Maneesh’s Book Notes: “The Motivation Hacker” By Nick Winter


in Productivity

I love reading books on my Kindle because it allows me to do simple things that no other form of reading can — particularly, take incredibly detailed notes with the swipe of a finger.

Aside from this being a really cool feature, it’s also a great learning and retention tool. Let’s face it: We forget MOST of what we read. In fact, retention only starts to increase with frequent review.

That’s why taking notes, then reading them again, is so powerful. I try to do this with almost every book I read now, and the results have been astonishing.

So today, I wanted to share some of my notes with you. These are for a new book in my collection, The Motivation Hacker by Nick Winter.

Here’s the description of the book, in Nick’s own words:

“Moderation in all things,” they say. That may keep a society together, but it’s not the protagonist’s job. The Motivation Hacker shows you how to summon extreme amounts of motivation to accomplish anything you can think of. From precommitment to rejection therapy, this is your field guide to getting yourself to want to do everything you always wanted to want to do.

I wrote this book in three months while simultaneously attempting seventeen other missions, including running a startup, launching a hit iPhone app, learning to write 3,000 new Chinese words, training to attempt a four-hour marathon from scratch, learning to skateboard, helping build a successful cognitive testing website, being best man at two weddings, increasing my bench press by sixty pounds, reading twenty books, going skydiving, helping to start the Human Hacker House, learning to throw knives, dropping my 5K time by five minutes, and learning to lucid dream. I planned to do all this while sleeping eight hours a night, sending 1,000 emails, hanging out with a hundred people, going on ten dates, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, and trying to raise my average happiness from 6.3 to 7.3 out of 10.

How? By hacking my motivation.”


Does this sound like something you’d like to read? You can download my notes here (right click, “Save link as…”) or, read them below.

Remember, these are literally notes that I highlighted and exported directly from the book. Some of them may be mid-sentence or incomplete. I still think they’ll be valuable to you.

Maneesh’s notes on “The Motivation Hacker” by Nick Winter

The Motivation Hacker by Nick Winter

1. Willpower seems to be needed in one scenario: when deciding to begin. In order to commit to a goal, you need to deny yourself room to we 1. el out. Instead, you must design a sufficiently powerful motivational structure in advance. For some reason, this part is hard. If you have ideas for how to make it easier, let me know.

2. The tip which worked for me was to focus on input-based process goals (write for five minutes) rather than output-based results goals (write one page), and to keep the required inputs minuscule at first. “Do one minute of handstand practice” was always

3. I didn’t think my focus was too great that week (so many emails checked and rechecked), but they were surprised by how good it was, and I was surprised by how low their standards were. Here I was, an internet addict, being praised because I was functioning. How bad are other people’s addictions? I don’t know, but if I was bad enough to need the internet turned off on me, then you can judge for yourself whether any reaction along the lines of “I don’t need to turn it off” is good sense or defensive rationalization.

4. Why had this taken me so long to do? I had read countless times that I should eliminate distractions, and the first example was always to turn off the internet. (The second and third were usually to put on headphones and to set up a place to work where only work was allowed, and nothing else.) Maybe the answer is just that addiction is hard to admit. Or maybe it’s easy, and there are other books, like this one except about addiction hacks instead of motivation hacks. I don’t know where you get the spark to start, only how to fan it into an inferno once you have it.

5. Note that this rationalization is also how most goals die—you convince yourself that it’s okay to not do what you told yourself you would do—and if you can develop the habit of noticing it and defeating it, then you’ll be more effective in achieving your goals.

6. Use Piers Steel’s slightly improved CSI Approach. Your goals should be Challenging (if they’re not exciting, they won’t provide Value); Specific (abstract goals can leave you vulnerable to Impulsiveness, since it’s not clear what you need to do); Immediate (avoid long-Delayed goals in favor of ones you can start now and finish soon), and Approach-oriented. (As opposed to avoidance goals, where you try not to do something, you should instead reframe it positively as an attempt to do something—it just feels better.) I talk more about this in Chapter 12: Mistakes.

7. “Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious.”

8. Watch out for things that you have always been good at. It always seems to make sense to keep doing them, to build on your previous accomplishments, and to play to your strengths. This can lead to greatness, but it can also be a trap.

