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Motivational Mind-set Shift


My previous article ‘Goal-setting for 2013’ described how, by shifting our focus ‘toward’ what we do want, rather than ‘away’ from what we don’t want, our goals became more meaningful, leading to greater commitment to want to achieve them (apologies for the poor formatting if you read that post – tables seem to be a problem when uploading).

Here’s another ‘shift’ technique that helps add more motivation to your achieving your desired outcome. You can ‘stack’ this simple technique on top of your goal-setting strategy. You can apply this simple technique to all goals in life – stopping smoking, losing weight, starting a business etc.

As most of us have found, it’s often that first step to achieving our desired outcome or goal that’s the hardest. Why? Fear. Fear of failure, embarrassment, ridicule, or just the unknown.

We are driven by two forces:

Fear – driving us away from failure or embarrassment (avoidance and procrastination)

Desire – driving us towards pleasure, success and achievement (inspiring)

If your fear of failure or embarrassment overpowers your desire to succeed, it will hold you back.  If you allow this overpowering fear to prevail, you will remain static and achieve nothing.

So let’s say you’re having problems taking that first step – leaving that dead-end job, starting a small business venture to boost your income or clear your debts, start studying again, moving home – but your head is just full of doubt and apprehension. Sound familiar?

Well, now ask yourself the following questions:

If I do nothing, what does that look like for me in 5, 10, 20 years from now?

What if I’m stuck here forever? 

How does that make me feel?

How does that make you feel?  Probably quite a negative experience, right?

This is the consequence of you not taking action!

So there’s going to be more pain and misery if you don’t take action, than if you do!  Now remember I said fear is a driver? You can’t get rid of the fear, but would it not be better to turn it into fear of not achieving, instead?

By associating fear with consequence of inaction rather than possible consequence of action, we create a positive shift, turning that fear into a positive force that helps drive us towards what we do want, rather than away.  It just requires a simple shift in focus.

This ‘away-from-towards’ strategy provides greater motivation than just fear or desire alone, it’s like flicking a turbo switch that just propels you faster to achievement.

So next time you’re experiencing doubts about taking that first step, just apply this simple mind-set shift, and notice how it changes the way you feel about taking that first step now.

Make sure your goals are clear, SMART and written down!

Remember, nothing is ever going to change unless you do something, so do something!

‘Imperfect action is better than perfect in-action’ (Harry S. Truman)

2 Responses

  1. Towards / Away from!

    Interesting topic, Rob, and thanks for sparking some thoughts.

    I'm not at all sure that I fully agree with your view that we are driven by two desires… towards pleasure and away from pain (so-called Epicurean motivation).  If this were the case, then we would just be pleasure seeking and pain avoiding animals… and this in my view is an over simplification of the real story.

    We sometimes defer gratification, and choose ‘pain’ over ‘pleasure’.  Actually we do this often… even children sometimes do this (the ultimate hedonists!)  Deferring immediate certain short-term pleasure for potential medium or long-term gain is common and usual.

    As Pink points out in his excellent book on motivation (‘Drive”), there are times when using carrot (in your language – ‘desire’ motivators) and stick (‘fear’ motivators) may have an impact – but the motivation that derives from intrinsic enjoyment of even routine tasks has a more profound impact.

    Perhaps, then, in terms of goal setting it would be good to focus on strengths based approaches.  I certainly agree with flipping the message from the negative to the positive – albeit that Cialdini’s research seems to suggest that we are more motivated by loss language than by gain language.  By using the technique you describe (a motivational balance: action / inaction, pain and pleasure) seems to harness the power of this view.

    I’d be interested to hear the views of others on this – happy for the challenge and debate!


  2. great article …

    Great article – I call it 'away from' or 'towards' motivation, and use both depending on the client to resolve a business problem they may be going through.

    Making sure the client understand clearly what their goals are, and then working out a positive step by step route that will get you there.


    Thanks for the reminder


    Daniel Latto

    Business Coach Leeds

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