Does External Motivation Work?


Tom Corley boats - crop

Most use external motivation to help them achieve some big goal in life, such as running a marathon, losing 30 pounds, or to pass some test. There is a lot of debate over external motivation. Some argue it does not lead to long-term changes in habits and behaviors. Others argue that it can completely change your life. So, who’s right?

They are both partially right. External motivation works in altering your habits and behaviors but only when that external motivation is long enough for the habits you created to stick.

What is long enough? According to the famous University London study on habits, it could take as long as 254 days to form a habit. If your big goal requires less than 254 days to accomplish then it is likely the habits you forged during the goal-seeking process will not stick. So, if you want to forge long-term habits you need to set big goals that will require at least 254 days to accomplish.

It’s neurological. It takes 254 days in order for the neural pathway inside your brain to become so strong that the brain (basal ganglia) marks the synapse (brain cells talking to each other) as a habit. Once brain cells are designated as habits by the basal ganglia, a habit is forged. And it will never go away – ever. Brain cells marked as habits will stay with you until the day you die.

So, set big goals. Goals that require at least 254 days to accomplish. Otherwise, all of the habits you created in order to make that goal a reality will eventually fade away, replaced by older habits.

Be Sociable, Share!
Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley is a bestselling author, speaker, and media contributor for Business Insider, CNBC and a few other national media outlets.

His Rich Habits research has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, holds a master’s degree in taxation and is President of Cerefice and Company, a CPA firm in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
Email Tom
| Download Media Kit


  1. Tom, I’m not so sure your comments were on the mark this time. Most of the commentary I’ve read regarding “habits” and their creation points to a time frame of about 30 days for the synaptic connections to be formed in the brain. Now you may only have a “little thread” of a connective link, but the connection should be formed after about 30 days. After 254 days, the thread should have wound itself into a thick cable of a habit. I have witnessed this first hand in my own life when I “decided” to form a new and better habit, so I know it to be true…for me at least. Thanks.

    • It depends on the habit Kevin. According to the University London habit study it can take anywhere from 18-254 days. The more complex the habit, the more time it will take for the habit to form. When you stack habits (add a new habit to an existing habit) the habit formation process can be immediate, depending on how you use the existing habit as a trigger. For example, I added drinking water (new habit) every time I got up to get a cup of coffee (old habit). I put my coffee cup (trigger) on the water cooler. It took about 3 days for my new habit to stick. I decided to add reading (new habit) to my stairmaster exercise habit (old habit). I set up a stand in front of my stairmaster and put a book on the stand. My new habit (reading) became an immediate habit. One day is all it took. The book on the stairmaster became the trigger.

Speak Your Mind