Inner Critic #2: Negative Motivation

February 15, 2021

In last week’s episode, we talked about Soothing Your Inner Critic and I promised that all month, we’d explore the various ways our inner critic shows up and tries to stop us from stepping into the fullest version of ourselves. 

So today, we’re going to talk about our Inner Critic from the perspective of motivation.

Specifically, we’re going to explore one of the inner critic’s favorite approaches, called Negative Motivation. 

So, let’s dive in.

The word MOTIVATION is typically seen as a good thing.

But, like everything in life, there’s both a light and dark side of motivation.

There’s positive motivation which is all about moving TOWARDS PLEASURE.

Surprisingly, the anticipation of pleasure or reward is not as strong a motivator as the other side, which is NEGATIVE MOTIVATION.

This is all about the desire to AVOID PAIN.

And for most of us, this type of motivation is very compelling.

Few of us like to fail or experience pain or the negative consequences of NOT doing something we were supposed to do, so we will literally do almost anything to avoid that. 

This is called negative motivation. The desire to avoid experiencing pain or failure.

We all experience this regularly in our job. For example, if our boss sets a deadline for that report. Or you have a monthly sales quota or whatever.

Most of us will pull out all the stops to do that thing. 

And there’s nothing with that. This type of negative motivation spurs us on. It keeps us on task. 

There’s nothing berating or nasty about it. We simply apply ourselves and get the job done so we can avoid the pain of NOT doing the thing.

But there’s a second version of negative motivation – one that is typically delivered by our inner critic. 

This is negative motivation with a twist. 

It has all the components of negative emotion – a compelling thing we must do, a sense of urgency, and a sense of consequences if we DON’T do it.

But when the inner critic gets involved, the negative emotion comes with a twist.

And this is when negative motivation moves from a simple and natural desire to accomplish something, so we avoid pain, to an internal tyrant that sucks the life force from us.

When I say it comes with a twist, here’s how it works.

The inner critic might say things like:

“You better get busy, or else.”

“If you make another mistake, it’ll be your last.”

“You shouldn’t have waited so long.”

“If you don’t hurry, it’ll be too late.”

Part of the inner critic’s negative motivation is helpful. It’s trying to get you to do something. 

To move. To act.

The problem is that it adds a threat or an accusation to the sentence.

It’s the brain’s way of trying to get your attention.

To let you know that there’s a lot at stake and to make it happen, it’s going to take everything you’ve got. And that part is fine.

It’s the threat part that’s the issue. 

Typically, because the voice is coming from “inside us” it knows our greatest fears and vulnerabilities, so it goes for the jugular to motivate us.

So, the threat strikes a chord. 

It causes you to feel fearful or uncertain.

This means that every action you take to try to get that goal, comes from a feeling of fear. Anxiety. 

And that is NEVER a good thing.

Take a listen to this week’s episode to find out more about the Inner Critic’s approach to Negative Motivation and what to do about it. 

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