By Patrick K. Porter, PhD
Success at anything is dependent on motivation, yet I meet people every day who regularly and systematically kill their own motivation without even realizing it. Many times, they’ve taken all the steps to success that we hear about. They’ve read the books, written down their goals, posted them to a mirror, read them aloud every day, and so forth…yet they fail. Let’s take a look at why this is.
My younger sister, Sarah, was a superior athlete in high school. I was in college at the time but helped her improve her track skills whenever possible. One morning Sarah was scheduled to run in a city meet. She was favored to win the long jump and the 400-meter race. I went to give her a few words of encouragement and to my surprise I found her crying. “What’s going on,” I asked.
“My coach pulled me out of both events,” she cried. “She said I would win them anyway, so she put me in the relays instead.”
Having coached track and field myself, I found this decision puzzling. I approached Sarah’s coach and inquired about her decision.
“Don’t worry,” she said with a smile. “I’m planning on letting Sarah know right before the start of the meet that she will be in both events.”
“Why would you do that?” I asked.
“To motivate her, of course,” she replied tersely.
I suppose the coach thought she was using some form of reverse psychology. She thought that if Sarah felt bad, but then experienced a positive turn of events, it would magically help her jump farther or run faster. This type of negative or reverse psychology may work for some people, but with Sarah it was disastrous.
Many people try to use reverse psychology to motivate themselves. They think that if they hold a negative opinion of themselves, they will somehow trick themselves into doing the opposite. Others act like a disaster is just around the corner, as though thinking positively will somehow jinx them, or perhaps hoping it will lessen their disappointment when things don’t work out. These are the people who make excuses such as, “That’s just who I am,” or “When it comes to learning something new, I just fall apart,” and my personal favorite, “I thought about joining a gym, but I’m sure I’ll just hurt myself.”
After years of working in the field of motivation and self-improvement, I have never seen reverse psychology work in the long-term.
There are two different ways people motivate themselves.
First, there is the person who is motivated away from pain. An alcoholic who makes the decision to stop drinking because he is on the verge of losing his job, home, and wife usually does not really want to give up alcohol. He simply doesn’t want to lose his job, wife, or home. This individual may stop drinking temporarily, but once the fear of loss is gone, the pleasure of drinking alcohol wins out. Away from pain motivation can be a good primer because it gets people to start taking action, but isn’t a good long-term strategy.
Second, is the person who is motivated toward pleasure. These people focus on the positive they will get out of accomplishing their goal. An alcoholic who has the toward pleasure strategy decides to quit drinking because, once alcohol free, he or she can excel at a chosen profession or develop a loving relationship with a significant other. This is the kind of motivation that is compelling enough to bring about long-term success.
I encourage you take a moment to think about which strategy you use and evaluate how it’s been working for you. Motivated people vividly imagine what it will be like to succeed. They feel excited with every victory, no matter how small, on the way to achieving their ultimate goal. In Steven Covey’s bestselling business book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he credits successful people with the ability to start with the end in mind. You will find that many of the guided visualizations I create have you project your mind to the moment you are confident your goal will be achieved. I have you see, hear and feel every detail from the perspective that you’ve already succeeded.
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