Can you find the right balance?

Most of us have probably said to ourselves at one time or other: “I should be ……. but I can’t be bothered.” We can all fill in the blanks: “I should be studying for my exams but I can’t get motivated” , or: “I should paint that ceiling but I never seem to get to do it.” What’s going on here?

It’s all about motivation, or the lack of it. I said ‘lack’ of motivation, but since reading a book called ‘The Motivated Mind’ by J.M. Gracia I see things differently. He states that we are always motivated to do something, but that some of these motivations take us away from our goals…

The word ‘Motive’ refers to ‘ a need or desire that causes a person to act’. Some motives come naturally and are easily obeyed, such as hunger or thirst. We don’t have to visualize them or use affirmations to make us give in to them. Some however are mainly in our minds and more abstract, such as visualizing having ‘success‘ on the internet.

What if several motives start to compete with each other? Then we are in trouble! Take the student having to prepare for an upcoming exam for example. Passing the exam and obtaining a Diploma or Degree is a good motivator (but a long-term one). Contrast that with the desire to watch TV and eat crisps…definitely a short-term goal that takes the student away from succeeding (but is very pleasurable).

Motivation is all about ‘pleasure‘ and ‘pain‘ and how we deal with the balance of both: either we take action towards our goal, or we don’t. An example will hopefully makes things clearer. Imagine that you’ve developed a severe tooth ache. Imagine further that you also suffer from a phobia of dentists. What are you going to do in this situation?

There is the ‘pleasure’ of inaction (avoiding going to the dentist). There is the pain of action (facing up to your phobia). On the other hand there is the -in this case literal- pain of inaction (your tooth ache persists) and the pleasure of action (your tooth ache will subside).

Motivation is all about managing the balance between these factors, a bit like balancing measuring scales. We need to tip its balance towards our goals to be successful. So long as the pleasure of inaction is great enough and so long as the pain of action is also great, we’ll just stay home.

But let’s imagine that the tooth ache is getting worse, and, you are also developing an abscess and you didn’t sleep all night, and, you can’t eat properly… Then the (literal and psychological) pain of inaction becomes far greater than the pain of action (that phobia). In fact, the pain of action will turn into a pleasure because there will be relief eventually when you finally see that dentist.

Our desire to succeed in business can be seen in a similar way. There is the pleasure of learning and developing and being successful. Or it might be painful getting stuck and not knowing what to do, and feeling like a failure.

Then there is the balance between short-term relief and long-term benefits to be considered as well. We may want to quickly satisfy that craving for fast-food for example, but obviously this will make it harder to obtain our long-term goal of losing weight.

When we are dealing with these more abstract goals we also need to think about our desire. Do we really desire ‘the life style‘ that is all too often portrayed as a hook to get us to buy into yet another ‘done-for-you‘ program? If we are not following our own genuine desire then it will be hard to succeed.

But this is a topic for my next Blog post.


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