Have you ever gotten to a certain point with one of your own annoying habits, when you just decided, “enough—I can’t take it anymore?”

[“Shadow Button,” week 4, number 61, from my Quit Your Day Job Buttons]

The word is fear, and my frustrating habit is: motivating myself with fear.
I think most of us do this to varying degrees—here are some examples:

“I’d better get this done tonight, or else I’ll just get further behind tomorrow, and then I’ll never get it done.”
“I’d better exercise, or else I’ll feel sluggish and guilty later.”
“I’d better clean the house, or my guests will think I’m a slob.”
“I’d better say the right things in the interview, or else I won’t get the job.”

It’s funny, I noticed in writing these examples that some are very embedded in my brain and therefore sound like realism. How about you?

Do you have any little lines that you recite in your head? The reasons you create to scare yourself into doing things?

Personally, I’m most able to notice when I’m motivating myself with fear by how I feel—when fear is the motivator, I feel a weight in my chest, and start to feel a little sick with panic. My brain gets frantic as I start to think, “I should/must do this, this, and this.”

What is your tell? How do you feel when you give yourself an ultimatum—“I’d better do this, or else?”

The opposite of fear seems to me to be joy, or excitement. What does it feel like to be motivated by joy or excitement—that moment when you think up a wonderful little scheme? For me, it feels like laughing, like a joyful internal laugh, like being a little kid. It’s an expansive feeling of possibility and fun. We all have many examples of being motivated by simple joy:

“Wouldn’t it be so amazing to go on a trip to . . .”
“Ooh, I’d love to have a slice of pizza for lunch today!”
“It would be so great to call my best friend right now.”
“Wouldn’t it be fun to try and make . . .”
“I would love to be a ______ when I grow up!”

All of this thinking got me wondering:
What would it be like to only do things that I feel positively motivated to do?

My first response to this was, “Well, that wouldn’t work—how would I get anything done? I would never pay the bills or wash the dishes. I wouldn’t be motivated to do anything that isn’t fun.” But when I really started thinking about it, isn’t this the answer to creating a fulfilling and exciting life—doing more and more of the things you love and feel joyfully motivated to do?

Before the alarm bells start going off in your head, let me clarify—I’m not suggesting we all quit doing everything that we don’t love doing. What I’m really talking about is letting go of fear, and the process of trying to re-learn how to motivate yourself in a positive way. I’m also talking about living with intention. When I’m being motivated by fear, I often find myself grasping frantically at tasks and goals, and therefore not doing my work with intention—not really putting my focus and full creativity into it. When I’m operating from a place of excitement and joy, I am able to appreciate the process of doing something and really put my positive energy into it.

While it’s true that there are two ways to look at everything—any action can be motivated by fear or joy depending on how you look at it, I think that the best way to get started with this is to begin noticing when you’re feeling one or the other, and try to start acting on the joy, in as many situations as possible.

What would change in your life, if you spent more time living and working from a place of joy and excitement? If you made more choices based on what sounds exciting to you? Would you feel less or more energy and motivation? Would you feel less or more fulfilled?

In the end, what is life about? Is it about getting ahead in any way possible, or enjoying the ride and appreciating every day?

There is a big learning curve with this type of change. To be honest, I have been aware of this tendency in myself to motivate with fear for a long time, but a part of me has still thought that somehow the fear was really motivating me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise do—the fear was keeping me in line.

A life coach I like to listen to, Michael Neill, often talks about this, and he says that the key to changing a behavior is to really understand that it’s hurting you. He compares a hurtful behavior/habit to the act of hitting yourself in the head with a shovel. Obviously, we don’t hit ourselves in the heads with shovels because it hurts. When we can get to that point of understanding with a behavior (worrying, motivating myself with fear, and smoking are like hitting myself in the head with a shovel) then, changing the behavior is simple—you just do it because you know it very blatantly hurts you.

Do you have any habits/behaviors that you continue to do, even though you know (on some level) that they’re hurting you?
Do you have any habits you’ve kicked by realizing that they’re no good for you? How did you make the mental switch?


2 Responses to “Motivation”

  1. 1 erasmith December 8, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Hmmm, thought-provoking post Nicole. I find that when I worry about something my tell is that I get an upset stomache. So clearly the behavior is affecting me physically (it’s as obvious as if I were to hit myself in the head with a shovel!). I tend to repeat the same upsetting things in my head over and over, and my biggest habit is to think, “I can’t do anything to change it.” But what usually works to get myself out of the cycle is to see the situation from a different perspective. For example, daylight savings makes me upset because it puts pressure on me to get everything done before nightfall (I work at my best during the day). And there’s nothing I can do to change the fact that darkness falls earlier. But that all changed when Jaja told me that she likes daylight savings because she always thinks of people sitting in their houses all cozy in the growing cold, eating meals together and spending time indoors. That totally changed things for me and now I don’t feel that pressure because I think about the coziness of everyone gettings things done together in their brightly lit, warm homes. Strange, but that’s what it takes!

  2. 2 Jenny December 8, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Nicole, This is a great post and very thought-provoking!

    One of my current bad habits is overworking, thinking that the harder I work the better things will turn out for me. This is crazy because overworking taxes my body and my heart and things surly can’t turn out better if I’m not treating myself well. I’m overcoming this one by turning off the computer early in the evening and creating mini-breaks throughout the day, filled with things that feel fun and carefree.

    One thing I used to struggle with but overcame was a desire for my house to be neat and clean all of the time. That was really a mindset change. I was the only one who cared about the neatness, so I just lightened up on myself, realizing it was just another one of my perfectionistic tendencies. The perfectionism is something I want to release, so by noticing that was the trend, it was motivation enough to lighten up.

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Hello there! My name is Nicole K. Docimo, and I am an artist and writer from the U.S.A. but currently residing in Zurich, Switzerand. Thank you for visiting my blog!

Some Thoughts

"Be thirsty for the ultimate water,
and then be ready for what will
come pouring from the spring."

{from "Joy at Sudden Disappointment"
translated by C. Barks.}

~This Work ~

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