What makes you move forward? Which are the most powerful stimulus for you? Are you doing stuff only to avoid potential dangers, or are you just curious? In today’s post I’ll talk about negative motivation versus positive motivation.

You may ask now: motivation is just the power which moves you to do stuff, are there anything like “negative” or “positive” to it? Isn’t this something related to what you do, not to what motivates you? Well, in my opinion, your motivation is directly shaping you actions. If you’re positively motivated, your action will most likely have a positive outcome. If you’re negatively motivated, your action will have an undesirable outcome.

Negative is rooted on fear, while positive is rooted in service.

The Fear Root

Fear means you’re acting on the pressure of losing something, This is what fear is: the menace of losing something: your current context, your money, your life. Fear was for a long time a fantastic survival mechanism, and for that it was a good asset on our old life kit. It was fear which made the weaker one to run or to hide when a real threat was around. And fear made the weaker survive.

Our brain has a very deep connection with fear. Deep in our limbic brain (the oldest part of our brain, also called the “reptilian” brain) lies the centers of fear. On top of them other layers of our brain have grown. But the deeper core is still there and it can still be activated.

Fear can manifest in our life on various levels. Some of them are social norm, like “keeping up with the Joneses” (fear of losing prestige) or like blind competition (fear of losing market share). On a personal level, fear is manifested by the need to prove something (fear of being inadequate) or by revenge (fear of coping with a loss).

The Service Root

On the other side, service means giving to others. Offering support, knowledge, material or emotional assets. On the human evolution scale, service is a little bit younger than fear. It was only when the need for survival was met that individuals could gather in communities and start to experiment with sharing. Until then, fear was necessary in order to survive.

There is this inverse connection between fear and service: the lower the fear level, the higher the service level. If you’re not afraid you can easily go out and share, because, well, there’s nothing to be afraid of. If you’re afraid of something, you’re going to limit the contexts in which the danger could manifest, therefore, you’ll going to limit your sharing activities.

Another opposite to the fear is curiosity: if you’re eager to find out more, you’ll have to get rid of your fears. You can’t be curious if you’re afraid. If your fears will tell you that something bad will come out  of this action you’re so curious about, you’ll never do it.

The Black Power Of No

Wether we like it or not, we’re still conditioned to act on fear. Our limbic brain is still stimulated by a variety of factors. We translated our old fears related to survival to our modern indicators of success: we’re afraid of being taken for less than we are or we’re afraid that somebody talks bad about us. We’re afraid that we’re going to lose something if we’re not talking “immediate and aggressive” action towards the potential danger.

Negativity is powerful.  Every time you’re afraid, you’re giving your focus and power to the potential danger. All your energy must be there, because your reptilian brain is telling you’ll have to survive. Doesn’t matter for that reptilian brain if the fear was socially induced, if you scream “fear” it will be activated.

The more fear factors you have, the more energy you’ll have to allocate. And you’re going to pay attention to a lot of potential dangers. Sooner than you think, you’ll measure your success by the rate of your survival actions. And you’re becoming accountable to your fear sources. You’ll be actually driven by your fear sources. This is why a fearful person is so easy to manipulate.

The Difficult Honesty

If you’re not afraid of anything, you’ll have nobody to be accountable than yourself. All your energy is still inside you, there’s no threat you have to monitor. And so, you’ll have to assess your success by other metrics. The survival mode is off. There’s nobody to be afraid of. There’s only you. Honestly.

Honesty is difficult. Being accountable to ourselves is something we’re not used to. For millions of years it was so easy to feel good by only avoiding danger. Now it’s incredibly difficult to feel good by creating something. Avoiding dangers and creating stuff are mutually exclusive, of course. You can’t do both at the same time.

Motivation

Every time you’re going on a negative motivation, you’re giving away your energy, this is why the outcome will be most of the time undesirable. Except a few rare situations in which your fears are real, you’re only picking up socially conditioned fears. There’s no real danger there. You think you’ve done something appropriate in order to survive, but the danger was a fake. And you feel cheated. Frustrated. Ashamed.

If you’re braking the circle of fear, your motivations will be based on curiosity and service. Out of the fear circle, you can create and share. You can learn. You can experiment. You can enjoy.

Happiness and fear cannot live in the same individual. Because fear will always take historical precedence, there will be simply no energy left to feed the happiness. All the energy is going to the fear. You simply don’t have enough.

If you’re curious enough to investigate the root of your fears you’ll find out they are just shadows. Somebody else is projecting some twisted lights and your environment is all of a sudden filled with a lot of shadows. If the source of light is not twisted, the environment is clear and neat again, no shadows. All you have to do is to investigate who and why is projecting the light. If you don’t agree with what you see, nobody stops you to project your own light, and get rid of the shadows for good.

The difference between negative and positive motivation is the difference between surviving and living.