Positive and Negative Motivation: What Drives You?

In my childhood, I was always getting verbal and non verbal messages that “I wasn’t good enough,” so most of my life, I was determined to prove my haters and doubters wrong.

My “I will do what they think I can’t do,” fueled me to do many positive things, but this was not motivation, it was bitterness, anger, resentment… and to some extent, revenge. And this was self-damaging and self-sabotaging.

Are you doing positive things for negative reasons? The truth behind positive motivation and negative motivation

Sometime along this path, I realized that while doing the right thing for the wrong reason may actually bring you the results you want, it may steal the joy you thought you’d experience with your achievement.

But what is the difference between positive motivation and negative motivation?

MOTIVE, which comes from the Latin motus “a moving, motion,” meaning “that which inwardly moves a person to behave a certain way.

Psychology tells us that motivation (motive + ion) can be an inner stimulus or a social stimulus.

Neuro associative conditioning experts claim that everything we do is driven by two forces: pain and pleasure. The scriptures call these two forces LOVE and FEAR.

When we are driven by pain or fear, we are using painful (negative) motivation, and when we are driven by pleasure or love, we are employing positive (pleasant) motivation. Both positive motivation and negative motivation can happen because of internal (inner) factors or external (social) ones, but before we dive into that, ask yourself:

What drives you?
What is your decision process like? Are you making decisions out love or out of fear?
Is your purpose to avoid pain or to experience pleasure?

Many of the choices I made as a teen and young adult were fear-based. I was seeking to avoid being treated unfairly, being thought of as “less than,” and feeling ignored. And while this may have added momentum and leverage to my goal, and probably was useful to avoid danger, damage, and disaster, it didn’t exactly lead to beaming joy and perpetual bliss.

Remember F.R.I.E.N.D.S., the sitcom? Flashbacks revealed that Monica lost weight to get back at Chandler for mocking her. She wanted him to feel sorry he ever rejected her. She did achieve the weight goal, but she wasn’t any happier, and as a matter of fact, this ended up causing turmoil and heartache.

Don't prove yourself, improve yourself!

Internal Positive Motivation springs out of tapping into your personal passion, talents, skills, and strengths, as well as self-validation, a burning desire, or a fun challenge. This leads to increased energy, sustainable joy, lasting success, and a sense of fulfillment.

External Positive Motivation can be fueled by monetary rewards and financial security, titles and professional recognition, and other gains and achievements, and therefore, can cause burnout, stress, anxiety, and unfulfillment.

Internal Negative Motivation is when you act to avoid pain or fear:

  1. You may want to do something to cover up guilt and self-blame.
  2. You may want to do more because you often experience feelings of inadequacy or insecurity.
  3. You want to prove someone she’s wrong about you and you will show your worth through achievement.

External Negative Motivation is seeking the approval of others and avoiding the pain of rejection:

  1. You may feel fear of failure, fear of dismissal or rejection, or fear of judgment.
  2. You may be striving for perfection or to be at the level of someone you compare yourself to.
  3. You want to change because of coercion or pressure from someone else.

The thing with negative motivation is that you end up feeling hopeless, helpless, and overwhelmed. You will feel anxiety and disappointment, even if you’re successful in doing what you set out to do, especially when it’s not impressive to those you want to prove wrong.

Is negative motivation useless?

I believe that negative motivation can be self-damaging because you are running from something, not for something, however, I don’t believe it is completely useless.

In A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, (aff link) Ebenezer Scrooge, a cold-hearted creditor is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future, all revealing much misery as a result of fear-based choices.

At the Unleash The Power Within seminar, Tony Robbins took me through an exercise that mimicked these visitations, so I may get a glimpse of how I arrived to a painful situation, what it was costing me in the present time, and where it may lead if I were to continue going along the same path.

Just like for Scrooge, getting real about the pain in my life was a turning-point. It wasn’t an inspiring moment, but a moment of discovery… a chance for a fresh start.  Just like Scrooge, after the wake up call, we must not dwell on the negativity, but take consistent action toward what we desire.

When I take moms through The Passion Test, I ask them to write a set of statements that describe their ideal life using positive words. It is so difficult for most, because most of us focus on what we want to avoid. Low-frequency, fear-based words like “worry,” “struggle,” and “debt,” always show up.

But underneath our fears, our pain, our struggle, there is always a positive desire… if we’re willing to dig that deep. And when we find it, we begin to see clearer, and to have a sense of purpose and direction in our life.

Desire is the starting point of all achievement - Napoleon Hill

I always use the analogy of a GPS because when we want to go somewhere, we will only need two pieces of information: where we are, and where we are going. Our brain only works toward a goal, an outcome, a result, so we must focus on our destination: the object of our desire.

What’s the object of your desire?

Napoleon Hill once said “The starting point of all achievement is DESIRE.” (aff link) Desire  is a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.

The word “desire” means “of the sire” or “of the Father.” When you focus on your true desires, you are looking at your potential and destiny as a daughter of God.

