Motivate Yourself Without Stress

You and I constantly compare what we have to a benchmark and when the comparison is good, we feel good. When it's bad, we feel bad. The benchmark I'm referring to could be a something you want to happen or something you think should happen or some state of existence that used to exist, or some ideal that you have been convinced is right.

You compare yourself, your life, your job, your productivity, your marriage, etc., against your benchmarks without trying. It happens automatically and usually somewhat below your conscious awareness. Most of our thinking is done without our awareness or with only a vague awareness. It's not that you are unable to become aware of what you're thinking, but only that you don't usually pay attention to it or direct it consciously.

So you look, for example, at how far along you are in life compared to how far along you should be according to your goals, ideals or standards. If you are about where you should be or a little ahead, you feel good about your life, you feel satisfied. If you are behind, you feel unsatisfied. If your present income and job status is behind your benchmark, for example, you feel bad.

If you think you can do something about it to bring your situation up to the benchmark, you will feel motivated. If you feel the benchmark state is hopelessly out of reach, you will feel depressed.

Let me put this another way. If you are unsatisfied, it will be either depressing or motivating. It'll be motivating if your situation and your benchmark don't match and you think you can do something to make them match. It will be depressing if they don't match and you think you can't make them match.

If it is motivating, but feels unpleasant (if you feel anxiety or anger, for example), see if you can change the way you think about it to keep it motivating but pleasant.

For example, a man looks at his wife and she looks unhappy. He doesn't like that. He's comparing what actually exists to what "ought" to exist, and they don't match. If he thinks he can't do anything about it, he will feel depressed. But let's say he thinks he can do something about it. He thinks he can change his behavior so she becomes happy, but he feels angry because he thinks this situation shouldn't exist. He wants to change it and change it NOW, dammit! What's mainly making him angry is the way he's thinking about it. It is motivating, but unpleasantly so. Anger is unpleasant.

So he needs to change the way he thinks about it so he can still be motivated, but pleasantly so. He needs to coach himself into thinking differently, just as he would coach a child who felt angry at some situation. "Now look here," he says to himself, "I think it shouldn't exist, but it does. My arbitrary standards about what should exist don't matter. The universe is not here to satisfy my demands. The situation does exist. And I don't have to do anything about it. I want to. I want my wife to be happy. And I can take steps toward that. I probably can't make it perfect, but I can make it better."

Can you see how this kind of thinking is motivating but pleasantly so? Learn to keep your motivation, but make it with positive emotions rather than negative emotions. It will feel better, be better for your health, and work better.

Adam Khan is the author of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, Principles For Personal Growth, and Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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