So the most important question you can ask yourself is not “how can I motivate myself?” It’s more like “what type of motivation works best for me?”
Why is this such an important question? Well, think of having the right type of motivation as being the right “fit” for you. If you’re using the wrong strategy it’s like trying to stick a square peg into a round hole. It just won’t work.
“Focus” is a great book on motivation and talks about two specific types in detail. They call it “Promotion” and “Prevention.” It might make more sense for you to think of it as “Pleasure” vs. “Pain” (À la Tony Robbins).
So what exactly are these two motivation strategies about? Let’s start with promotion-orientation.
Being promotion-focused is thinking about all the benefits and rewards that you will receive from completing your task or goal (the upside). If you think about what makes an entrepreneur or businessman successful, it’s that they’re far more likely to believe in achieving results by taking a certain amount of risk because they believe the reward will be that much greater. It’s more motivating for them to think in this manner than feeling offset by the fear of losing what they have.
But I want to stress that it’s not one motivation that’s better than the other. It’s about first understanding which one is better for you and then using it the right way.
Let’s take a surgeon or a doctor using promotion-orientation the WRONG way. “I think I’ll try out that risky, experimental technique I just heard about. 90% rate of failure? NO! 10% chance of success! Great odds!” Would you want to be their next patient/Do you have a death wish?
On the other end of the spectrum we have prevention-focus. Prevention-orientation is thinking of the bad things that may happen as a result of your actions or inactions. Note: This is NOT negative thinking. You’re trying to “prevent” bad things from happening, not exactly a negative outcome.
If you’re a defendant in court, you want a lawyer who is extremely prevention-oriented a.k.a someone who will “prevent” you from going to jail. The same goes for a dentist. You want someone who will help you prevent cavities and preserve your teeth.
Another example could be an accountant. Someone who will prevent the loss of your money due to mistakes in your financial records or tax preparation.
So even though I said promotion is upside, so is prevention!
It’s back to this idea of the right fit. Get the square peg into the square hole. Test out and find the right motivation strategy for yourself.
Most people will gravitate towards one or the other but whatever strategy you choose, again make sure you use it the right way.
Generally speaking, we’re much more promotion-oriented when we’re younger. We have this feeling of invincibility, like we have nothing to lose. Let’s all collectively shudder when we think back to all the dumb, even life-risking activities we partook in as a child. [Hmmm… I think I’ll stick my finger into that electrical outlet *BZZZ*]
So what happens is we usually switch to prevention-orientation when we get older. It makes sense when you think of how much more we have to lose by then and how much more challenges we’ve had to overcome. But it also explains how successful people can lose it all when they achieve their goals or how other people can lose their motivation to keep working hard. They get too comfortable, switching from the motivation that got them there (promotion) and relying on the motivation that didn’t (prevention).
Two illuminating examples of this are Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. They were mavericks in their heyday and became extremely stubborn near the end of their lives. [Success is as dangerous as failure, but that’s a topic for another blog post]
Of course the opposite is true as well. All of us are probably familiar with the story of a person who saves a fortune throughout his entire life and blows it all away in a single night. Vegas anyone??
I believe the right method is to use both types of motivation strategies. That’s not say to it’s going to be a perfect 50/50 split, you’ll most likely go 80% one motivation and 20% the other.
In my piano studio, I use a reward system. Each day of practice is 1 point and every 30 points nets the student $5 (promotion). They’re able to trade them in for a reward or save up for a bigger prize. After they’ve accumulated enough points I now have leverage: if they get lax in their practice or if their progress has been lacking, then I will begin to deduct their points (prevention).
The dilemma is that some students respond well to this and some don’t. For those who don’t, I’ve had to get creative. One student in particular had been practicing sporadically. This very same student loves his Instagram account, so together we came up with the idea that every missed day of practice would amount to one week of not being able to use his Instagram account. The very next week he had practiced 7 days straight (and the weeks after that). Fear of loss worked more effectively than gain of reward, especially when that “loss” was near and dear to his heart (Prevention over Promotion).
Of course this will only work if the student is willing to be accountable. If she’s not, then that’s where the parent must get involved. There’s only so much I can do as a teacher; I can’t force anyone to take responsibility.
I believe the most important lesson a student can learn is accountability and I think it’s best to teach this concept to them as soon as possible. Do you really think it’s a good idea for your child to realize there are no consequences for their actions?
Now, how can we use this in our personal life?
Let’s take one of my favorite topics: Exercise. I’m totally biased with my approach and one of my biggest motivations in exercising consistently is to occasionally pig out guilt-free. Say you’ve been crushing your workouts on a daily basis. You’re eating healthier, cleaner, getting more greens in your diet and limiting your junk food. I say treat yourself to a nice, high-quality dessert or favorite snack. Then, after you’ve built consistency over a longer period of time give yourself an epic cheat meal. I generally do my cheat meals once or twice a week. If you really want to get extreme see if you can continually exercise and eat healthy for 3-4 weeks. Then give yourself a cheat DAY!
Mentally you can visualize yourself getting the body of your dreams, gaining a sense of increased confidence, buying a new wardrobe and feeling more attractive. Imagine yourself getting older without injuries or diseases.
Now let’s examine the prevention side. Let’s say I get lazy and skip a workout. The next day I’ll prepare myself to do twice the workload (of course without being an idiot and injuring myself). A simple example could be skipping a half-hour walk. You MUST resolve to do an hour walk the next day. I’ll also skip that dessert or cheat meal I’ve been looking forward to.
Again you can use mental visualization and see yourself feeling sluggish and tired. Imagine getting out of shape and no longer fitting into your clothes. Picture yourself in old age getting a heart attack, waking up with pain or ending up in a wheel chair.
By self-punishing and self-rewarding it trains my brain to understand that there will be severe consequences if I ignore my most important tasks and great benefits when I accomplish them.
So use this example I’ve given you as a practical model and apply it in any area of life in which you’ve been struggling. And remember that none of this will work unless you’re willing to be accountable. Find a buddy, a spouse, or a partner who won’t take it easy on you, who will call you out on your BS. If you’re really having trouble, try publicly stating you’ll donate to a charity if you don’t do what you’re supposed to. If you want to up the ante, donate to a cause you hate!
Put your money where your mouth is.
Also, think of what type of motivation you’re using on others. Are you considering the motivation-orientation of your employees, spouse, or kids? It’s worth a try and it might be a life-changing experience for everyone involved.
And remember that motivation is only half of the formula. Take ACTION.