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Published on July 21, 2021

What Is Fear-Based Motivation And Does It Work?

What Is Fear-Based Motivation And Does It Work?
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If you’ve ever thought or said something like this, then you are using fear-based motivation:

  • “If I don’t get that promotion, I’m going to be seen as a failure so I better stay up all night to work on this proposal.”
  • “If I speak up for school reform, the internet trolls are going to get me, so I better be quiet even though I care a lot about this issue.”
  • “If I don’t exercise enough, I’m going to look like crap, so I better go to the gym six days a week, even if my body is killing me.”

Fear-based motivation is exactly what it sounds like—getting yourself and others to do things out of fear of what will happen if you don’t do it and do it well.

What you might not know is that while fear-based motivation might work in the short term, it can have long-term detrimental effects on your performance, relationships, and well-being.

Is Fear-Based Motivation Helpful?

If using fear as motivation comes naturally for you, you aren’t alone. Our brains use fear to keep us out of trouble. It is normal that you want to move away from what feels harmful towards what feels safe.

This brain function is important when there is a genuine threat to your well-being, like if there is a rattlesnake on the hiking trail. Your brain will use fear to motivate you to move away from the snake as quickly as possible. But when you use fear-based motivation to accomplish your life and career goals, the constant state of fear puts unnecessary stress on your mind and body and can end up working against you.

The Darkside of Fear-Based Motivation

Take, for example, when your trainer at your gym motivates you during your workout by yelling things like, “Bikini season is coming! You don’t want your cellulite to be the star of the show!” or “Burn off that piece of birthday cake you ate last night!”

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Sure, you might be motivated to do ten more burpees, but what is really going on in the back of your mind? You probably have an image of a group of people standing around you at the beach laughing at you in your bikini, or you feel guilty about eating that piece of cake and criticize yourself for not being able to control yourself.

Reliance on Negative Thinking

For most of us, this type of thinking causes stress and can bring down our energy levels and mood. The reliance on negative thinking is the problem with fear-based motivation. It forces us to put our attention on what is wrong or what could go wrong instead of anticipating and celebrating what is right. This, in turn, narrows our focus and prevents us from seeing the bigger picture.

When your brain senses a threat, whether it’s a rattlesnake hiding in the grass or the possibility of being laughed at in your bikini, your brain will move you into a protective stance. Your vision narrows and you prepare to fight, flee or freeze.

You can probably imagine what this looks like in the case of a rattlesnake, but how does this impact your bikini experience?

The High Cost of Fear-Based Motivation

Imagine that you plan a beach vacation with your friends three months from now. The first thing you picture is sitting on the beach with your tummy rolls and cellulite. You immediately sign up for three months of boot camp classes at the gym and banish all sugar and booze from your diet. You are determined not to make a fool of yourself on the beach!

Will the fear of not looking like a supermodel under the beach umbrella motivate you to get in shape and eat better? Possibly. But at what cost?

For three months, every time you picture yourself looking “less than perfect” in your bikini, you feel fear of being ashamed. Shame makes you want to hide, and that makes it harder to find the motivation to go to the gym instead of sitting on the couch eating ice cream.

You become so focused on how you are going to look on the beach that you lose out on all the fun and joy of life. You pass up on going shopping with your friends for new outfits because you aren’t at your goal weight yet. You stop doing the things you love to do in order to spend more time at the gym. You avoid family gatherings where you will be confronted with tempting food. You over-train to the point of hurting yourself.

The Healthier Alternative to Fear-Based Motivation

Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good in your bikini! If that’s important to you, keep your goal in mind but change the way you motivate yourself. Instead of using the fear of feeling ashamed to motivate you, try using love-based motivation.

Love-based motivation uses love instead of fear to lead and inspire you. It comes from a different part of your brain than fear-based motivation. Love-based motivation comes from the part of your brain that is responsible for joy, creativity, and passion.

5 Questions of Love-Based Motivation

There are many ways to deploy love-based motivation. The trick is to use one or all of the following to motivate you towards your goal: empathy, curiosity, innovation, vision, and heart-centered action.

Here are five questions you can use to motivate yourself using love-based motivation.

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1. What Would You Say to a Friend?

Chances are that you talk to your friends in a much kinder way and with more empathy than you talk to yourself. You wouldn’t tell a friend, “you better starve yourself and hit the gym three times a day to look good in that bikini!” Instead, you would probably say something like, “I’m so excited to go on this vacation with you! I can’t wait to spend time catching up while sipping margaritas on the beach.”

Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your friend.

2. What Are You Curious About Learning That Might Help You Get to Your Goal?

More often than not, achieving our goals is more about the journey it took us to get there than the goal itself. Curiosity makes journeys more fun. Perhaps you are curious about doing a triathlon but you don’t know how to run. If you spend three months learning to run, you would get into better shape and learn something new.

