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Positive Motivation vs. Negative Motivation: Which One Works Better?

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It’s not uncommon to struggle with motivation. It’s a tricky beast to tame, but it’s also incredibly powerful. A bout of motivation every day is all you need to sustain a career move or pursue a personal goal over the long-term.

For most people, motivation is fleeting. It drives you to complete a whole week’s worth of work over the weekend without realizing it, but disappears on Monday when you really need to get started with something new at work. It’s hard to control and keep alive when you need it most.

Scientists seem to define motivation as the willingness to do something. It’s a very intrinsic and natural drive to take something new on and complete it successfully. Digging deeper it seems every action and thought we have is guided by our built-in motivations. Psychologists believe that the basis of human behavior is the sticks and carrots the mind associates with different activities. Every decision and behavior is rooted in the mind’s perception of pleasure and pain.

It appears that the mind and body will simply not act till the pain of not doing something outweighs the pain of doing it. Similarly, the rewards of doing something must outweigh the temporary reward of not doing it. This means there are two forms of motivation – negative and positive. But which one works better?

Positive Motivation

Positive motivation comes from an internal drive to seek out pleasure. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains this well. You’re more likely to act when the results of an action are a direct impact on one of your needs – like the need for self actualization or self esteem.

Some people respond very well to positive stimulation. Thinking about the pleasures of being financially independent or well recognized within an industry can push people to achieve impossible feats in their career.

You can create positive motivation by either reminding yourself of the benefits of a task or by setting up rewards for yourself for completing something. It’s the equivalent of setting up carrots or thinking about the carrots as you go about doing what you need to do.

For example, visualizing a thinner, better looking version of yourself could push you to get up and exercise in the morning. At the same time, you could probably reward yourself with a bottle of wine if you meet your weekly targets at work. Both these methods are positive and can really get you to meet the targets you set.

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” – Lou Holtz

Negative Motivation

Negative motivation is about punishment and fear. It’s the sort of motivation that gets you to quit smoking because you’ve witnessed someone struggle with cancer. Of course, not every motivation needs to be dramatic or dreadful. You could be motivated to stay at your job because you don’t want to lose the house, or could be paying the bills on time because you want to avoid the penalty.

Negative motivation is likely to work just as well as positive motivation, but for some people it’s a lot more effective. Certain people are driven by fear and anxiety. The looming threat of loss is too much to bear for some individuals and they tend to take action more quickly in such scenarios.

You can apply negative motivation by reminding yourself of the consequences of not doing something. You could also apply this sort of motivation by setting up punishments for not completing some task. Working over the weekend because you didn’t complete an assignment over the week or seeking out criticism from friends to help you improve your work are both examples of negative motivations that propel action.

“Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes, it’s built on catastrophe.” – Summer Redtsone

Which one is better?

So, which of the two types of motivation work best? The good news is this is an area of psychology that has been well researched and there is a definite answer. In the 1940’s B.F. Skinner published a number of academic studies that showed the effects of what he called “positive and negative reinforcement.” Skinner’s studies were based on experiments on lab mice that indicated how human beings responded to reinforcement.

The research found that both types of reinforcement were abundant in the systems created to extract work. Some people responded better to positive reinforcements like rewards, while others responded better to negative reinforcement like punishments. Researchers Kelly J Bouxsein, Henry S Roane, and Tara Harper expanded on this study and found that a combination of the two types worked best. It seems the average person is best motivated when there is a little bit of reward and a justified amount of punishment for completing or not completing the task at hand.

You can apply this knowledge to better motivate yourself in the future. At work and in your personal life there’s likely to be a system of checks and balances that motivate you to do things. But you need to go beyond this and create a sense of personal motivation. Take the time to understand yourself and set up a system of rewards and punishments that will push you to achieve more.

Which type of motivation works better for you? Please leave your thoughts below!

Alan Morris is a blogger from San Diego,California. Alan believes that a positive mindset leads to a positive life. He enjoys talking about health, motivation, and personal development. Talk to Alan on Facebook or Twitter.

Motivation

How to Stay Motivated to Achieve Your Goals

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Time is the raw material of our lives. How we choose to spend it, shapes our life accordingly. So having the motivation to spend it on achieving goals is crucial to creating a life we want.

What is Motivation?

The Oxford dictionary defines motivation as the desire or willingness to do something – our drive to take action.

Scientifically, motivation has its roots in the dopamine pathways of our brains. When we do something that feels good, that’s dopamine kicking in. Our actions are driven by the desire for that reward (the good feeling).

Author Steven Pressfield describes motivation more practically. He says we hit a point where the pain of not doing something becomes greater than the pain of doing it. He sees motivation as crossing the threshold where it’s easier to take action than it is to be idle. Like choosing to feel awkward while making sales calls over feeling disappointed about a diminishing bank account.

However you choose to think about it, we all want to harness motivation to achieve our goals. 

How to Get Motivated

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says that most people misunderstand motivation. They think that motivation is what gets us to take action. In reality, motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Once we start a task, it’s easier to continue making progress. Like Isaac Newton’s first law: objects in motion stay in motion.