When you look at your fear, sadness, worries, pain, failure, anger, resentment, bitterness, disappointment, dissatisfaction, self-doubt, predictions of failure, shame, embarrassment, and other negative thought patterns, you end up feeling depleted, depressed, and defeated.

Defeated. Because when you seek joy, setting negative goals defeat the purpose. You don’t need more frustration and pain – you already feel enough of that! Right?

What if you were to make a list of that which is meaningful to you and the experiences you most desire in every area of your life? 

And what if you sought deep in your soul for reasons why you desire that in your life?

What if you also were to focus on how you would feel rather than what you would have, and how you would BE, rather than what you would be doing?

I know the answer. I’ve used these questions to turn my life around. In fact, I need to use them almost daily to re-focus myself and get back on course. I also use them to guide my coaching and mentoring students.

Do what they think you can't do!

By finding the positive, you harness the power you already possess to keep moving, to stay committed, to do what it takes, to learn what you must, and to become who you are meant to be.

So what drives you, the carrot or the stick? My new motto: do what they think you can’t do; BUT don’t do it for them, do it for YOU. Do what YOU do! Don’t prove yourself, improve yourself!  What are your thoughts? Un abrazo!

Elayna Fernandez - Author - 
Speaker - Success Guide to Moms and Mompreneurs
© Elayna Fernández ~ The Positive MOM

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50 thoughts on “Positive and Negative Motivation: What Drives You?

  1. I admit that I am motivated a lot of the time by my desire to prove I’m worthy. I feel i am always in competition with my brothers whether it is real or imagine. Even when i accomplish something i feel it isn’t enough and i need to do more if that makes sense.

  2. Reading this I realized that I don’t get motivated by motivation from other people, but solely do what feels right for me.
    Simply put, I don’t care what other people say or do regarding me.

  3. Great message. What makes us want to achieve goals sometimes are negative goals and that’s definitely not healthy especially since we’re investing our time and effort into it.

  4. The situation doesn’t really matters, what matters is our attitude towards the situation. Always choose to be positive.

  5. I love this post! I think this is such an important topic – I love the Friends analogy! This was so interesting to read!

  6. Thanks for sharing some of your story. It is hard to overcome negative comments and thoughts. Not everyone seems to be able to get past those experiences! So glad you did!! You always have a great message to share.

  7. Motivation is one of those super tricky things! I love this post and definitely need to share more with the younger kids in my life how important it is.

  8. Great post! Beautifully written. I’m driven by mostly positive motivation and I agree with you that negative motivation is not completely useless. It helps bring forward self reflection and sense of purpose.

  9. People are all motivated by different things and whilst I can see that some things would be classed as a negative motivation for some this could be their trigger to work harder.

  10. What drives me is my faith in God, my marriage, and my children. They keep me focused. Great post on positive and negative motivation!

  11. This is so inspiring. Keep up writing inspirational articles like this. PS: What drives me is my son and my family. 🙂

  12. In truth my experience has been the opposite of yours. Whereby I lived a very sheltered and comfortable life thanks to my parents. I grew up with positive motivation and a naive understanding of the world around it. It was only after I left high school did everything come crashing down around me. Everything i thought I new meant nothing in the face of the new and dangerous situations I now had to wade through. I’ve been on the edge of that abyss so many times over the years that it’s hard to find peace anymore.
    So its been since that moment that i feel i’ve been led by those negative emotions. And not from peer pressure or other peoples views of me or even their prescribed opinions of where my life should go. But rather my own mind . I’m constantly at odds with myself, always doubting always pushing myself even after a victory because either i dont believe i deserve it or i think i can do better.
    I love this post because i related SO much to it and all i want to do now is focus on achieving that positive motivation again.

  13. Great post! You have to stay positive. What motivates me each day is life. I just want to give and be the best that I can. It is too short to focus on the negative.

  14. This is really a great article. I never thought of motivation as negative or positive. I admit that most of my life my motivation for everything has been to prove I am worthy. To prove that there is more to me than people think. The reality is that I don’t actually know what it is that people think of me, and why should I care anyway? I should be motivated to do things for me! For my own happiness and well being.

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  18. Motivation will bring good positive changes in our thoughts and attitude. Due to lack of right motivation, we are unable to maintain our success strategy. Most probably, doing positive things in life will bring positive results and also inspire others. Apart from these, we should follow some essential elements from this article regarding positive motivation and how to get success through positive motivation. Thanks for such a wonderful article with useful information, it helps to reduce our negative motivation and thoughts.

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  21. I love your post. It is very interesting the way that positive and negative motivation can drive to an achievement but with different results. I especially loved the last part: “By finding the positive, you harness the power you already possess to keep moving, to stay committed, to do what it takes, to learn what you must, and to become who you are meant to be”.

    I totally agree, “to do what it takes” for me means to overcome every obstacle that may cause pain or fear because you´re pursuing a positive dream and it need to be done in order you can “become who you are meant to be”

  22. This is something I never thought of before, the motives that move me to action. Reading this I recognize that I’ve done things with both positive and negative motivation, and you are right, when the motive is negative the result is often not exactly what I had imagined in the first place. Thanks for writing this!

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