The type restrictive motivation is called inhibitive, which means discouraging, restraining, prohibitive. Like coercive motivation, inhibitive motivation is fueled by fear. Where the trigger words for coercive motivation are “I have to,” the trigger words for inhibitive motivation are “I can’t.” So the thrust of inhibitive self-talk is, ”I can’t misbehave or else something awful will happen.”

Inhibitive motivation is restrictive because it blocks option-thinking and choice. In athletics, a coach will train the team in certain techniques, and if the players fail to execute those techniques, the coach will impose punishment”200 push-ups and then run laps till you puke!” As a result, those players learn, “I can’t misbehave, or else I’ll feel terrible.” The military sometimes uses restrictive training tactics: “March this way.” “Carry your weapon that way.” “Say ‘Yes Sir,’ or else you’ll pay the penalty.” So what do you learn? “I can’t do things any other way or else I’ll be punished.”

For many of us, the command “You can’t” is so powerful that sometimes we don’t even question why not? We just experience an overwhelming flood of fear, and we obey.

First we perceive the situation through our senses. Then we associate: “have I experienced anything like it before?” Then we evaluate: “What is this leading me toward?” If we’re motivated by fear, the pattern of fear from our childhood, our religious training, our athletic training, our military training, is recorded as “I can’t”and we get that sudden flood of fear. And we conclude, “Nothing good!” Finally, we decide, “You can’t change. Stay in line. Don’t make waves.”

no more negativity

If employees are motivated by fear, the manager may say one day, “Okay, now I want you to try something new.” They’ll say, “Sorry, we can’t!” Do you have people like that in your family, on your team, in your company? They’re scared to death to try anything new, perhaps because they were inhibited or punished physically and psychologically so often in the past that they know it hurts too much to learn something new. So they think, “I can’t make a mistake!”

When you have people on a team or in a company, for example, who have been groomed through inhibitive fear to be afraid of making mistakes, they’ll fight change in the company. They’ll think, “Don’t try to mess with my responsibilities. Don’t try to make a change. It’ll hurt too much.”

They’re responding to the fear of the new task. So things remain the same. Even if the change would be advantageous, their resistance rushes up in a flood of fear: “That’s not in my job description! It’s out of my area! I don’t do that!” That motivation breeds inhibition to options, change, and growth. And so you get stagnation and rigidity.

You and I must recognize that it’s all right to make mistakes. You don’t want to make them, you don’t choose to make them, you don’t like to make them but when you make a mistake, take responsibility for it and tell yourself, “That’s not like me. I’ll correct it next time.”

Freely Choose to Do It

When it appears to you that you have no choice in the matter, that you’re being coerced into something against your own will, either from the outside or from the inside, you think, “I have no choice in the matter. I have to, or else something awful will happen to me.”

When you feel that you “have to,” you slow down. You engage in avoidant behavior and procrastination. You get involved in activity that has nothing to do with your objective or goal. You may still accomplish the goal, but with minimal quality or results. You do it just “good enough” to get by, never striving for excellence.

You won’t be at your best or achieve the goals that you’re capable of achieving, until you switch from a coercive to a constructive attitude and eliminate the “or-else” factors in your life. Whenever you look at your goals or aspirations on a have-to-or-else basis, your chance of achieving them is slight.

When you feel that you “have to,” you may think that you need more discipline to achieve the goal. You say, “I’ve got to get tougher with myself.” But the more you force, the more you unconsciously avoid the appropriate behavior.

If you’ve ever worked in an environment where people “have to” go to work, you know how they are they’re exhausted, they complain, they do minimal work, and you don’t want to be standing in the doorway at quitting time because you’ll get run over as they leave the site.

Have you ever tried to teach or learn in a school where people feel that they have to be there? I have, and I can tell you that they are not learning organizations. As a teacher, I would tell my students: “You don’t have to go to school, and you certainly don’t have to learn. You have other options. But if you want to learn, I’m here to help. I’m not here to entertain you but to educate you. I’ll try to make education attractive, even entertaining, but unless you want it and use it, we’re both wasting our time.”

If we pay a price for our education, we will value it. For example, I once brought in Dr. Bill Beaners from Princeton soon after I finished teaching high school. I paid him $5,000 and this was 25 years ago for the day, plus expenses to teach me about nonverbal communication. Imagine: for one day, just Diane and I, in our house. He thought he was coming to do a big seminar. Do you know how many notes I took? Volumes. Do you think I applied what he said? Sure, I didn’t want to look stupid for spending that much money.

Learning has a lot to do with accountability. When students have no accountability, they may say, “Okay, teacher, just try to teach me. Go ahead. I dare you.”

High-performance people accept the consequences of their choices. They are responsible and accountable. If they choose not to learn, they choose not to grow. But at least they are willing to accept the consequences. And that’s much better than saying, “I have to.”

Watch the following video for helpful techniques to break out of negativity and limiting beliefs. You deserve the best.