3. How Can You Get to Your Goal in a Way That Feels Good?

Using the “Yes, And” game is a great way to come up with innovative ideas for working towards your goals. If your first instinct is to go to the gym six days a week but you aren’t jazzed about it, find something that you like about that idea and make it better.

For example, if what you like about going to the gym is that you work up a sweat, what if instead of the gym, you join a dance class where you can learn some new moves to show off on your vacation?

4. What Is Important to You About Your Goal?

When you dig into your goal, chances are that you’ll find a deeper meaning. If your goal is to “look good in a bikini,” ask yourself why that’s important to you.

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For example, “I want to look good in my bikini because I want to have fun on vacation.” Then, ask yourself how much having fun on your vacation depends on how you look in your swimsuit.

5. What Heart-Centered Action Can You Take That Will Help You Reach Your Goal?

Whether your goal remains bikini-focused or changes to ways of having a good time on your vacation, choose an action that you can take that feels like it is coming from a place of love instead of fear.

For example, suggest to your friends that you take scuba diving classes as a group before vacation. It will get you moving and bring your friends together.

Long-Term Happiness and Satisfaction

Fear-based motivation may help you achieve your goals in the short term, but it won’t lead to long-term happiness and satisfaction. Fear isn’t designed to be used for long periods of time, and you will eventually tire of the fear and give up on your goals. Love, however, is designed for longevity.

Finding your motivation in a place of love will fuel you to reach your goals, whether your goals are about feeling good in a bikini, getting a promotion at work, or speaking up for what you believe in.

More Tips on Boosting Motivation

Featured photo credit: Jeremy Perkins via unsplash.com

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More by this author

Kirsten Bunch

Kirsten Bunch is an internationally-recognized performance coach who works with leaders who are ready to rebel and chart a new path forward.

What Is Fear-Based Motivation And Does It Work?

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Last Updated on July 29, 2021

How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up

How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up
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It’s Monday morning. The alarm goes off. Do you know how to get motivated at that moment? What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you open your eyes? 

Are you excited to get up and go to work, or are you dreading the day and week ahead?

Whatever your response may be, ask yourself this question:

“What is it that makes you feel unmotivated?” What’s driving you to feel negative or positive about your Monday ahead? If you want to know how to get motivated, keep reading.

The Two Types of People

You likely know of people who have been doing the same thing for years and seem to not have any problem staying stagnant. Whether it be in their marriage, job, or personal endeavors, they seem to be getting along just fine without progressing towards anything “better.”

On the other hand, I’m sure you also know of individuals who focus on the positive, goals setting and are constantly pushing themselves to greater heights. Be it promotions at work, building a family, celebrating marriage milestones, traveling more, or going to school again, these individuals seem to constantly progress towards something that improves or enhances their life.

So what’s the difference between these two types of individuals?

What you feel capable of doing comes down to one thing: motivation. It’s the force, or lack of, that keeps driving you forward to overcome challenges and obstacles to achieve your goals.

Without motivation, you’ll give up after a few failed attempts, or even on the first tough challenge that comes your way. Or you’ll just remain where you are: unhappy yet not doing anything to progress ahead.

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What Is Motivation, Really?

Whether you realize it or not, motivation is a huge force in your life, and it needs to be harnessed in order to excel and actually enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing on a daily basis. If you find yourself thinking, “I need motivation,” there are specific steps you can take.

Unfortunately, many overgeneralize the word motivation. We think of being either motivated or unmotivated as a simple “yes” or “no” state of being.

But motivation is not a switch. As discussed in the Fast Track Class – Activate Your Motivation, motivation is a flow. To feel motivated, you need to dive beyond the surface. Just reading a motivational quote, being encouraged by your friends or mentor, or writing out a short to-do list won’t help you build sustainable motivation in the long run.

You can think of the motivation that we want to achieve like the Sun (self-sustaining and long-lasting), which supplies a constant influx of energy to all life on Earth. Just like the Sun, your “motivation engine” has different layers, starting from the core and spreading out to the surface. The surface is what you see, but the real process is driven from the core (your internal motivation); and that’s the most important part.

If you can create a self-sustaining motivation engine, you’ll be able to find more meaning in your life and enjoy every minute of what you’re doing, which will make your roles and responsibilities less of a chore. 

Let me help you understand this motivation flow better by breaking down the motivation engine into 3 parts:

  1. Core – Purpose
  2. Support – Enablers
  3. Surface – Acknowledgement

The Third Layer: Surface

The outermost layer, also known as Acknowledgement, encompasses any type of external recognition that might give you motivation. It may come in the form of respect or recognition, such as compliments and praise.

Or it could be emotional support through encouragement, feedback, and constructive criticism. It could also be affiliation, where you have mutual companions or buddies sharing the same goal or burden with you.

One recent study pointed out that “rewards had a positive impact on work motivation but no significant relationship existed between reward and job satisfaction”[1].

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Therefore, it’s important to recognize that rewards will motivate you, but they won’t necessarily make you happier in an undesirable situation.

This is generally what you see on the surface when you look at other people. You see the external acknowledgement, respect, and recognition they’re getting.

The Second Layer: Support

In essence, the second layer of the motivation engine (also known as Enablers) is what supports your goals. They can magnify the motivation core you have, or speed up the momentum that you build. Basically, they create favorable circumstances for things to go smoothly.  

If you want to know how to find motivation, positive enablers are key. This could include friends and family, or any support network you’ve created in life.

The Innermost Layer: Core

But what’s most important, and the true driving force behind your motivation flow, is the innermost core, your Purpose. Your purpose is what differentiates the motivated from the unmotivated, the achievers from the underachievers, the happy from the unhappy.

Your motivational core is your Purpose, and it is sustained by two things: having meaning, and forward movement. With these two as a foundation, you’ll have a power source that will feed you motivational energy indefinitely.

If you want to learn more about the Motivation Flow, join our Fast Track Class – Activate Your Motivation for free now!

How to Sustain Your Purpose

Having meaning is simple. If you want to learn how to find motivation, just ask yourself a question: Why?

Why are you pursuing a certain goal? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. While motivation provides you energy to do something, that energy needs to be focused somewhere. So without meaning, there is no direction for your energy to focus.

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Yet, having a meaningful objective doesn’t mean you have to change the world or have a huge impact on society. The secret to meaningful work is simple: it should contribute value to something or someone that matters to you.

One study suggested creativity as one possible path to meaning, saying: “Many of the core concepts in work on the meaning of life, such as the needs for coherence, significance, and purpose or the desire for symbolic immortality, can be reached through creative activity”[2].

Next up is gaining forward movement. In short, this means to just keep moving. Like a snowball, motivation from having progress creates momentum. So to keep this up, you have to keep moving.

The good news is, your progress doesn’t have to be huge for you to recognize it. Small amounts of progress can be just as motivating, as long as they keep coming. Like driving a car, you may be really impatient if you’re at a complete halt. But, it lessens if you’re moving forward, even if you’re moving slowly.

Creating a simple progress indicator, like checklists or milestones, is a great way to visualize your small (and big) wins. They trigger your brain to recognize and acknowledge them, giving you small boosts of motivational energy.

This is why video games are so addictive! They’re full of progress indicators everywhere. Even though the progress is completely virtual, they’re still able to trigger the motivation centers in your brain.

Find out What Drives You Today

Why not take some time today and do a quick reflection of where you’re at now? Take one aspect of your life that you’d like to progress further in.

For example, it may be your current job. Start with your why. Write down your reasons for why you’re in the job that you’re in.

Then, think about your Motivation Core: your Purpose. Write down what it is within your job that gives you meaning, and what are some things that will help push you forward in life.

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Once you have those points, it’s time to do a comparison. Does your current job help you make progress towards that purpose that you’ve written?

If it does, you’re on the right track. If it doesn’t, or if you’ve realized your life isn’t going where you want it to, don’t panic. There’re tools that can help you get through this. The Actionable Motivation On Demand Handbook is one of those effective tools that can help you always stay motivated. Get your own handbook and never lose motivation again!

Do your best to not focus on the negative. Review your goals and aim yourself in a positive direction, even if it means that you start small.

Final Thoughts on Staying Motivated

Happiness doesn’t need to be a vague term or illusion that you’re constantly chasing after with no end in sight. By finding your true motivation, you’ll be one step closer to realizing your happiness and finding meaning in everything you do.

You may have tried many solutions to help you stay motivated and found that none of them really have any impact. That’s because they bring about incremental changes only, and permanent change requires a holistic approach. It requires more than just focusing on one area of your life or changing one part of your routine or actions.

You want to make a fundamental change, but it feels like big, unknown territory that you can’t afford to venture into at this point in your life.

The truth is, taking your life to the next stage doesn’t have to be this complicated. So, if you’d like to take the first step to achieving your life purpose, the time to learn how to find motivation is now!

More on How to Find Motivation

Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] European Journal of Business and Management: Impact of Reward and Recognition on Job Satisfaction and Motivation
[2] Perspectives on Psychological Science: Finding Meaning With Creativity in the Past, Present, and Future

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