What Is Motivation And How To Stay Motivated
Motivation is the incentive or drive that fuels and propels us forward. We can be motivated externally by the words or actions of others, or we can motivate ourselves internally by using our own smart talk. Depending on our self-talk, we are either constructively or restrictively motivated. Constructive motivation is on an “I want to, I choose to, I like to” basis. Restrictive motivation is on an “I have to or else” basis.
Examine your own internal motivation by asking yourself: “Am I my own person?” “Am I living the way I live because I choose to, or because I’m afraid to live any other way?” “Do I move optionally, creatively, freely flowing through life, or do I feel restricted, afraid, uptight?” “Do I assume personal accountability for my own actions, or do I think someone else is responsible?”
One way to answer these questions is to notice how you feel when you set out to achieve your goals. Constructive motivation causes you to feel energetic and creative about solving the problem. Under the restrictive form of motivation, you don’t do things for the pleasure of enjoying the end result; you do them because you’re afraid of the consequences. The differences between constructive and restrictive motivation can mean the difference between joyful achievement and unhappy failure.
Constructive motivation means visualizing what you want in life. You talk to yourself about why you’d like the new job, why you want the new salary, why you’d enjoy the new skill, the new adventure. You’re more likely to act on a “want-to, choose-to, like-to” basis. You’ll do things because you see their benefits. Constructively motivated people constantly imprint positive imagery into their subconscious solutions to problems, resolutions to conflicts, satisfying end results. When you’re constructively motivated, you look forward to the end results with feelings of pleasure, joy, fulfillment: “If I run for the position and win, how much good can I do for my community?” Constructive motivation creates a positive expectancy of joy and success.
If you want to see constructive motivation at work, try chaperoning an overnight co-ed teenage party sometime. About 2 a.m., try keeping the sexes apart. They’ve been visualizing the pleasure and profitability of being together for weeks, so they start sneaking through the windows, the vents, even cracks in the walls, just to be with each other. They walk through doors without opening them. Why? Because we get very inventive and creative when we want to do something. We feel as though nothing can stop us. When our will power and our subconscious creativity team up, we are absolutely unbeatable.
Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to tell your 16-year-old: “All right, I’ll be gone for a week. Here are the keys to the car, and here are all my gas station credit cards. When I get back, I want to see 1,000 miles on that car. I’m not taking no for an answer.” To prevent kids from driving that car, we would not only need to leave town with the keys, we would need to take the distributor cap, too. I’m talking from experience.
Restrictive motivation creates the opposite fear of failure, rejection, and punishment. Instead of seeing the benefits, you see the awful consequence: “What if I ask her out, and she says no? I’ll be humiliated.” “What if I apply for that job, and they turn me down? I’ll feel sick.” “What if I don’t make the sale? I’ll be fired.”
Even when I work with professional athletes, I don’t use the competition for the purpose of motivation. Competition and comparison have a downside. We can get frozen by comparison. Steve Young, twice the MVP of the NFL, long lived in the shadow of Joe Montana; and in the eyes of the fans, he could never be as good as or as great as Joe. But in 1994, when he had another exceptional year, leading the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl victory, he threw off the ghost of Joe Montana and became the team leader. He had to learn not to compare himself with Joe but to be his best self and compete with only himself.
How you feel about a comparison depends on how you perceive the other person. If the person is close to you and doing well, you tend to want to distance yourself from that person, because it hurts every time you compare yourself and come up short. And so you say, “I don’t care to compete.” This is why the children of people who are very successful tend to want to move away. They feel frozen by comparison or by the fear of comparison.
Restrictive thinking is dwelling on the problem until you crash right into it. If you dwell on what you don’t want to happen, you unconsciously help bring it about. When you picture awful consequences, your knees buckle, you sweat profusely, your stomach churns, you feel uptight.
Sadly, many of us were raised on restrictive motivation. Our parents, teachers, coaches, and spiritual mentors found it an effective way to get us to toe the line. So they instilled fear-based thinking in us that repeatedly set up “I can’t” situations: “I can’t go there.” “I can’t buy that.” “I can’t do that.” As a result, we didn’t allow ourselves to apply for the job, ask for the date, run for the seat on the Board. Instead of looking forward to the benefits, we feared the consequences.
Fear motivates us to do things for the wrong reasons. When we’re fear-motivated, we don’t embrace the adventure of life; instead, we weakly accept its burdens. Many of us absorbed a lot of fear-based motivation. We learned to be good, not so much because we enjoyed being good or chose to be good, but because we were told, “Either be good or you’ll go to hell.” We’ve trained ourselves to be good, not because it’s personally beneficial, but because we’re constantly trying to outrun the flames of hell.
When I went to my junior high school dances, the girls stood on one side of the gym and the boys on the other. We looked across at all these girls we wanted to dance with, but we knew if we walked over and asked, they’d probably say no. We dwelled on the fear of rejection, instead of the joy of success. And whenever we did go across, we stepped out of our comfort zones. We’d ask the girl to dance, and nothing would come out. “Uh, er.” Sure enough, the girl would say, “No!” and we’d walk away thinking, “I knew she’d say no.” To cover our embarrassment, we’d say to our friends, “She was ugly anyway. Who wants to dance? Let’s go have some real fun.”
That’s how restrictive motivation prevents us from doing things we want to do. Some of us run our whole lives that way.
But we can know when we’re being restrictively motivated with fear images if we understand the two most common forms of restrictive motivation: coercive and inhibitive.
Now as you have learned how to stay motivated, here is an added bonus for you.