Positive Motivation Versus Negative Motivation

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.


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.

28 thoughts on “Positive Motivation Versus Negative Motivation”

  1. I have worked under a boss who is always pushing with negative words all the time and honestly i never look forward to going for work.

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  3. You nailed it… the wrong way!

    “You can’t be curious if you’re afraid.” Really?? They’re complementaries.

    Negative motivation is excellent when used properly. Positive and positive and positive will lose value and mean nothing. Positive emotions are based on contrast, that’s why you can’t be happy all the time.

    Embrace the negative.

    Stop the bullshit.

  4. First off, AWESOME comment, Gabi. It’s amazing how many people are so involved in the field who’ve never approached a core theory, text book or academic research.

    Second, thanks for the original post itself. This is the kind of thought provoking material that challenges you to think I love it.

    • As per previous comment, I do value more one’s personal contribution, the kind that comes from direct experience, but I don’t discard upfront any scientific approach. What I do here is sharing my life experience. That’s all.

      • No matter where you go there is positive and negative… Here I see those thinking that because academically they may know more and that makes them feel better then others. I don’t understand what one would get from saying cut out the bullshit on someones personal blog. The world is a sad place that allows others to search the internet, leave a comment and put someone down. Why? What ever happened to, if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all, or treat others as you would want to be treated… Now those are common sense. The most expensive schools can not teach it nor can it be taught by anyone. You are born with it. Who is really the smartest?

        Embrace the negative… Now that IS bullshit lol.

  5. Dear Sir,

    I believe it would be fair, to say at least, to quote the sources of your ideas about “positive and negative motivation”. For example, it makes me easily think of Tory Higgins’s work on promotion vs. prevention regulatory approach to motivation*.

    Your audience may not be academic, but these ideas do not come out of thin air. On the contrary, they are often based on thorough research, on hours spent designing experimental studies, writing these results up and on months and years spent publishing them in peer-reviewed academic journals. This is what makes some of the arguments you are using here reliable, not just hunches and common sense that all of us may have. It is important that even a non-academic public acknowledges the research involved in these self-help ideas.

    Kind regards,

    * Higgins, E. T. (1998). Promotion and prevention: Regulatory focus as a motivational principle. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 30, pp. 1-41, Academic Press.

    • With all due respect for being one of my readers and for leaving a comment, but I have no idea whatsoever about you’re talking about. Never read that books / articles you quoted here. As I already wrote (many times) this blog is about my own personal path and it’s based on my direct life experience. Ideas don’t come out of thin air, I agree, in my case they come from a long and continuous “trial and error” approach towards my life.

      As for the reliability of my ideas, I usually go for direct experience. Science and experiment surely plays an important role in our lives, but so are intuition and what you call “hunches”. I do appreciate the work other have been put in their research, but as I said, this is my own personal view on that topic, which you may or may not like.

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  7. Hey Dragos! Excellent post! I was reading the comments about how fear is usually a more powerful motivator than love. I see this to be more dependent on the consciousness level of the individual (I wrote about the different levels of consciousness in this post – http://personalexcellence.co/blog/2009/02/map-of-consciousness/). Individuals who are closer to the fear-based, lower levels of consciousness will find themselves more responsive to fear stimuli, compared to those dominantly operating in higher, love levels. Our world is currently at a stage where majority are still in fear-based levels (pride, guilt, shame, fear, etc), which explains why we see more people reacting to fear. A good part of the mass media uses fear-based stimuli too – advertising, news, and so on.

    I’m RTing and stumbling this post!
    .-= Celes | CelestineChua.com´s last blog ..Boost Your Productivity in 50 Ways =-.

    • Yes, there is certainly a link between your consciousness level and the dominant motivation for your actions, and I can relate to what you’re saying. A sharing attitude will most likely be fueled and fuel positive motivation, while a closed, fearful attitude – common in lower levels of consciousness – will trigger negative motivations.

      Thanks for the RT’s, much appreciated 🙂

      • I really enjoyed reading this. I am trying to find ways to cope with a mental illness and find a way to deal with anxiety and depression. I have lost all motivation to do many of the things I loved years ago and trying to find my identity again. I am afraid of happiness because it will end. Now this is a wonderful topic for the average (what ever that is anymore) man but do you happen to know a of ways to help with my problem that could stem from dozens of things like for instance fatigue from medication. I have been suffering for years and have been on dozens of medications so this is not all new to me and I have tried many things and I really just want to find away to enjoy being a Mother, Wife, Daughter again and excel at my job. I have the luxury of working when I want and well procrastination should be my middle name.. If you have any ideas of places to refer me to on the net for general feel good help that would be awesome. I know this won’t just go away like magic as it’s become chronic but you know it feels good to laugh and have fun. I miss it. Thank you for such a well thought out and written article that is not only educational but extremely right. Have a wonderful day!

