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What is it that motivates us? Why do we seem motivated to do certain things easily, and others we procrastinate about and never get around to doing, even though we want to do them?

It is all connected with pain and pleasure. This has nothing to do with sadomasochism! We are motivated by the pleasure of the result we want, and by the pain of what it means to not do it. A deadline gives us a pain motivator, that if we miss a deadline our boss will kick us into touch. But we don't want to do the task. So we make sure it is done before the last minute. However, if we associate pleasure with getting this task completed, we will not wait until the last minute, but will go and out and do it straight away! This could be because we enjoy helping others, because the task is fun, involves talking to people we like, or because we are really loyal and hold certain values and beliefs in this area.

One example of this principle of pain and pleasure is the phenomenon of overeating. For example, you may be tempted to keep eating after you have reached your comfortable limit (not noticed so much when sitting down), by giving in to your temptations and imagination/fantasy/memory of past pleasure associated with eating, rather than actually tasting the food itself. You may continue to eat past this point until you are moderately uncomfortable in your stomach. This will give you enough motivation to stop eating. This slight discomfort is the pain you need to motivate you to stop. Having such a sensation means you absolve yourself of the responsibility of having to control your eating amounts, as being comfortably full would mean you have a choice of eating more and have to manage the programmed patterns and urges to eat more and more, whereas if you have overeated you don't have to think about it - unless you have REALLY overriden your 'normal' overeating stopping mechanism and eaten way beyond this, whereupon you may experience considerable discomfort and stomach ache and really punish yourself for having done so - creating a greater motivator to usually return to your normal level of abuse, rather than eating with normal levels of self-control.

So how can we use this knowledge to motivate ourselves to do those tasks that we procrastinate about? Well, we have to sit down and figure out what do we really want to achieve and in what time frame. Those things we want to motivate ourselves to do, we have to give ourselves a short term, achievable goal, or series of goals. Then we have to create the leverage so we actually do it! This means that we need to really feel the pleasure and joy and completing the task, VIVIDLY not just rationally - visualise it and feel it in your whole body. Think of all the things that it would mean if you finished this task. How great you would feel, how you would feel great about yourself, how easier things would be, all the avenues it would open up etc. Don't be embarrassed about really exaggerating this one. Go totally over the top, and vividly experience that pleasure, as if it was happening to you right now!

Once you have really felt that pleasure, it is now time to really stir up some PAIN, and think of all the horrible things that would or might possibly occur (by the largest stretch of the imagination) if you didn't do the task. Imagine how bad you would feel, how you would beat yourself up, how you couldn't relax, how it would mean that you never achieve that long term goal or dream, how it would affect your financial future, how your friends might not respect you, how it might ruin your life. Come up with some real nasty stuff, as long as you can visualise it and believe it. You have now eliminated any possible alternative, and doing that task has now become a MUST. You MUST do it! You are fully CERTAIN. It helps to write all the aspects of pleasure and pain down on paper, so you can go over and over it again and again. And remind yourself if you lose clarity and focus.

The next step is the easy part. You just do it! It shouldn't require any stressing about it, forcing yourself to do it. It should be effortless and easy. It requires the minimal of mental energy. Procrastination really is a waste of energy! Being uncertain is highly stressful and very tiring. Being certain is easy! So many of us are uncertain, we have too many SHOULDs and very few MUSTs. Don't should all over yourself! (Tony's expression)

Some people are motivated by both pain and pleasure. Some more pain (necessity) motivated and some more pleasure (possibility) motivated. This varies between individuals and between cultures. It has been grossly generalised that the British are generally pain motivated and Americans are generally pleasure and convenience motivated, although this is of course not strictly true.

When we want to drive from one city to the next at night, we can only see ahead of us as far as our headlights. But we know that if we continue for a certain amount of time that we will reach our destination, even if we can't physically see it in front of us now. We are certain that if we continue on this strip of tarmac it will eventually lead to the chosen place. We know the road will not suddenly end with a big cliff that we will drive off. We know it will be simple and we know what we need to do, we are certain about our destination, and we just get on with it. We are focussed however primarily on the next 100 yards and getting them right. The goal will come when its time is right and it will indeed be ours. So don't be scared off or put off just because you can't see the goal right in front of you! Be certain! Have faith and belief in yourself and what you are doing. Be certain!

Of course, to ensure you retain this level of motivation, return regularly to the sources of pain (of stopping this good, positive behaviour or thought process) and pleasure (of continuing it and what benefits it gives you), and vividly relive them. You may wish to only focus on the pleasure part, wheeling out the pain related areas if you need something really potent to give you a 'kick up the backside'. In addition, you may wish to visualise and surround yourself with reminders of why you are doing what you are doing; reminders make you appreciate the rewards and pay offs for your current, positive behaviour or habit. It could be paying for a great house or the upkeep of your children. Or helping others. You could use wallpapers, posters, photographs, anything that reminds you of the reasons and the rewards. The things that you love.

Please see the influence page for more information about how to ethically influence people using the concepts of pleasure and pain; and the Assertiveness page for more issues relating to motivation via pleasure and pain.

© 2006-2024 Fabian Dee