, I was in a bad place. Not only had I not gotten my butt into school, I was also mad at myself for not putting in the effort.

At the time, all I could feel was a sense of shame. And the thing is when you combine depression with shame, things can get dicey. I’m going to link to episode 26 for more insight on that topic.

But I digress.

My point in sharing this with you is that in the context of depression – or poor self-esteem, reaching a desired goal can be brutally difficult. It’s why I am emphasizing that difference between wanting something and having the motivation to do it.

For me – back the – the energy just wasn’t there. Man, it just wasn’t. Yes, I wanted to attend school. But because of that depression – I was emotionally tapped.

Now eventually, things worked out for me and I was able to enroll in college that next Spring. But it would take the entire winter of me doing the small steps to turn my shit around.

Back then, I was very hard on myself and didn’t realize that during times of depression, we can’t expect ourselves to function as we might when we aren’t depressed.

In other words, this means being mindful of your mood and recognizing that when you’re in the dumps, you might have to be clever in order to fight back against the sadness.

See, that’s the thing about depression. It distorts your thinking and robs you of your motivation.

If you get a chance, I encourage you to listen to episode eight on 10 things depression doesn’t want you to know.

Anywhoo …

Let’s fast-forward to the here and now and relate my summer blues story with the case of Luke; a man in his late thirties who I worked with not too long ago.

Luke was a charming guy with a good job and a beautiful family. The reason he came to me was because he wasn’t happy with his life, feeling old and out of shape … and completely zapped of energy.

In just a few sessions, I could tell he was struggling with mild but chronic depression. In clinical speak, it’s called dysthymia.

Have you ever watched Winnie-The-Poo? If so, do you remember the old, grey haired donkey named Eeyore? Well, when you hear that term dysthymia, visualize Eeyore.

Think gloomy and pessimistic – the type of person who says things like, “I’d like to be healthier, but I need to get motivated first”.

In many ways, this was Luke. He knew he wanted to lose weight and get into better shape, but he just wasn’t feeling it. Moreover, he believed he needed to find his motivation first before change could take place.

But here is the thing about motivation. It’s not some blanket you stumble upon sitting in the closet or a lost pair of keys you find – tucked in between the seat cushions.

For real – it’s not.

Instead, motivation is entirely mental and can be created at any time you want. Now let me just say I am not discounting the very real fatigue that happens with depression because I’m not. That monster is real – no doubt about it.

But if we leave our thinking with depression to go wild, it can morph into learned helplessness – which is a fancy way of saying you can’t do anything about your predicament and that it is always going to be that way.

The “As If” Technique

If you don’t want that, here is an approach that I used with Luke that he found extremely helpful. It’s called the “As If” technique, also known as the “What If” technique.

In a nutshell, the “As If” technique shifts your thinking from thinking to doing – in real time.

Here’s how I guided Luke to a place of change.

Now remember his goal was to lose weight and get into better shape.

The first thing I asked him to do was to pick one person who thought could serve as a blue print for the body he wanted. Long story short, he identified was Hollywood actor, Ryan Phillippe.

Once he revealed this information to me, I then asked him to do to some research and create a list of things he thought this actor was doing to keep himself in shape.

Once he did this, I asked him to rank his list from simplest to hardest. Some of the examples he provided included getting up earlier to go for a morning run and choosing to drink water instead of sugary sodas.

There were other things too, like hitting the treadmill several times a week, doing pushups and involvement with weight training. I think you get my point.

Once his list was done, I then asked Luke to rank the activities from simplest to hardest.

Now here is the part that Luke struggled with and said I was off my rocker when I asked him to do it.

Are you ready?

I told him to act as if he already had the body Ryan Phillippe.

Yep, I really did.

He balked at first but encouraged him to trust in the process and simply go with it. Once he agreed, I asked him to start with the simplest thing on his list – which for Luke was swapping out the pop for H20.

And that’s exactly what he did. That very day, he imagined himself as Ryan Phillippe and started drinking water. In his mind, he thought to himself, “I’m Ryan Phillippe and to look that way I do, I drink a lot of water”.

See how that worked?

Ok – moving on… the next day, Luke sent me an email and told me he had been pop-free for 24-hours. Right then and there, I told him it was important that he congratulate himself and follow it up with an affirmation.

His affirmation went like this: I am proud of myself for choosing to drink water and living a healthier life.

Now that we had some momentum going, I asked Luke to pick the next thing on his list, which in his case was going for a morning run.

That next week when we met, he told me that on three of the past seven mornings, he had been out for a 10-minute jog. Like Johnny on the spot, I had him congratulate himself and create an affirmation.

And that’s how this went folks, we worked our way down his list, little by little, until he ultimately got to a place where most all of the things he had written down became realities.

Now look, I’m not going to sit here and bullshit you and say everything happened perfectly. There were certainly bumps and snags.

But the idea was Luke had ditched the idea of “finding” his motivation and began creating it. All of this happened with the decision to do just one small thing on the path to change.

For him, that one small thing was trading sodas for waters. And the seed for change happened the moment he gave himself permission to imagine being Ryan Phillippe.

Follow me?

