For the decisions we make in our lives, both big and small, many of us are motivated by the desire to avoid pain. We may think, for example:
"If I don't make a lot of money, I will feel worthless."
"If I do not quit smoking, I will get cancer."
"If I do not visit my family, I will feel guilty."
But motivation from the negative is a recipe for unhappiness.
Many people wonder, though, “If I give up my feelings of obligation, how will I motivate myself to get anything done?” One approach is to re-contextualize the source of your motivation. Instead of making decisions based upon avoidance, begin to envision positive outcomes related to those choices. For example:
"I want to work hard at my job because I am excited about going on the vacation of my dreams."
"I want to quit smoking because I love to feel in great physical condition."
"I am going to have dinner with my family because I like feeling close to them."
Making decisions based on how our actions will benefit and better us actually increases motivation. We become more loving to ourselves and to those around us. We talk to others and ourselves from a calm, loving place. Motivation from the positive gives us permission to breathe deeply and become excited about the future.
Sometimes people hesitate at this point and say to me, “You’re right. I should talk to myself in a more loving way. I should want to connect more to my family. I should want to be healthier. But I just don't feel it.”
It is important to be careful with this kind of thinking. Guilt tripping oneself is a trap. People may flip back and forth between feeling upset at the world for obligating them to do things, and then feeling bad themselves for not wanting to do them. This process replaces one negative thought with another.
Let me let you in on a secret: The old way you were motivating yourself is not wrong. In fact, it was very useful. It got you to this point where you are in life right now. And now you are ready for change.
What are the things you like about your life? You created them. When changing a motivational system, first acknowledge and appreciate the way you operated before. It got you where you are today. Then, tell yourself in a loving tone, “I know that making choices in order to avoid pain has gotten us to where we are, but I am ready now to reach for more happiness in my life. I want to try this new method of coping, okay Self?” And with your own permission, you begin to change, one decision at a time.