Neura 3: The Myth of Motivation, Lessons From Ulysses’ Journey.

3 min readDec 12, 2023

Welcome to Neura, a series that delves into the intriguing world of the brain and neuroscience.

Ulysses and the Sirens — John William Waterhouse

How often do you find yourself committing to reading a book or sticking to a disciplined gym routine, only to fall short in the long run?

Many of us start with great determination, embarking on a new goal or career-changing course, fueled by initial motivation. We wake up at 5 am, have wholesome meals, and go for early morning jogs. However, more often than not, this enthusiasm lasts no more than a few weeks, and the familiar phrase echoes: “I just don’t have the motivation.”

Despite a plethora of books, podcasts, and coaching sessions dedicated to motivation, many still struggle to achieve their goals, attributing it to a lack of motivation.

What if the issue isn’t motivation? What if we are addressing the wrong problem?

In reality, many successful individuals worldwide agree that you don’t necessarily need motivation to accomplish your goals. In our previous exploration in the Neura series, we discussed how decisions are the result of a conflict between three riders in your brain, including the power of NOW, or the desire.

Surprisingly, motivation is merely a manifestation of the desire to do something at the present moment. Whether it’s indulging in a late-night piece of cake or feeling motivated to hit the gym at 5 am, both are driven by the same area in your brain.

As we discussed in Neura 2, the brain prioritizes the present over the future. The power of now explains why individuals make decisions that may seem beneficial in the moment but lead to adverse consequences in the future, influenced by hormones. Consequently, motivation may not be the reliable driving force for achieving your long-term goals.

How can you overcome the power of NOW?

To delve into this subject, let’s turn to the legendary hero Ulysses. In Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey,” Ulysses faces the Sirens during his journey home from the Trojan War — mythical creatures whose enchanting voices lure sailors to their doom. Ulysses, curious about the Sirens’ voices, desires to hear them but recognizes the danger they pose.

To resist their allure, Ulysses devises a brilliant strategy. He has himself tied to the mast of his ship and instructs his crew not to untie him, regardless of his pleas. As the ship sails past the Sirens’ island, Ulysses, captivated by their singing, remains safely bound to the mast.

The myth of Ulysses and the sirens serves as a powerful metaphor for cultivating discipline in our lives. The Sirens represent distractions or temptations that can lead us astray.

Like Ulysses, identify your weaknesses — your own “Sirens’ song.” Create the perfect conditions to separate yourself from desires and distractions. For students or entrepreneurs, this might mean establishing an environment conducive to focus.

Ulysses desired to experience the Sirens’ song but recognized the danger. Practice delayed gratification by prioritizing long-term goals over immediate desires. Understand that discipline often involves sacrificing short-term pleasures for greater rewards.

Finally, develop a long-term vision. Ulysses’ ultimate goal was to return home. Keep your long-term vision in mind, staying focused on the journey rather than swayed by momentary distractions. Discipline is about maintaining consistency and perseverance over time.

Conclusively, understanding the dynamics of desire and discipline can redefine how we approach our goals. Motivation, often seen as the key, may just be a fleeting spark. Ulysses’ story teaches us the importance of recognizing our vulnerabilities and creating the right conditions for discipline to thrive.

In the next article, we will further explore a unique aspect of the heart-brain relationship, examining the dynamics of control between these two vital organs. Stay tuned as we unravel more mysteries of the mind and navigate the intricate landscape of the brain.




Business consultant. Engineering Master's. Exploring politics, history, and tech through analytical storytelling. Sharing insights and opinions on Medium