As If Technique Steps

So, let me give you a brief recap of each step of the “As If” technique steps:

1. Write down the approach others take

2. Rank the order of the steps from the simplest to do to the hardest.

3. Begin to act as if you are motivated to (fill in the blank) by doing the simplest from your list. (Example: You act “as if” exercise is already part of your daily life)

4. Congratulate yourself for taking the first step – and use affirmations that reinforce the desired behavior.

5. Pick your next item from your list and do that next – and keep working your way up the list.

Now, you may be wondering what happened? Well, to keep it short, Luke absolutely transformed his body – and he did it over a relatively short period of time – something like six months.

No, he didn’t magically become Ryan Phillippe. To keep it real, the actor was really nothing more than an imaginal object that served as the spark for change.

Now, you may be wondering if Luke ever reached his goal? In truth, the actor was nothing more than an imaginal object. But at the end of the day, he had lost the weight he wanted to and transformed his physique into something he liked.

But the point is Luke absolutely moved from a place of inaction to action. And you know what else? The work he accomplished did wonders for his depression.

You know, back in the day, during that summer after high school I had told you about earlier, I wish I had known about this technique. I really do.

But wishing and hoping can’t change the past. All we can do is embrace the present.

Well, there you have it folks – the “As If” technique. Think about the goals you want to achieve in the future.

What do you have to lose?

Move In Before Marriage

Our listener email comes to us from a man who wants to move in with his girlfriend before getting married but worries it might send the wrong message.

I’ll share with you what he wrote and then offer my thoughts and reactions.

Hi John,

I recently discovered your podcast after a friend told me about it and I can’t thank you enough for making these. I’m one of those guys who would probably never go to a therapist, although your show is starting to change my thinking about what counseling is like.

So, my problem is that I’m in a relationship with a girl that I’ve been dating for the past two-years. We’ve both talked about getting married and I’ve thought about making a formal proposal.

But there is part of me that hesitates to do this because I want to see what it is like to live with her before taking such a big step.

I’m worried about things moving too fast and the marriage not working out. My folks got divorced when I was a teenager and I just don’t want that kind of thing repeating itself in my marriage. By moving in together, I am thinking we will both have the chance to truly experience what it is like living with the other person.

But if I ask for this, I’m also worried that it could send wrong message about my commitment to the relationship. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Thanks so much,


So, there’s Lenny’s email. As I reflect on his email, I can’t help but think about how often this particular topic comes up in the counseling office. And not just from the guys. Women also have shared this with me.

Well, here’s what I wrote back to Lenny, somewhat paraphrased.

Hi, Lenny,

Thanks for reaching out and for sharing your question. First, let me just say that I am deeply appreciative that you follow the podcast and that you are getting something out of it. I love reading these kinds of things.

Ok with that said, let’s talk about your issue because it is one that I bet a lot of listeners can relate to.

Are you ready?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to test out the waters before proposing to someone you love. To me, it makes sense that you or anyone would want to experience living with a person before deciding to make things legal – meaning to get married.

I hear what you are saying about being worried that you might send the wrong message. The last thing you want to do is send a mixed message about your commitment to the relationship.

There are options here. For example, you could ask her to move in with you or vice-versa and then – after a period of time – propose. Or, you could propose first and then have a conversation where the two of you agree to live together a set period of time before doing any wedding planning.

The big thing here is to have an honest, open conversation where the both of you are on the same page about what comes next.

I don’t know your girlfriend, so it is hard to know where she is with things. But given your note, my sense is both of you are at a place where taking an important “next step” – so to speak, is in the cards.

One of the benefits of moving in together is that you get to experience the other person as they are instead of how we might fantasize they might be. Sure, overnighting with one another on weekends gives you a flavor of what to expect but in truth, we really don’t know what it is like to live with another person until it actually happens.

Regardless of which approach you decide to take – proposal and moving in together or cohabitating first and then proposing, I highly encourage you to consider picking up a copy of: Getting Ready For Marriage Workbook by Burns and Fields. I’ve put a link in this response to Amazon so you can check it out.

What’s nice about this read is that it helps the both of you get things off on the right foot and explore topics that don’t always get the attention they deserve, pre-marriage.

Thanks again for your email Lenny. Let us know how things work out.

Well, there you have it – my response. Are you thinking of getting married? If so, do you have a plan for setting yourself up for success before tying the knot?

Show Wrap Up

No doubt about it – we covered a lot in today’s podcast.  We talked about goal attainment through the lens of depression. We also explored the “As If” technique on the path to change.

Shoot, we even talked about cohabitation before getting hitched.

Well, let me take a moment to say thanks so much for listening today. You know, there are lots of ways to reach me. You can stop by my website at or visit one of my social medial pages.

I’m on Facebook at Guy Counseling – and I’m also on Twitter and Instagram with the same handle.

You can also email me Anything you send me is confidential. If you want me to read it on the show, I will and if you want it to be confidential, I promise you it will go nowhere – for real.

With all of that said, let me just take a moment to say thanks for the many kind reviews people have been leaving on iTunes and elsewhere.

You know, where I read these comments, it just lights a fire under me to create more shows. It really does! So thank you for that.

Well, there you have it – another show. As you can probably tell, there’s no audio engineer here editing my show. No product crew or anything like that. Nope, everything you hear – including the glitches – have been created by me.

Thank you so much for being here. Be mindful of your mood. Remember there is a difference between wanting something and having the motivation to do it. Be open to reaching your goals by acting “as if”.

Take very good care.

I’m Dr. John and you’ve been listening to another episode of the Men’s Self-Help Podcast.

Related: 7 big goal setting mistakes

About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast