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Most people think of motivation as a positive feeling – e.g. inspiration, excitement, passion – but unfortunately, they’re wrong.
Today we’re going to talk about the secret to motivation, an understanding that will help push you forward and do all those things that you’ve always been meaning to do but been struggling with because you’re waiting for positive emotions.
The problem with positive emotions
The problem with thinking that motivation is a positive feeling – an uplifting, happy kind of feeling – is that these sensations come and go, which means your motivation comes and goes as well because you’re reliant on those feelings. If you’re a regular human being, these are actually in the minority of feelings.
Most of the time you’re feeling something else. If you can’t tap into those other feelings to find motivation, you’re stuck with only a small portion of your day feeling motivated and the rest of the time you’re falling behind and procrastinating.
Rather than relying on the high of positive feelings, we’re going to talk about the three big heavy hitters of motivation, the true motivators: frustration, guilt, and fear.
Instead of fighting against these so-called “negative” emotions, we’re going to learn how to harness them; how to use them for what they’re supposed to be used for. You don’t need to rely on pseudoscientific beliefs, like Law of Attraction, that push you into forced positive thinking all the time, constantly urging you into wishing and dreaming and hoping.
Instead, we’re going to use frustration, guilt and fear, emotions that you regularly experience, to your advantage. There’s no need for positivity!
Anger is the override to fear and anxiety. When you need someone to be courageous and to do something that they’re hesitant or uncomfortable doing, you need to get them mad about it. So mad that they put aside their petty fears and use the heat of anger and frustration to move forward.
Frustration is the solution to procrastination. If you get frustrated enough with seeing yourself constantly putting something off that you know is important, and you constantly see the negative consequences of you putting this off, eventually you’re going to become so pissed off with procrastinating that you’re just going to pick yourself up and finally do it. We’re going to talk about how to harness that feeling and make it happen quicker, rather than waiting for a kind of rock-bottom moment to finally push you.
The key to harnessing frustration is to focus on how you self-sabotage, and particularly to focus on the things you can control. So rather than looking at things that happen to you, looking at what you do every day that makes your life worse for you, that puts off your goals and sabotages your relationships and undermines your efforts. Look at what you could do differently if you chose.
Make self-sabotage a focal point that you become obsessed with, where you’re constantly looking at how you fuck things up for yourself when you could easily do something else. This isn’t about going, “Oh, I wish I was taller.” This is about going, “Damn, I keep doing that awful thing that doesn’t help me,” rather than avoiding it.
You’ll find people who procrastinate a lot and don’t follow through on their goals and their promises often engage in a lot of avoidance – they seem to have a blind spot to the way they sabotage themselves.
For example, every day I journal about my hobbies. I’ve got a few of them: drawing, dance, guitar, etc. Every day I have to write about what I did with those because measures how well I’m living by the values of playfulness, fun, and creativity.
And every day that I don’t do anything, I have to write “nil,” which annoys me, because I know that the reason I’m not doing these things is that I don’t create the time to do them. I don’t prioritize them. So I’m forced to face these repetitive nil comments, and start seeing that I did it again, and again… and again.
Eventually it finally hits me – “OK , fuck this!” – and I put down what I’m doing, grab my guitar and play a few songs. It gets me over the lethargy – that hesitancy and discomfort I feel in getting started with a hobby-based activity. It gets me through that point by constantly realizing I’m doing this bad thing to myself again when I don’t even have to!
Guilt is a more complex one. I’ve been able to identify that there are actually two forms of guilt and they feel the same.
The first is what I call socially conditioned guilt.
This is where we’ve been trained, manipulated and programmed to feel guilty for not living up to somebody else’s expectations and not following somebody else’s rules, whether it’s a single person, like one of your parents, or society in general and what you get from the media.
We often feel guilty about not doing what we’re “supposed” to do to “fit in.” And yet that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re supposed to be living with integrity. Socially conditioned guilt creates what I call a guilt misfire, which is where you feel guilty for all the wrong reasons.
The greatest con artists, manipulators and marketers in the world know that nothing moves someone more than guilt. Guilt is one of the most compelling emotions to put on someone. This is why manipulative parents so often resort to guilt-tripping in order to control their children.
You can use this to your advantage if you could just learn to react to guilt in a healthy way. There’s something to be said for feeling guilty about the right things to feel guilty about (i.e. breaches of your values). Guilt will move you so much stronger than any of the happy emotions.
There’s a healthy type of guilt that I call authenticity guilt.
It’s the guilty feeling you get from not living by your own values, by not meeting your own standards, and by letting yourself down. If you can learn how to tap into this type of guilt, while simultaneously recognizing the misfires (knowing when guilt should not be followed because it’s based only on social conditioning), then you can learn to use guilt to your advantage.
The key to using guilt to your advantage is twofold. First is you have to know exactly what your values are, and second is you have to ruthlessly identify when you’re not living by them.
When do you sacrifice your integrity for an instant gratification? When do you betray your truth to get approval from others, or a good comfortable emotion, or an easy win? Constantly measure this every single day, to be able to say to yourself, “I could have chosen integrity but instead I chose the easy way out. I chose to please others rather than live by my own rules. I betrayed myself and there’s no good reason for it.”
An example for me actually happened quite recently. I’ve got a genetic disorder that means my cholesterol is higher than the average person, so even if I’m very healthy my “bad” SDL cholesterol gets high, and I’m on medication for it.
Around the time of my wedding, I became quite complacent with this. I thought my medication had got me all sorted and I had been healthy for a while, so I could afford to indulge. I spent couple of months bingeing and not exercising – just living the dream, I guess.
And then I noticed I was starting to put on weight but I didn’t look very fat. This is a warning sign; it means I’m putting on weight on the inside, so to speak – it’s around my organs and that’s really dangerous. I got my cholesterol checked again, and again it was high despite being on medication. I finally looked at my eating and thought:
“I value health and self-respect. How well does my eating align with that?”
I could see myself constantly sacrificing my future – my fucking life. I’m at high risk of dying from a heart attack. It would be an absolute disrespect to my life to allow that to happen, or at least not do what I can to prevent it. And here I am, choosing ice cream, choosing alcohol, choosing fried food… instead of choosing life. I was forced to just face that truth. I’m choosing to kill myself for a tasty treat. Is that worth it?
The guilt finally hit me. I realized I’m just going to have put up with the awkwardness of saying no to people when they offer me a drink or food because my health – my life – is more important to me and my family. I will just have to tolerate endless questions about my refusals and repeat my boring cholesterol story over and over, because that’s the price of self-respect.
If you don’t know what your values are, BROJO is here for you. We’ve got a course called Discover your Core Values and some follow up advanced courses to help you hone them and turn them into regular daily behaviors. So join BROJO today (it’s free below):
There’s an old marketing saying that goes, “People are twice as motivated to avoid pain as they are to seek pleasure.”
Fear is about the avoidance of pain or the unfamiliar. This is probably why pleasure-based motivations, like reward systems or approval from others, are very short-lasting. A reward doesn’t have the same kind of impact as the crisis of pain.
Fear can be a great motivator, if you know how to use it. The problem is that most people focus on what they are afraid of doing, some new and unfamiliar thing, rather than focusing on the fear of what will happen if they don’t.
The key here is to regularly check in with what happens if you don’t. All those things you want to do with your life, all those great behaviors you want to engage in, all those goals you want to pursue – rather than focusing on how scary it would be to do them, focus on how bad it will be to not do them.
Focus on what will happen to you. How you will suffer? What pain you will experience if you choose short-term comfort over pursuing those goals? Who will you end up becoming?
There’s one example that’s been coming up a lot in my work with coaching clients around the use of fear as a motivator. I’ve got some clients who are artistic, and they’re looking at becoming entrepreneurs. One’s a videographer, another’s a photographer. They could be doing amazing things with their career if they pursued their passion and turned their art into a business.
But they seem too scared to take the risk… probably because it is scary to start an artistic business considering the modern school system undervalues the arts.
So instead of focusing on the rewards of how great it would be to start their business, I asked them to focus on what the world misses out on if they don’t.
The videographer can make these great documentaries that would change people’s perspective and reduce the amount of hatred and bigotry in the world, and most likely reduce the number of suicides. So I asked her, “How are you going to feel if later on if you hear about a suicide that you could have prevented if you just pursued your passion?”
This kind of motivation is the kind of shit that keeps you up at night! When it comes to crossing the fear boundary of doing it, make the fear of not doing it even stronger and you’ll be able to cross that boundary.
journaling is the key
The easiest way to use these motivational forces is to start actively journaling on a regular basis, every single day.
While you’re journaling, ask yourself three specific questions that will bring up these emotions in a helpful way:
Question 1: What pattern of behavior am I repeating that makes my life worse? What should I be doing instead? This is to access your frustration from seeing you sabotage your efforts.
Question 2: How did I betray my values of integrity today, and how can I redeem myself? This is to have a look at where you feel authenticity guilt, and give you an idea of how you can correct that.
Question 3: What will happen in the future if I keep engaging in my poor behaviors and don’t do what I’m supposed to be doing? You can go 5-10 years in the future, or you can just go to the next week; whenever it is that the bad consequences will kick in if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.
The key to negative motivation
To finish off, you gotta understand the key message: Motivation is a negative force, not a positive one.
It’s the rewards that are positive. If you follow through on the motivation and do what you’re supposed to do, that’s when it feels good. You don’t feel good before you do it. You feel good afterward. Before you do it, you feel “bad,” and that’s a good thing, believe it or not!
There will be a time in the future when frustration, guilt and fear are seen as friends rather than enemies, because they help you do what you’re supposed to.
When it comes to your journaling, repeatedly answer those three questions each day until you’re compelled to move. It won’t happen the first time you write it down. But if you have to keep repeating yourself and witness a pattern of you letting yourself down over and over again, eventually you’re going to go “Fuck it! I need to get on with this.”
Thank you so much for reading. I hope that was helpful for you. Please subscribe to the YouTube channel, comment below and share it around if you liked it. Or get in touch with me firstname.lastname@example.org if you have some feedback or if you want further support to become more motivated and authentic yourself.
I hope you have an awesome week.