Can Motivation Ever Be a Bad Thing?

When it comes to motivation, there’s a whole lot of different ways of thinking about it, how it works, how we can cultivate it, etc. We all want to be massively motivated, productive, disciplined people, but is there a time when that motivation becomes a bad thing? Can motivation represent something darker and more insidious in our lives? In short, can motivation ever be a bad thing?

It Depends Entirely on What Motivates You

There are definitely kinds of motivation out there that are far from being a positive, good thing in your life. Being motivated to do things that aren’t in your interest, taken advantage of or manipulated are possible aspects of negative motivation. Let’s take two different scenarios here.

In the first scenario, you’ve been thinking about some new skill you’re desperate to learn, you’ve been researching it for years, hesitantly waiting on the side lines but now you’re all keyed up to get properly started with it and you’re excited for it. I’d describe this as entirely positive. Then you’ve got the kind of motivation that comes when your boss at work isn’t happy with the fifty-hour weeks you’ve been doing and starts heavily and threateningly implying you need to be working more, regardless of personal cost to you. Now you’re motivated to work more and more, potentially impacting your health and social life, to avoid losing your job. This is negative, bad motivation.

You could make an argument that good motivation can quickly become a bad thing when it turns obsessive and prevents you from seeing the other important things in your life. When you completely disappear into some new interest or project, rejecting your family and health, that’s going to be having a negative effect on your life too.

Positive and Negative Motivation Are Two Distinct Things

Back to the drive-based definitions of negative and positive motivation first. Otherwise known as the carrot and stick, there’s benefits and shortcomings to both approaches, sometimes that balance is absolutely what is required. Positive motivation is being motivated by reward, negative motivation by punishment.

It would be easy to turn around and state that positive motivation is a good thing and negative is always a bad, however, that simply isn’t reality. Reward often isn’t enough, and people need far more to get themselves moving. If you’re not worried about the repercussions and you don’t have any desperate need for the reward, you’re probably not going to work very hard. Then you’ve got a choice, focus on the reward you don’t particularly need, or the growing repercussions. The fact is, the more you put something off, the worse the repercussions are going to be, generally. This makes negative motivation effective, but risky when it comes to your overall mental state.

The fact is, if you’re not hungry for some new change, development or reward, the promise of positive motivation isn’t ever going to properly get you going. In that scenario, the fear of failure might be far more effective. If you’re already an anxious hard-working person, however, you need to be aware that continually going on about the risks of not working hard might have a negative outcome. In that scenario, positive motivation might prove far more effective.

The Problem with Negative Motivation

So, the question needs to be asked, what are the issues with negative motivation? Well, fundamentally, it centres on being motivated by fear, and that’s never going to be a pleasant thing to hold in your mind. Fear, anxiety, worry, stress, none of these are good feelings. That said, some degree of them is necessary.

Without these negative emotions, we run the risk of casually wandering into trouble, failing to prioritise important parts of our lives, and simply letting our careers, family lives, romantic lives slip away from us.

There is very much a point where negative motivation becomes a big problem though. Nowadays, we’re continually bombarded by low level stress and worry basically all the time. We rarely get a respite from our jobs demands, advertising telling us what we lack, the pull of families, friends and partners, these things are continual and we’re more divided individually than we ever have been. Anxiety, depression, and stress run amok, and it’s not entirely clear why, but negative motivation is always going to be playing a part when it comes to anxiety.

What’s the solution? You need to choose what aspects of your life you’re letting affect you. Why are you bothered by the fact you’ve not got the latest console or mobile phone yet? Why does it matter that you’ve not been promoted at work yet? Live within your means and prioritise the things that truly matter. Mood, family, relationships, health. You can’t go wrong with these things, but make sure you’re still balancing yourself right.

Why Not Use Both

The phrase “carrot and stick” says it all. You sometimes need both. When it comes to being motivated to do truly mind-numbing, boring, and draining tasks, you absolutely should be using every tool at your disposal. That means both negative and positive motivation. Learning what works best for you in what situation and what task is key. Often, it’s going to be a combination of the two.

We need to be productive in life to be happy. Click To Tweet

Not necessarily productive in a capitalist sense, but more of a general one. Driven, interested, enthusiastic. Doing things that matter to you and waking up with that drive to get after it on the regular. This is essential when it comes to simply feeling good and happy. That’s exactly why you need to be using every tool at your disposal, as often as you can.

Balance is Always Key

As with all things in this life, or so it seems, it always comes down to balance. Being able to maintain that all important divide between positive and negative motivation, between work and rest, job and hobby, family, and social life, that essential balance. Once things get too far out of whack, you’re going to start feeling a very real cost and slowing down.
It’s an intoxicating thought, the idea that you can pour all your effort into one thing, get truly obsessed and make better progress, but burnout is a hugely real risk. Losing your support network, health or social life is always going to be a real risk when you put too much into work, for instance. The fact is, it all comes down to building the right balance for you, the balance that allows you to make steady, effective progress, pursuing the things that matter to you while keeping yourself healthy, happy, and functional.

Five Tips to Build Balanced Motivation

When it comes to building and maintaining really lasting, balanced motivation, getting that rolling productivity going, there’s a lot of different approaches, thinking and ideas to be considered. Everyone needs to come to their own approach, and that can take real time. However, that’s exactly why we’ve put together a couple of ideas to help you visualise your motivation and what you need to be doing.

Know Your Needs – It’s always going to be essential to simply understand what you need from your family, friends, and lifestyle. Understanding your needs makes it possible to meet them properly. It means that things won’t go wrong for seemingly no reason, it’s the maintenance we all need to do.

Know Your Shortcomings – If you understand where you’re likely to go wrong, there’s a strong chance you’re going to find it way easier to avoid these pitfalls. Know your shortcomings so you can combat them.

Self-Discipline is Key – “Where motivation fails, discipline prevails”, if you can always make yourself do something, motivation will often take care of itself.

Examine Your Goals – So you’re finding yourself perpetually struggling to maintain motivation and discipline? You’re always finding it tough to get things done? Well, there’s a very real chance you’re pursuing the wrong things. The wrong job, the wrong hobby, partner, friends, whatever. Re-examine and re-evaluate.

Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin – Are you trying to do too many things? Continually feeling drained and worn out? There’s a strong chance that you could simply be spreading yourself far too thinly. Focus on the important things, keep the unnecessary stuff to a minimum and really value your own time.

Find Your Source

At the end of the day, it all comes down to finding things in your life that you really care about. The adage “do something you love, and you won’t work a day in your life” often seems extremely twee and trite, but there is a kernel of truth to it. If you truly value the things you pursue, and really want to improve, excel and be productive at them, it’ll make everything so much easier, especially when it comes to motivation. Whether we’re talking positive, negative, or pure discipline, motivation comes easier when you care about the task at hand.