Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse

What motivates us?

What motivates us? Are we motivated by what we want to avoid, in other words, by fear or by anger? Or are we motivated by what we want to create. By joy? Which kind of motivation yields the best results?

Imagine a situation where there is no fear. You feel pretty comfortable, relaxed even. All of a sudden you get an idea. You feel like doing something. So you get up and do it. You may feel excited that you got that idea. You are joyful. This is a positive motivation. It feels joyful. You are not afraid it will go wrong. You are not against anything. No resistance.

Now imagine a different situation. You are triggered by something. Something bad that happened to you. Something bad that is happening in the world. Negative emotions are triggered, perhaps anger, perhaps fear. And you are motivated to do something. Now you find yourself fighting the situation. You are in resistance. You are negatively motivated.

It is very easy to become negatively motivated. Just look at the news. So many things are going on in the world that can trigger negative emotions. I have a bit of activist blood in me and the injustice, the ignorance, the violence that I see can easily be a very strong negative motivator. But hold on for a minute. Carl Jung said “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size”. I think it is the basis for escalation. And ultimately it can lead to war. But this doesn’t mean you have to passively let everything happen. It doesn’t mean you have allow yourself to be victimised or that you can’t help people that are victimised.

I think there is another way. When we are mindful that we are about to be negatively motivated, we need to stop and acknowledge that for ourselves. And then prioritise moving through the negative emotions until we arrive at inner peace, before we take action. Your action will be so much more impactful and powerful when it comes from a place of inner peace than when it comes from a place of negative emotion. You may remember a crisis situation where you automatically did the right thing, without being very emotional about it. The emotions came afterwards. I think we can trust that in such crisis situations, we will know what to do. That is not the resistance I’m talking about. When there is no immediate danger in this very moment (!) then we have the opportunity to prioritise being with our emotions. Looking at them. Breathing through them. Feeling them, for as long as they are present. And only when we have arrived at inner peace, take action.

This can be quite uncomfortable, because when you are in the phase of experiencing these negative emotions, you’ll most probably resist those as well. You’ll want to skip all this crap and move on to feeling good again. But without this inner process, you won’t be able to arrive at the positive motivation, the one that is free and peaceful and creative. The difference can be very subtle. Fighting for a good cause can feel stimulating. It can feel powerful and exiting. This can give you the impression that the motivation is positive. But as long as it is simultaneously fighting against something or somebody, it is still a negative motivator. Aiming for a win-lose situation. And eventually that will backfire.

The situation you are ‘against’ has to be fully accepted first, before you can move beyond it. And why not accept it? It has happened already. You can’t turn it back. Accepting a situation doesn’t mean liking it or approving it. Accepting means looking forward. Alright, this has happened. Now what? What good can we create with what we have now?

There is a difference between:

  • I hate climate change, it scares me, we are ruining the earth. I am angry with all those ignorant people. And:
  • There is climate change. That is the current reality in the here and the now. I accept that this is the current reality and I accept all my feelings about it. I choose to see this reality as a stepping stone to something better. How can I personally contribute to a better environment? How can I encourage and empower others to do so as well? How can we gather enough momentum in society to have more influence. Etc.

There is also a difference between:

  • I hate Trump, what an idiot! This is so wrong. America is fucked up. And:
  • Okay, this is the current state of the here and the now. I accept all my feelings about it and am taking care of the pain and the hurt and the confusion in myself. Let’s see what can be done as a first step to counteract all the negativity. Let’s see what can be done from the bottom up to build bridges between people, to unite people, to empower them. How can we take care of each other? What can we do together to make positive change?

The first thoughts in both scenario’s are resisting what already happened. They don’t accept the current reality. They allow for bitterness and hatred. The second thoughts don’t like what is going on, but don’t resist it either. They allow the heart to open. They make space for dreams for the future and positive action.

In the end, the physical outcome can be exactly the same. On the outside the actions that are taken can look the same. But the intention is entirely different. And the outcome will depend very much on the intention with which you took action.

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