Why Fear Is a Bad Motivation Choice

Has your boss ever threatened you that if you don’t do what it takes to get the job done you will be fired? Have you tried to quit smoking out of fear for your health? Have you ever started a strict diet because you were afraid of what your body would look like with these extra kilos?

If the answer to one of the questions above is yes this means that you have used fear as a motive for you to do something.

Fear is something normal and it is related to human nature. Actually, fear could be thought of as a defense mechanism that can alert us in case of possible danger.

If we see someone pointing a gun at us, fear would alert us to react in some way. We might for example scream, start running away, finding someplace to cover ourselves, attack the possible shouter or even freeze out of fear.

Although acting sometimes out of fear could turn out in a positive outcome, there are several other times that fear based motivation does not seem to work that good.

Fear Based Motivation in Workplace Environment

colleagues in workspace working on their laptops
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Fear used to be a well-known practice in workplace environments, and in some cases it still is. It was a common belief that managers had to evoke fear in their employees in order to achieve better performance, faster and better results.

Employees out of fear of losing their job or being replaced to a specific position by someone else would strive themselves to make it happen. But what would the outcome be for an employee if he / she had to work constantly in an environment that is based in this kind of fear?

This kind of working environment is absolutely toxic and negative and nobody would be willing to spend his / her life in one. It is the kind of environment that actually inspires people to escape from.

This fear based tactics might provide short term results but long term the employees would be unhappy, full of stress and negativity and they will possibly deal with burnout. Fear could lead employees to panic, loss of their creativity and imagination and loss of their ability to learn.

Employees sooner or later would decide to explore their options and realize that there are also other choices available.

Unfortunately, hardly ever, employers understand that their tactic is wrong. They usually think that it was something that employees did wrong and that is why they decide to leave.

“There is a quarter century of research that shows how people feel at work has a direct and powerful influence on how they perform.”

Sigal Barsade

Fear Based Motivation for Better Health

women running aiming for better health
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We all know stories of people who found out that their health is in danger if they continue smoking, continue having an unhealthy lifestyle, eating junk food and don’t exercising at all. In some cases they might even have had a near death experience, like a stroke or had to fight with cancer and finally recovered.

People who go through something like this, at least at the beginning, are passionate about changing their lifestyle and do what it takes to protect themselves. Out of fear of what might happen if they don’t they start exercising, watching after their diet and quit all their bad habits.

Fear in this case works as a motivator, and works well enough to start doing good things for themselves for few weeks or even months. But only that. Fear is an effective motivator for short term period while results only come long term.

Fear alone is not able to inspire motivation in long term and that is because fear when lasts for too long tires you and makes you want to give up on your goals.

Alternative Approaches to Fear Based Motivation

1. Hope

The “if you don’t do this you will get fired” could be easily replaced with “If you have this ready on time you might get a bonus – a raise – a promotion”. The first sentence evokes fear which results to negativity and stress. The second sentence evokes hope which results to positive emotions. Hope can breed happiness and confidence.

word hope written in caligraphic letters
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2. Love

 While fear might put you on the move to start something it will not help you keep going. Love on the other hand could prove to be the fuel that can keep the motive alive and help you keep moving. Quitting a bad habit because you love yourself and want the best for him is healthier than quitting it because you are afraid of a stroke, cancer or bad body looks.

woman doing heart sign indicating love
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3. Joy and Pleasure

Whatever it is that you use fear to motivate you try to find something that actually offers you joy and find pleasure in it. If the fear of bad health motivates you to exercise, find a form of exercise that you enjoy like dancing or even just walking. If you need to start eating healthier discover healthy foods that you like, yes there are some of those! 

Doing something out of fear or just because we have to will never offer us the passion needed to stay committed. Only if you start enjoying the changes in your life you will keep them long term.

choose joy coulourfull text
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Conclusion

Fear is necessary to motivate you to protect yourself in case of danger, but fear is not a good motive when it comes to life goals or career goals. For long term goals fear based motivation sets you in a condition of constant fear and stress that could harm your body and mind.

Fear based motivation is strongly related to negative thinking. This means that is focused on the wrong thing or on what could go wrong. This kind of thinking prevents us from looking at the bright side of things, at what is right or what might go great.

We are afraid of the outcome while we could anticipate for it. Things might go wrong, but things might also go great. Why should we focus on the negative and not see the bigger picture instead?

“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”

William James

If you liked this post you might also like to read my post about negative thoughts or my post on how to overcome fears.

I would like to read your thoughts on this. Have you ever used fear based motivation for a long term goal? How did it go?

inspirational quote about fears and dreams
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66 thoughts on “Why Fear Is a Bad Motivation Choice

  1. Okay first up, wonderful topic. Secondly, amazing blog post structure. Third, I totally agree. When people say to operate from abundance and not scarcity, they mean this, and not operating from a standpoint of fear. There’s always different ways to look at the same problem. Just exercising will reveal that. The before and after difference of looking at the same problem after exercise as massive. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    • Thank you Stuart! Really appreciate your words 🙂 The way we decide to look at everything changes the way we feel about them and the results we get. Thank you for this great comment!

  2. Such a great post, thank you for sharing. Making decisions based on fear will rarely lead to the best outcome for you. Life is meant to be lived outside the comfort zone. I for one condone making decisions through joy and excitement. Life is far too short to not have fun!

    • 🙂 I totally agree but I cannot ignore choices made out of fear. I can evaluate the outcome and identify they were wrong but when made they usually seem right or in some cases the only solution. This is why I took some time to write about it. Mostly because I needed to understand myself how it works short term and why it does not work long term. Thank you for your comment <3

  3. Ok! I totally agree with this post. Fear is a totally bad motivator and I couldn’t sound that enough! So many people tend to do things out of fear but the truth is doing something out of fear will most definitely not allow you reach your goals because fear is not enough to inspire long term motivation. I have never made fear my motivation to get things done as that concept has never sitten well with me. I’m glad I have found someone on the same page as me lol. Thank you so much for sharing x

    • I am glad we are on the same page Ruth! Fear is the worst advisor and the worst long term motivator. Thank you for reading and sharing your opinion about it 🙂

  4. Fear as a motivator is definitely not something that improves our lives. Fear is a useful emotion, it has its purposes, but making decisions or life choices based on it is not going to help us succeed. I really appreciate the alternatives you’ve provided as they all help nourish us and build a mindset that priorities our mental, emotional and physical health. Life is hard enough without literally living in fear. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective — really informative!

    • Totally agree with you Molly! “life is hard enough without literally living in fear”, if we also lived in fear we wouldn’t be able to survive, definitely not for long. Thank you for this thorough comment!

  5. For a long time I was constantly fearful. I was constantly fearful that I was going to fail. I finally realized that its okay to fail its okay to make mistakes. I did not blog for a long time because of fear. Its good to replace fear with hope. Hope for a better future and hope that things will be better.

    • Indeed, fear paralyzes and long term does not offer anything. It is ok if we fail and it is ok if we make mistakes. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  6. When fear is the driving factor, the information used to make my decisions have been “wrong-headed”. In most cases, fear does not bring positive outcomes. Thanks for sharing positive alternatives.

    • In some cases it might be “right-headed” but even for those fear cannot work as a motive to do something ling term. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  7. I agree with this 🙂 fear might work in some situations, but not this one. I think you need a supportive environment to stay motivated because sometimes people mess up and that’s normal 🙂

  8. I completely agree and have experienced how fear is a poor motivator when I was in the process of quitting smoking. I knew it was bad for my health and feared the long term effects, but I failed at every attempt to quit until I fell in love with running. Love for running and the desire to be able to run better is what got me to be dedicated to giving up smoking.

    • Really happy to know about that Scott and I am glad you managed to quit smoking! Love is so powerful and the fact that you actually enjoy running is a great motive. Thank you for reading and sharing your personal experience on it 🙂

  9. Such an amazing & relevant topic.

    I’ve worked in places like this and it must stop. Surely after the pandemic, we’ve all learnt to be kind to one another? Here’s hoping.

    I want everyone in a management position to read this.

    • I have also worked in places like this and is one of the reasons I wanted to write this post. Pandemic made us all re evaluate our lives and our priorities. I am so glad you liked this post. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  10. This is an excellent topic and really well written post! I couldn’t agree with your more. And I definitely answered yes to one of the questions you raised at first. I love the alternatives you give instead – hope is pretty powerful.

    • I am glad you found it interesting and you liked it. Fear not only is a bad motive but also is a bad advisor.It was good to hear your opinion on it. Thank you 💕

  11. This is an interesting and thought-provoking post! I used to smoke more than 30 years ago but quit after a health scare and never looked back. So I definitely had the motivation and the desire to quit forever. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I agree! I think negative emotions no longer need to be present to motivate people to do things especially in the work environment!

    • Fear motivation in work environment is something that I lived with for a long period of time and is something that I definitely no longer want to live with. Thank you for taking time to read and comment 🙂

  13. Couldn’t agree more with you. Fear is such a crippling feeling and physically makes me ill. Negative emotions are an absolute demotivator, never a motivator. I feel so much more motivated when I am reaffirmed, have a positive and support environment.

    Lovely post!

  14. The problem with hope based motivation is that if you’re offering false hope, that’ll backfire too. So if you say, if you do this you “might” get a bonus but never do, you’re just building up resentment in the people you’ve manipulated with false hope motivation

    • You are right! I couldn’t agree more. I have lived both, fear based motivation and false hope. The big difference is that false hope motivation creates dissapointment and denial to the person. The fear causes stress and panic. Both suck, no argument on that. But constant fear makes you sick. Thank you for pointing this out!

  15. There are two sides to almost everything. Like you said fear based motivation helps in health issues too. But also, for me, the first few points on threats translating in fear, I would relate annoyance than fear, personally i said. But how to overcome fear with the positives and facts of joy is the true calling. Very thoughtful read as always. Xx
    Isa A. Blogger
    https://www.lifestyleprism.com/

  16. I really enjoyed this post… loved how you put fear and motivation in the same sentence, it makes you wonder how but it’s good when explained it perfectly well. Also great tips on what to say to instead of using fear as motivation. Thanks for sharing

  17. This is a great post. I learnt so much about fear and bod motivation. I know that I have experience some of these bad motivations. I will need to try some of the tips in the future.

  18. I fear everything and it’s stopping me from doing/ achieving so much 🙁 fear of failure, fear of people’s opinion, fear of not being good enough or legitimate… etc etc
    Thanks for this post x

  19. I completely agree, fear isn’t a good motivator. It may get some work to be done but it can cause negative thinking. I would have fear of failing a class and that would motivate me, all it did was cause me to worry a lot. Great post! xx

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