        • Well, I’m not a doctor, that’s for sure 🙂 Maybe it’s just a phase. If it’s not, try to split your day to day activity in 3 realms “assess”, “decide”, and “do”. It’s my “life management framework”. Do a search on the blog with these keywords and read the articles. Looks like you’re too pressured to live up to somebody else’s standards…

  8. Nice article Dragos, you touch on the two most powerful emotional motivators known to man. Interesting that of the two, moving away from pain is actually more powerful than moving toward pleasure. At least that’s the way we our stock wiring comes. Learning how to change the balance of strength is game changer. In my book “7 Simple Steps,” I devoted a whole chapter to “Paradigms of Pain and Pleasure.”

    Your coverage here is excellent and you make some really important points. I deeply appreciate this material.
    .-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Is Your Life Satisfying or Disappointing? =-.

  9. @Dragos, great stuff you’ve got going on here. You know I’m going to like it because while not exactly the same thing, this is similar to my positive vs. negative decisions article. Especially the last sentence. It’s the difference between surviving and thriving. Stumbled.
    .-= Stephen – Rat Race Trap´s last blog ..Where Are You Now? =-.

  10. Love the thoughts on this Dragos and I’ve going to have to let it simmer a bit to say much on the subject. I definitely agree with some of your points but some just doesn’t sit right yet for me. The fear of God would be the area I don’t think anyone could or should turn inward. It’s not all up to us when it comes to life’s purpose and results. So, that makes me ponder how deep you can go as an individual on the subject of motivation. I put service first and it does motivate me, but the factor behind it is God, not me. Hmmm…
    .-= Mike King´s last blog ..Interview with Your’s Truly at TimelessInformation.com =-.

    • Ok, let’s talk about this.

      Having a representation of “God” is in itself a very good motivator. Deeply knowing that there is another, greater power than you, will make you trust more what you’re doing. “God” is there, that’s for sure.

      But the polarisation is a little bit different: fear versus love.

      Fear of God will be fear, no matter what. You will fear that your God will punish you if you do a sin. It’s negative motivation.

      Love of God is love, no matter what. You will love God knowing He’ll be there for you no matter what. It’s positive motivation.

      Either way, God is there. It’s your polarisation what makes the experience different.

  11. Love it. You nailed it.

    Ultimately and simply I think that it does not matter.
    As you say, there are socially conditioned fears which do not matter, they are our past, which also does not matter. And frankly, those fears generate our future, as long as we let our “machine” go on.
    Our life means nothing, it is absolutely meaningless and empty, and its meaning less and empty that its meaningless and empty.
    (yea, I struggled with it a bit as well.)

    Therefore there is nothing there, – which then creates a clean slate, a new realm of possibilities that we create for ourselves.
    Suddenly there is no right or wrong – there just it.
    Negativity or positivity could be our racket or our strong suite, either way it’s completely meaningless in the great view of things.

    • I think I’m a little bit lost, but I guess the main point is that you say the final result is what it matters. Of course 🙂

  12. Hi Dragos

    Interesting topic. I used to use fear based motivation when I was working for someone else. However now I use the ‘service root’ when working for others as I am not really afraid of anything and have become well organised and motivate myself pretty easily to get things done.

    I do find that when I am working for myself I am much more motivated and have a lot more fun so it doesn’t feel like work and this spurs me on even more.
    .-= Steven Aitchison´s last blog ..Sunday Siesta – July 12th =-.

    • I know the feeling of being “negatively” motivated by “what can happen” if you don’t deliver in time, when you work for somebody else. It is powerful. But it’s also draining… 🙂

  13. Hi Dragos,

    Very interesting topic.I think about what you have wrote negative talking.Sometimes that is just a way people are.I don’t care what people have to say behind my back. I guess, if they are talking about me, I must be very important or they wouldn’t be talking about me at all.
    Negativity uses up more energy then being positive. I choose to be happy and positive.
    .-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..Advertising Towards Dummies: Interview With An Advertising Professional =-.

    • Yes, negativity is always more powerful than positivity, and that because we tend to give precedence to fear, instead of giving precedence to sharing. Fear was a good tool for evolution, but now I think it becomes a little bit obsolete.


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