Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


4 Pictures That Explain Motivation and Confidence

These pictures flip common perspectives upside-down.

Gapingvoid is a Culture Design company that uses the science of "Semiotics" to shape shared identity, culture, values, and purpose within organizations and groups.

I recently had them make some Semiotic "artwork" to portray some of the fascinating and often misunderstood science of motivation, confidence, and decision-making.

Here's how it works:

Source: Gapingvoid

Action Precedes Motivation

You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling than feeling yourself into action.” —Jerome Bruner, Harvard psychologist

Motivation and momentum are two highly connected concepts. You cannot have either of these without first acting in a goal-directed way.

You can’t wait until you feel inspired to act. Motivation doesn’t just happen; instead, it is a reaction to intention and integrity.

When you begin taking small steps in the right direction, motivation, and momentum immediately kick in. You need to think in advance and plan ahead, even just slightly. This may mean that you need to take 5–30 minutes in your evening to prepare yourself for the next morning.

You need to set things up so that motivation and momentum are easy. According to Stanford Psychologist, BJ Fogg, “Forming habits is not about willpower… it’s about design and revision.”

Source: Gapingvoid

Action Precedes Inspiration and Ideas

"This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” —Steven Pressfield

Getting creative insights regularly is something you can personally master. Psychologists call this “epiphany ability.” Like motivation, inspiration is not something you should wait for. Instead, it is something you need to design for and actively seek it!

The ideas flowing into your mind are heavily influenced by what you personally desire in your life. Your decisions—both the daily ones and also the big ones—shape your desires.

Your desires are the product of your behavior, not the other way around. Therefore, you can train your desires. You can train yourself to want success, happiness, health, and deep connections.

Source: Gapingvoid

Success Precedes Confidence

Personal confidence comes from making progress toward goals that are far bigger than your present capabilities.” —Dan Sullivan

A recent meta-analysis shows that most people misunderstand confidence. Confidence doesn’t lead to high performance. Rather, confidence is a bi-product of previous performance.

For example, if you start your day well, you’re likely to have confidence throughout the rest of your day. If you start poorly, that prior performance will sap your confidence, even subconsciously.

Confidence is a direct reflection of past performance. Hence, yesterday is more important than today. Luckily, today is tomorrow’s yesterday. So, even if your confidence today isn’t optimal, your confidence tomorrow is still within your control.

Source: Gapingvoid

Decision Is More Powerful Than Decision Fatigue

"It’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time. The boundary—your personal moral line—is powerful because you don’t cross it; if you have justified doing it once, there’s nothing to stop you doing it again. Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.” —Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business Professor

In psychology, the scientific term for willpower is “decision fatigue,” and what decision fatigue means is that you haven’t truly decided about what you want. For example, you want the cookie, but you also want a six-pack. You want to wake up at five in the morning, but you also want to sleep in.

Decision fatigue means you haven’t truly decided. And as a result, you’re forced to sit and think about what you want. You’re forced to weigh back-and-forth in your mind what you’re going to do. This is really bad for willpower and ultimately leads to people falling prey to the negative influences in their environment.

The opposite of decision fatigue is making a committed decision. As the basketball legend Michael Jordan is known for saying, “Once I made a decision, I never thought about it again.”


Motivation is the byproduct of goal-oriented action. Inspiration and "epiphanies" are the byproduct of courageous and bold action. Confidence is the byproduct of successful behavior, even if in small "baby" doses. And the decision is the antidote to decision fatigue.


Van Leeuwen, T. (2005). Introducing social semiotics. Psychology Press. Chicago.

Sitzmann, T., & Yeo, G. (2013). A meta‐analytic investigation of the within‐person self‐efficacy domain: Is self‐efficacy a product of past performance or a driver of future performance?. Personnel Psychology, 66(3), 531-568. Chicago.

Chen, A., Liu, W., Wu, Z., & Zhang, J. (2014). On the Systematic Method to Enhance the Epiphany Ability of Individuals. Procedia Computer Science, 31, 740-746.