This means most of the resistance when working on your goals comes right before we start. Since motivation naturally occurs after we start, we need to focus on making starting easier.

4 Ways to Make Starting Easier

1. Schedule it

One reason people can’t get started on things is that they haven’t planned when to do it. 

When things aren’t scheduled it’s easier for them to fall by the wayside. You’ll end up hoping motivation falls in your lap or hoping that you’ll muster enough willpower to get it done.

An article in the Guardian said, “If you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.”

2. Measure something

It’s easy to feel uninspired when you don’t know if you’re making progress or what you’re even working towards. That’s why you need to make your success measurable in some way. Starting is easy when you know exactly how much closer your current actions will bring you to achieving your goal.

3. Extrinsic motivation

This type of motivation is from external factors. It can be either positive or negative. Positive motivation consists of incentives like money, prizes, and grades. Negative motivation consists of deterrents like being fired, having a fight, or being fined. Extrinsic motivation doesn’t work effectively long-term, but it can work well in the short term to get you started on something.

4. Make it public

Keep yourself accountable by telling friends and family your goals, or even sharing them on social media. This makes it easier to start something because you’re pressured to not let others down.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

How to Stay Motivated Long Term

When we say we want to feel motivated to do something, we don’t want to be pushed or guilted into doing a task. We want to be so attracted and drawn to the idea that we can’t resist not taking action. That’s why it’s important to build a foundation that will set you up for consistency.

These are 5 techniques that will help you do just that:

1. Stay in your goldilocks zone

The goldilocks zone is when a task is the perfect level of difficulty—not too hard and not too easy. In this zone, we reach peak motivation and focus.

For example, let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against a 4-year-old. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become bored and not want to play. Now let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against Serena Williams. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become demotivated because the match is too challenging. 

The Goldilocks zone is in the middle of that spectrum. You want to face someone with equal skill as you. That way you have a chance to win, but you have to focus and try for it. Adjusting your workload and goals over time to stay within your Goldilocks zone keeps you engaged and motivated long-term.

2. Pursue intrinsically motivated goals

Being intrinsically motivated to achieve a goal is when you want to achieve it for what it is. There are no external factors like a reward or the risk of being fired. The drive behind your actions is coming from within. 

For most intrinsic goals we pursue them because they will enrich our lives or bring us closer to fulfillment. That makes these goals extremely sustainable long-term because they directly affect our quality of life and the things we care about.

3. Use “chunking”

Chunking is the technique of breaking down a goal into smaller short-term targets. By doing this you achieve multiple successes in your pursuit of the main goal. This triggers the brain’s reward system and drives you to keep going.

Traditionally, you may set a goal that you expect to achieve in one year. That’s a long time to commit without seeing any results along the way. By chunking your goals into monthly or quarterly targets, you get the consistent positive reinforcement you need to stay motivated long-term.

For example, instead of trying to lose 50 pounds in one year, try to lose 4 pounds every month for 12 months.

4. Be flexible

We’re all victims of circumstance. Things happen along our journey that we can either adjust to or quit because of. That’s why it’s important to have leeway and flexibility when you’re pursuing a goal. If you expect everything to go perfectly, the inevitable failure can make you disengaged and desireless. When you plan for things to go wrong, you make sure you can keep up for the long haul.

5. Pursue your goals in a sustainable fashion

Don’t lose hope when you’re not an overnight success. Overnight successes are the 1%—for the most part, they don’t exist. What we see as an “overnight success” is actually countless hours of work behind the scenes finally hitting a tipping point. Pursuing goals is a story of patience, persistence, and unseen effort.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is a recipe for a drop in self-confidence and satisfaction. It also cultivates a mindset where you think you haven’t done enough. As a result, you may raise your expectations and put more pressure on yourself.

This is pointless because things worth achieving take time. So we obviously won’t compare to the things around us when starting.

Mastering motivation is a superpower. With that ability at your fingertips, you can accomplish your goals and shape a life you want to live in.

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Motivation

What Is Dark Motivation and How Can I Use It to My Advantage?

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It’s Thursday, 8 PM. I’m relaxing at home, doing normal things, and scrolling social media. Tomorrow is a big day. There are lots of things to do with moving pieces of furniture because I’m moving to another city. On top of that, a repairman is coming to my house at 8AM, so I’ll have to get up early. (more…)

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The Killer Morning Routine to Boost Motivation

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If you’re anything like me, waking up in the morning is a hard task. Over the course of a number of years I’ve built a routine that helps wake me up and keeps me motivated. (more…)

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Why “No Pain, No Gain” Is More Powerful Than You Realize

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Chances are you’ve heard the quote “No pain, no gain” before. Especially if you enjoy hitting the gym and getting a nice pump going on. What this means is that in order to make your muscles grow, you’ll have to shred the fibers so they can grow back bigger and stronger. This progress causes physical pain because you’re tearing apart your muscles, but the reward for the pain is always worth it. (more…)

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