Coercive motivation is when you tell yourself “I have to or else.” Your self-talk is, “I have to behave or else I have to pay the price.” And when someone else tries to coerce you, they’re saying, “Do it or else something awful will happen to you. And let me paint the picture of hell for you.” It’s like, “Shape up or ship out!”or “It’s my way or else.” Those are classic coercive demands designed to restrict your behavior and keep you in line.

Examine all the “I have to or else” motivations in your life: “I have to do my work or else I won’t get paid.” “I have to go to the show or else my friend will be mad.” “I have to clean the house or else the guests will think I’m a slob.” “I have to increase my sales or else my boss will fire me.” You know what happens when you tell yourself, ”I have to”? The same thing as when you’re physically pushed.

When someone tries to push you, you automatically resist by pushing back. It’s a reflex action. Similarly, whenever you feel you “have to” do something, you feel you’re being “pushed” into it, and, subconsciously, you push right back. You tell yourself, “I have to do this. I have no choice. But if I had my way, I wouldn’t do it.” Your subconscious chimes in, “Oh, but you can have your way. Let me show you how to get out of it or how to screw it up.” And your subconscious works very hard to get you to push back through procrastination, slovenly work, and creative avoidance.

If you’re a business owner or manager, are you interested in productivity? Do you use coercion to try to shove people into better performance? Do you know you’re not only not eliciting better performance, you’re setting your people up for worse performance? They slow down. They resist. They screw it up. If you keep pushing, they unconsciously push back. Anyone with high self-esteem will push back. They get infinitely creative finding ways to do less and to do it poorly. You can push them right into absenteeism, into tardiness, into illness, into carelessness, and into sabotage. You can push them so hard with “have to or else” motivation they’ll slow to a standstill just to get you to shut up. It’ll drive you absolutely nuts and maybe out of business.

negativity control

Parents do the same thing to their kids. I used to tell my kids, “Get out there and rake those leaves. I’m not going to tell you again. Do it, or else!” It would take them 45 minutes to get started. Procrastination. I’d get aggravated and yell, “What’s taking so long?” They’d say, “We can’t find the rake.” And they weren’t lying. In reaction to being “pushed,” they unconsciously built blind spots to the rake so they wouldn’t have to do the work. I’d go out and immediately find the rake, and I’d say, “Now get to work. And do it right!” They’d take five swipes at the leaves and fall down, exhausted. Slovenly work. Then they’d check behind them to see if the “or else factor” was still there, and they’d say loud enough for me to hear, “Boy, I’m tired.” Now, how can you possibly get tired searching for a rake? Creative avoidance. If you have to find it, you get creative at avoidance.

What happens when you demand that the kids wash the dishes after a big dinner? It’s the last thing they want to do, but you figure, “It’s my house.

As long as they’re living under my roof, they’ll play by my rules.” That’s how some parents motivate their kids to be cooperative at home. It’s coercion, and it doesn’t work very well. “Do the dishes, or else you’re grounded for a month. And do them right!” The kids will say, “I thought you wanted me to do my homework.” Procrastination. They didn’t even think about homework until you said, “Wash the dishes.” They’ll do the dishes, but they’ll take an hour to do a ten-minute job. ”I was just watching the birds outside.” Creative avoidance. And they won’t do all the dishes, they’ll leave crusty globs of food on the edges. Slovenly work. And they’ll break two of your best china plates, and hide the frying pan you cooked the fish in by dumping it on the closet shelf above your cashmere coat which, two days later, smells like dead trout. They’re pushing back. Isn’t that a wonderful way to work together? Everybody loses but nobody knows why.

You get the same negative response when you push yourself. Some habitual smokers tell themselves, “You have to stop smoking!” Then they creatively, unconsciously get into a pressure situation, or cause someone to get mad at them, or disappoint someone they respect, just so they have an excuse to smoke again. When you push yourself, even if it’s for your own good, your creative subconscious tries to stall, delay, and get you out of it. When you feel you have to grow, have to change, have to learn, have to make more money, your conscious willpower is at odds with your creative subconscious, and your creative subconscious will win every time.

If we feel we have to do something “or else,” we get very creative to get out of it. That’s why you can’t coerce people into doing their best at something they don’t want to do. You can’t coerce yourself into it, either. In areas where you can’t get yourself to do things lose weight, stop smoking, quit drinking, earn more money I guarantee you, for the most part you’re trying to coerce yourself into it. You tell yourself, “I have to, or else.”