9. Goals that are too easy are goals that won’t excite you. There is not enough Value in “lose five pounds” to make you care. It’s too safe. It’s probably easier for the overweight motivation hacker to lose fifty pounds than fifteen, because he’ll know he needs to try harder, and he’ll want it more. The daily process of achieving the goal is the same, but it takes longer and gives him more Value.

10. A sure way to kill motivation is to water down the challenge.

11. To hit a 7 on my scale, I have to visibly look happy: smiling, rocking my head to music, or staring determined at my work with fire in my eyes. I knew that I’d need goals that kept me burning all day to pull it off. The goals you choose should do the same: they should drench you in Value and then ignite you.

12. I didn’t give myself a deadline but a challenge, and the thought of immediate glory made me work far better than normal. For motivational highs, kill delay: look for ways to do something amazing right away.

13. Of everything I did, using Beeminder to precommit, to build my success spiral, and to visualize my progresss was the most helpful.

14. my work time devised by psychologist Seth Roberts, which he called percentile feedback[88]. The idea is that you graph your progress throughout the day as a percentage of the day spent working since you woke up, and at the same time you plot it against all the previous days so that you can see how you’re doing compared to the past. This gives you a percentile score at any point throughout the day, which you can always meaningfully increase by working more.

Instead of only seeing how much work I’d done at the end of the day, when it was too late to motivate me, I could see at any moment how much I’d done, how good that was, and how much more I could do if I kept at it.

15. At the thought of coding all-out for four months, my eyes narrowed, my jaw jutted, and I smiled a maniac smile. Let’s see what I’m capable of. (I remember this feeling well, because I felt it as soon as I thought of doing this book. Watch for it when you’re picking goals—they should excite you!)

16. is going to be hard, I thought. I might have to spend more than ten minutes a day. (I did not think, I might not be able to do this. Practice learning things exposes this for the absurdity that it is, whether it’s skateboarding or calculus.)


17. This is a good strategy for learning many things: 1. Get excited about a skill. 2. While you’re excited, make time and hack up motivation to practice it. 3. Learn how to practice it from reading or from a teacher. 4. Start doing it right away.

18. A lot of people want to be writers, but don’t want to write: they are seeking prestige on a borrowed goal.

19. including Piers Steel’s book, The Procrastination Equation,

20. Expectancy Recall that Expectancy is your confidence of success. These techniques increase motivation by making you certain that you’ll succeed. • Success Spirals. Set yourself a series of achievable goals and then achieve all of them until you expect only success and failure is no longer familiar. • Vicarious Victory. Surround yourself with motivated people (and avoid unmotivated people) to have their motivation rub off on you. If you can’t change your friends, reading biographies of inspirational people is an easier example of this. • Mental Contrasting. Visualize the success you want to achieve, then contrast it with the not-success you have now. (If you skip the contrasting step, it may be worse than nothing.[111] Add in implementation intentions[112] and process visualization[113] for more oomph.) • Guarding Against Excessive Optimism. We all fall prey to the planning fallacy. This often destroys success spirals. When planning paths toward goals, you can expect the best, but plan for the worst so that you can still avoid failure even when everything goes wrong.


