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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 for 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 of 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 at 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.” 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 is a single mom of 4, an award-winning Storyteller, Story Strategist, and Student of Pain. She’s a bestselling author, internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, and 4x TEDx speaker. Founder of the Positive MOM® and creator of the S.T.O.R.Y. System: a blueprint to craft and share powerful stories that will transform your results, so you can have the wealth, opportunities, and freedom you deserve. Connect with Elayna Fernández at thepositivemom.com/keynote-speaker and follow @thepositivemom. To receive a gift from Elayna, click HERE.

Be Positive and You Will Be Powerful ~ Elayna FernandBe Positive and You Will Be Powerful ~ Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOMez ~ The Positive MOM
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Dania Santana

Sunday 9th of July 2017

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!


Thursday 6th of July 2017

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”

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