What Motivates You?

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Welcome to Format Free Friday, when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited Advice.

What motivates you, seeking pleasure or avoiding pain? Let me help you answer the question:  If you are someone who thrives on pressure or deadlines, you are motivated by avoiding pain. If you tend to finish projects ahead of time, if the thought of exceeding your boss’ expectations causes you to stay late at work, you’re motivated by pleasure.

Most of us are motivated by pain because we were raised in an era when positive reinforcement wasn’t popular and when punishment was the only parenting tool widely available. Consequently, we are socialized to become motivated by avoiding pain rather than seeking pleasure (are you listening, parents?).

And so here we are today, most of us using pain to motivate us, requiring high levels of stress to spawn us into action. Think about your life for a moment… Does the amount of stress that you experience feel manageable? If it doesn’t, let me propose a new way of looking at things.

People who are motivated by avoiding pain are people who focus on what they don’t want in order to derive the fuel necessary for their motivation. When we focus on what we don’t want, it makes us unhappy. I’d go so far as to say that any time you find yourself unhappy, it’s because you’re focusing on what you don’t want.

The cure for this, simplistic as it sounds, is actually very challenging to achieve. Focus on what you want verses what you don’t want. The next time you’re given a project with a deadline, pad an extra day in between each of your self-imposed shorter deadlines. If you don’t know what I mean by this, you’ve got bigger problems than motivation and should submit a question to me so I can address your poor time management skills.  For the rest of you, decide that you deserve the peace and good feelings that properly managing your project (and your life) will give you, and focus on that to fuel your ability to take action. And that’s your challenge for this Friday. Make a paradigm shift. Change your philosophy on what you focus on and watch your stress melt away.