Value is both how rewarding a task will be when you finish it and how fun it is while you’re doing it. These are general ways to adjust what you’re doing
so that it’s more meaningful and fun. • Find Flow. Tasks which are too easy or too hard are not engaging, so find ways to make tasks challenging but
possible. I think of this in terms of being a task samurai and doing dwarf dishes. Make a game of it. Compete against yourself, or against others. • Find
Meaning. Look for ways to connect tasks with major life goals, so that you can remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Set up extra reminders
of these connections where you’ll see them. • Set CSI Approach Goals. SMART goals are out, and Challenging, Specific, Immediate, and Approach (not
avoidance) goals are in. These goals should excite you (the Challenging and Approach bits). The Specific and Immediate bits help with Impulsiveness, making
sure you know what you need to do at any time. I find that input goals (study ten minutes daily) tend to work better than output goals (learn ten words
daily). • Optimize Energy. Everything is more fun if you’re alert, not tired. Sleep well, eat well, get fit, guard your circadian rhythms, and avoid
burnout. Cure energy lows with quality breaks, movement, sunshine, and good music. Match intensive tasks with periods of high energy. • Productive
Procrastination. If you can’t bring yourself to do your main task, at least get some other things out of the way. It’s not perfect, but perfect is the
enemy of good. • Create Rewards. When you succeed, celebrate it, either by congratulating yourself or giving yourself a treat. Treats can backfire if
overused, though. I prefer victory dances, fist pumps, and grinning like an idiot. • Focus on Passion. Know what you’re passionate about, and steer your
life towards those passions. Ask if your common tasks are connected to passion; ask if they’re intrinsically motivating. • Task Trading. This one isn’t
backed up by any research (that I know about), but it makes economic sense, and I love it. Trade tasks according to comparative motivational advantage so
that each person is doing the tasks which motivates her more. Impulsiveness Impulsiveness is your susceptibility to delay for a given task: how likely you
are to put it off and do something more pressing. Limiting Impulsiveness often means getting rid of the options to do other things. • Precommitment. Choose
now to limit your later options, preventing yourself from making the wrong choice in the face of temptation. • Burnt Ships. A specific form of
precommitment where you disable, remove, or destroy a distraction or temptation. • Goal Reminders. Make external reminders of your goals visible, and
actually look at them. Avoid failing at your goals just because you forgot about them. • Timeboxing. Place limits on the time allowed to perform a given
task, the shorter, the better. It’s easier to ignore distractions when you know you can’t finish your task if you give into them, and that you only have to
focus on your task for a short time. • Build Useful Habits. Make an autopilot schedule for yourself and put your goals into it, or add goals to existing
routines. • Schedule Play Before Work. Plan times to have as much fun as you can—this leads to more efficient recreation, and it also lets you focus on
your goals during the other times, rather than just having low-grade leisure constantly tempting you as an option. Play hard.

22. Delay is how far off the reward seems to be. This is often hard to manipulate directly, but sometimes you can set yourself up to perceive Delay differently, thus scoring a big motivation win. • Break Goals Down. Granularize big goals until the next achievement is right in front of you. Subgoals and sub-subgoals defeat Delay. This is what Beeminder does automatically: you get a target for each day. • Plan Fallaciously. This isn’t so much a technique as a phenomenon, and its effects on motivation aren’t backed up by any research, either—just my experience with my startup and marathon training. The planning fallacy automatically gives you more courage to start by underestimating the time and effort required to achieve many unknown, hard goals. I think this is a good thing, as long as your goals are input-based and not output-based.


Quinn June 2, 2014 at 12:49 am

Hey thanks man, I been thinking about getting one of those things,I do something similar, but still use pen and paper. I worry about losing the skill of writing legibly


aamar June 1, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Thanks for your post. I like what you’re doing…because I am now caught up with a massive workload of very promising projects but not enough time to do them all. I’ve been thinking about dropping a couple and being vigilantly focussed, but maybe now with your thoughts, I just need to streamline and remotivate myself. Interesting… Im getting the book….the good thing about you is you keep pulling yourself up when you stagger or fall. That’s my issue….I wish I had someone I could constantly tap to tap me….a kindred spirit. Anyway….i dribbled on a bit, so will end here. Take care.


Daniel Reeves May 30, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Great notes, Maneesh! For those interested, Nick Winter also guest-posted about his book on the Beeminder blog:


Jolly May 30, 2014 at 9:45 pm

I love how small my world is sometimes, and how many of my friends cross over and meet each other 😀


Dewey May 30, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Thanks for Maneesh. What Kindle do you use?
I have been against buying one, but someone informed me about its note taking ability. Now you’re the second so I want to research the product.


Dewey May 30, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Thanks for sharing Maneesh….I’m an idiot.


Donovan P May 30, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Maneesh, are these excerpts from the book or notes you typed? Isn’t the latter the key to concept retention & memory solidification?


Tulio May 30, 2014 at 11:26 am

Thanks for sharing this Maneesh. I will definitely get this book. You are a highly motivated buddy that helps rub your motivation off on us!
Note: there’s a typo on item #1 that makes it hard to understand.


Tina May 30, 2014 at 10:57 am

Hey Mannesh this is great! Thanks for sharing


Leave a Comment


  • Previous post:

    Next post: