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Positive and Negative Motivations

By Billy | August 28, 2012

I do this thing that I hate; that I want to change. I do it allllll the freaking time. I do it and I want to stop, but… maybe I haven’t ever stopped because I’ve never had the right motivations. This is what I do — to the detriment of myself and the people I love: I act on negative motivations. It’s terrible! It leads me into corners, into unhealthy commitments, into unnecessary stress, and away from whatever is my purpose in life.

To act on negative motivations is to live a life of fear and despair. What do I mean by that? I mean that negative motivations are the things that make you act because you don’t want something to happen. Simple example you may have experienced today: “I don’t want to feel like a lazy slob, so I will get out of bed.” Please. Just stay in bed. I’d rather you own being a ‘lazy slob’ then for you to continue being one, but join us in the land of the living out of some supposed obligation. If you didn’t get out of bed because you were ready and excited to tackle obstacles and climb mountains, why did you get up?

Here is another example of a decision motivated by negativity: “I don’t know what I want to do with my life, so I guess I’ll just go to grad school.” If you just started a grad school class and your primary motivation for doing so was to avoid something… Please. Just drop out now. You don’t need to be overqualified at not actualizing your potential, nor do the rest of us want that of you.

Avoidance is often indicative of a negative motivation, but here’s another common one: “I have to…” That one’s tough because a lot of the crap you do seems absolutely required of you and that’s a tough habit to kick. But let’s face it: in the big picture, if you’re reading my blog, 99.9% of the stuff you do is not very important. I’m confident no action you take or don’t take in the next 24 hours is going to matter in ten years, and if that, it certainly won’t matter in 100 years. Pretend you are meeting someone from the year 5,000. Are you going to introduce yourself and expect them to recognize your name? OK, so very few of your decisions are life and death, or going to rob you of the Nobel Prize, so let’s put down that “have to” burden of bullshit and look at our responsibilities with objectivity. You are henceforth excused from your responsibilities and have-tos and if the world ends because of it, I’ll take the heat for you.

So lets look at our duties objectively! Whom are you required to honor and take care of? Your self. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will die and lose all ability to do anything, whether motivated by positivity or negativity. That seems like not the optimal strategy. Yes, gasp if you must, but your only duty in this small existence is to your self. How you perceive or define your self is another matter altogether. Perhaps your self is just the single human body with which your mind is currently most strongly associated, or perhaps you have reached a M.K. Gandhian level of true panentheism, such that your self has melted into billions of people and creatures, and you can’t tell the difference between where your self stops and another self begins. Let me help you conceptualize this. Do you have children? I bet your self is bigger than just YOU in your single physical entity. Did you start a company from the ground up, with initially just mud and pebbles in your pocket? I bet that entity is part of your self. When you pull long hours for your child or your company, you’re doing it for yourself, too. It’s ok. We are all self-interested; we just have different concepts of self. There is no other option.

Whomever your self is, that’s where your motivations lie. The center of your self should be the center of your motivations. Nothing else is as real or as immediate — I might even go so far as to say nothing outside of our selves exists at all. But why should you be motivated by things on the fringes of your self? If you’re reading this and I’ve never met you, there is literally no difference to me whether you exist or not; the only you that exists in my self is the completely potentiated one for whom I wrote this whole thing. You actualizing that potential changes my self in no way. But I am positively motivated to write for you none the less. I don’t even have a reason, but that I want to write.

Positive motivation is the other side of this coin. Positive motivation is no longer saying to yourself and the rest of the world, “Since I must…”, but saying “If I may…” Would you rather hold someone’s hand on an after-dinner walk while they are thinking the former or the latter? Which attitude would you rather have in someone who is caring for your children? What about your parents when they need it?

Why, then, should we do anything in our life with less than this positively motivated attitude.If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If it’s worth doing right, it’s worth doing with the right intentions.

But maybe this train of thought turns us down the wrong path. We shouldn’t be doing things because it is logical, or because it is the optimal strategy. I yearn for action that springs out of a joyous heart.

There is, perhaps, no real difference between an action taken with positive or negative motivations. Pouring a glass of water because you don’t want to be thirsty is probably exactly the same thing as doing it because you want to hydrate yourself. But let’s reduce this example to the absurd. Let’s go to some point in your timeline when you are getting yourself some water. You must now inject one of the following thoughts into your head: “Every sip of water is a step away from dying of dehydration.” and “YEAHHHHH! WATER! WOOO!” I generally would choose to inject the thought containing a “WOOO!” into myself at any point in my timeline. Now imagine you have to inject the fear based or the excited thought into your head at EVERY point in your time line. With which option would you rather be stuck all the time? It’s the same thought, but your opinion of it changes everything.

Remember when you got up because you were afraid of being a lazy slob this morning? Try this. Next time you feel the need to get up specifically because you don’t want to be a lazy slob all day, force yourself to keep laying. Don’t get up until you find some other reason to get out of bed. When it’s something as simple as getting out of bed, and there are so many positive side effects of doing so (like eating breakfast, meeting new people, learning to do stuff, taking care of business), you will naturally find a bazillion reasons to be positively motivated to get out of bed. Even when it’s cold outside but warm and snuggly in your bed, you will appreciate your warm snuggly blankets more and you might even get up more quickly if you start thinking about the positive side of getting up. You might even plan things you wouldn’t have otherwise.

What about doing crap for your boss. Stuff you realllllly don’t want to do. Hm. Well, I’ve had my boss ask some really mundane-seeming crap of me, but I always found a positive motivation in all of it. Often it was the long haul, or that I’ve set a 5 year goal of myself, and I am positively motivated to accomplish that goal because I believe I deserve it. Now every time I come to reading the same 15 page document nonstop for 40 hours for a week, I remember the context of the task and it’s not such a big deal, and my motivations are always positive.

So here’s the thing. Look for the positive motivation in everything. If you can’t find a single positive motivation for the task you’re doing, why are you in that situation? You probably did that thing where you accept responsibility out of a negative motivation, and you follow all those negative motivations until you’re in a rut in a corner. Did you get there being polite? Did you get there to make someone else happy? Did you get there because you’re not confident enough to demand of the universe an amazing life for yourself? These are the types of motivations we want to try and avoid…

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