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

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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.

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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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How to Overcome Your Fears Through Daring Choices

Let me start this post with a personal story of mine.

The story begins almost 20 years ago. It was before I had my final exams to enter university. It was then that I had a bad accident and had to spend 3 months in hospital with my doctors questioning whether I would ever be as I used to be and whether I should ever walk again. It all happened around Christmas and my final exams to enter University were in June.

As you can easily understand, I was not in the condition to take those exams. However, I did. As expected I scored really low. I did not take those exams at the time because I thought that I might get a high score. I did it because honestly I was terrified that I might not even be able to get to the exam center. I was afraid that even if I finally got there, I might not be able to climb up the stairs to the first floor. That I wouldn’t be able to write at least those few things that I had managed to study, and that would happen because I would get too tired sitting on a chair for too long. My physical condition was really bad back then.

Once I finished the exam, I felt exhausted, but so happy for myself just because I did it. I went there, climbed up the stairs and took those exams. I could have decided  not to do it. I was excused. But at the time it felt like I would be giving up if I didn’t. It proved that even if my score was low I managed to be accepted in one school. It was of course one of my very last choices but it still was one school of my choice.

The school was “Landscape architecture” but I decided not to attend it. Lots of things would have been much different if I had attended it. But I didn’t. I decided to take the exams again next year, as I did, and entered a school that was my third choice. Computer Science and Digital Communications.

It was a year and a half after my accident, but I still hadn’t recovered completely. The school that I entered was 450 Km away from my home city. My parents were terrified even at the thought of me moving so far away. I was still in need of medication and medical supervision. Who would be cooking for me? Who would be looking after me?

Well, they were right. Moving so far away from home and living alone at the age of 18 and having all the issues I had at the time, ment only one thing. That there was nobody else to take care of me, but me.

I have to admit that at the beginning it was hard and scary. I knew nobody. I had never been to this big city before and I had no idea where everything was. I felt like the fish out of the water.

At this point I have to mention that in my home town is situated one of the biggest universities in the country. And as a matter of fact, it also has the same school I entered back then. The thing is that I never chose the school that was near. Not because it was not good enough for me, but because if I stayed I would not have become good enough for me.

All the schools I chose back then were at least 300 Km away. I wanted to challenge myself to do all those things that my parents were afraid of. I wanted to challenge myself to do all those things that I was terrified of.

There was a chance that they would prove right. There was a huge chance I would be unable to manage it on my own. It could have been a wrong decision, a mistake. Maybe I would have to give up and move back home. 

But I didn’t. I stayed there, I fought and finally made it. All by myself.

4 Steps to Overcome Your Fears

1. Identify the fear

What is that that is causing you fear? To me when I decided to take the exams for the first time was my bad physical and medical condition. The second time was the fear of the unknown. The fear that I will not make it on my own.

2. Identify the logic behind the fear

Is this fear a logical fear or something else? For me when I decided to take the exams for the first time I was afraid that I might collapse during the exams, but it was a logical fear since I was still in really bad condition. I also used to be afraid of heights but this is a phobia not the kind of fear I am talking about. My second fear, the fear of the unknown, had no actual logic behind it since if you think about it better every single day of our life includes the unknown.

3. Create a safety net

Let us be reasonable. I would never suggest you jump out of an airplane without a parachute. Even at the most daring choices you must have a little plan in case everything is fucked up. For my first fear of collapsing, what I made sure of was that I took my exams in a special examination center for kids with health issues. This meant that there was an ambulance in front of the building and a nurse inside each class, just in case something happened. It was a reasonable fear and had to deal with it accordingly. For my second fear I just believed a bit more in myself and showed some trust in the universe. Ah, and also tried to find doctors and health check centers within the first week I moved, also just in case…

4. Take that daring decision and trust yourself

Nobody knows if a fear can be left behind until they actually try! If you know what is that that you are afraid of and why you are afraid of it you can start creating your safety net. Once you are done just do it! Worst case scenario you will just fall on your safety net. Best case scenario …..Who knows?!

Looking back at my story I am so glad I made those choices. 

Yes, fear of the unknown is huge and always our decisions might turn out as big mistakes, but, what are we if we do not make mistakes? If we do not make hard decisions that might change our life forever? If we don’t push ourselves to our limits?

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain 

What about you?

What was the most daring choice you had to make in your life?