Don’t force yourself to change. Don’t grow until you want to, because you won’t do it anyway. All your goals must be on a “want to, choose to, like to” basis. It must be your idea; you must envision the value of achieving the goal, or it will be like trying to run with somebody holding onto your pockets pushing and pulling at the same time, unconsciously sabotaging your own success.

Eliminate, as best as you can, all the “have to’s” in your life. Banish “have to” from your self-talk. Don’t allow yourself to think, “I have to get up in the morning.” “I have to eat.” “I have to go to work.” Because it’s not true. There’s only one “have to” in life: You have to die. Everything else is a matter of free choice, to the degree that you want to exercise it. Sometimes the choices aren’t great, but they are choices.

You can’t build a quality life on a “have to” basis because you won’t be willing to accept the consequence and be accountable. You become accountable only when you say, “I choose to. It’s my idea. I’m good because I choose to be good. I work because I choose to work. I obey or disobey the law because I choose to.”

One time I got stopped by Seattle’s finest. I turned on a wrong street coming down First Avenue and turned left underneath the Spokane Street viaduct, and missed the light.

The sign said, “No left turn,” but I turned left anyway, because I could only get on the freeway that way. A red light flashed right behind me, and I said, “Where did he come from?”

He walked up and said, “Didn’t you see me?”

I thought to myself, “Are you kidding? If I had seen you I wouldn’t have turned that way.”

I said to him, “You know, I didn’t see you. But that’s all right. I turned on purpose. I mean, it was my fault. I did it on purpose. I wanted to turn this way. I didn’t see it would cause any harm.”

The guy just shook his head, as if to say, “This is unusual, for a guy to say he did it on purpose or admit it.” And then he told me, “Just don’t do it again.” I think I stunned him by assuming accountability for having made the choice.

Another time, I was driving down a hill and ran a red light. It was snowing and I couldn’t have stopped, so I went right through it. In the car with me were two friends, one from Canada and one from Hawaii. I said, “I can’t see any cars coming, and so I’m going to run the light because I’ve got to get up that hill in front of us.” Soon there appeared a flashing red light behind me.

“Where did he come from?” I asked aloud, as I rolled the window down. When the officer walked up, one friend in the car was saying, “Tell him you’re from Hawaii, and you don’t know how to drive in the snow.” And my other friend said, “Tell him you are from Canada, and you didn’t know the law.”

But I rolled down the window and said, “I did it on purpose.”

The officer just shook his head and said, “Don’t do it again.” He walked back to his car.

Accepting the accountability for your behavior will often pay great dividends, because people don’t expect it. So, switch your life from a “have to” to a “want to.”

Once I worked with Kip Keino, a distance runner from Kenya who wanted to compete in the Montreal Olympics, and he wanted to know if he could do something psychologically to beat the excruciating pain that he always experienced during the last lap, the last quarter mile of the race.

I asked him, “What do you think about when you get to that point in the race?”

He said, “When I get to that point, I think, ‘Man, I still have to run another quarter mile.'”

By thinking in terms of “have to,” he was coercing himself and thus creating more pain for himself.

So I said, “Well, I’ve got the solution, but you might not like it.”

He said, “Tell me, please. What is it?”

“When you get to that point, when you know you have to run the last quarter mile, simply stop. Stop running. Stop right there and sit down on the inside curb of the track.”

Kip said, “That’s stupid. If I sit down, I will lose the race.”

I said, “That’s true, but at least your lungs will stop burning.”

He said, “What do you think I run for?”

I said, “I haven’t got the slightest idea. Look at me. Do you think I run? I can’t stand the pain myself.”

He said, “I run because if I win the Olympics in Montreal, I’ll win a cow. They’ll give me a cow. And in my country that will make me rich.” He told me, “My family sacrificed to send me to the university in the United States. Now, I want to win the gold medal for my family and my country.” Remember that his country pulled out of the Montreal Olympic games.

I said, “Why don’t you just shut your mouth and run then? You don’t have to run. You choose to run. You told me why you want to run. It’s your idea. Really, you don’t have to run. You don’t have to finish the race. You could stop at any time.”

He said, “I want to run and win.”

I said, “Then focus on that. put your training on a want to, choose to, love to basis.”