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Breaking Free of Limiting Motivators

What motivates you to excel at your job? What motivates you to pursue someone you are attracted to? What motivates you to workout and care for your body?

There is a lot of talk about what you should do and most guys I talk to have a pretty good idea of what they should do, but it is the motivation that is somehow problematic or not working for them.

So I'd like to point out a few of what I call "limiting motivators." These are motivations I see in myself and that I see in my clients. If I have any real understanding of these it is because I have worked with them before and likely still catch myself in them from time to time.

These are the motivators that will keep you from living a life of passion and purpose no matter how hard you try.

The first I call "punisher motivation." This is where I motivate myself by punishing myself for not being where I think I should be. This might manifest as thoughts like “Quit being such a lazy loser and get to the gym!” or “Stop procrastinating, and get that report complete!” This motivation tends to have the energy of 'suck it up' and “quit being such a…”.

To be honest, this motivation works fairly well. It can get you pretty far in life. It can get you into a decent career. It can get you decently fit. But it likely won't get you into your ideal job; it won't get you any real athletic achievement (if you are in competitive sports), and it definitely won't get you success in romantic relationships.

That's because this motivation is essentially driving yourself out of self-hatred, and to put it simply, it sucks. It is exhausting. It is the type of motivation that requires lots of recovery and takes a huge toll on your body and mind. Most any professional athlete will tell you that this type of motivation will not work for sports because it keeps you from really believing in yourself (usually the difference between being average and being great).

The “punisher motivator” also does not work in romantic relationships because it completely shuts you off from love. Indeed, it is in direct contradiction to love. If this is your primary motivator in life, feeling loved by someone else will feel like an attack on your toughness, drive, and sense of purpose in the world. To allow yourself to love would totally kill all motivation for you to do anything in life. It will be extremely difficult to open your heart to abundant love. It will be extremely difficult to cultivate deeply meaningful relationships.

Does this sound familiar?

The next limiting motivator I call "acceptance motivation". This is where I motivate myself by believing that, if I achieve a certain something, I will be accepted, loved, admired.

This motivation, again, is somewhat functional. Feeling lonely and unloved can be a hell of a motivator to get me off my butt and do something meaningful in the world. I might work to get a job that affords me to buy a house and a nice car which gains the approval of my friends and shows to a potential partner that I am a worthwhile investment.

But this type of motivation also has its built-in limiters. For one, it tends to create neediness and insecurity by making you dependent on other people for your sense of self-acceptance. When I catch myself "trying too hard" I'm usually in "acceptance motivation". In work or athletic pursuits, failure can feel like a near-death experience. In dating and relationships, it leads to insecurity, jealousy, and codependence because of the implicit not-enoughness.

If I'm doing something in order to be accepted, if I fail at it, then it feels like a rejection of who I am. Even if I succeed, it’s just reaching a sort of status quo that isn't deeply fulfilling.

So, what other options do we have?

There are many words for the type of motivation that I recommend, but for discussion's sake, I'll call it "passion motivation". This is when you work on something because you love it, when you pursue someone because you feel wonderful in their presence, when you do something because you are passionate about it.

In contrast to "punisher motivation", which is acting out of self-hatred, "passion motivation" is acting out of self-love. It is going to the gym because you love your body and want to cultivate and sculpt it. It is doing your best at work because you take joy in a job well done. It is creating the relationship of your dreams because you love the person you are with.

In contrast to "acceptance motivation" which is doing things so that you can be loved, "passion motivation" is doing things BECAUSE you are ALREADY loved. This motivation is generous and abundant. This motivation creates confidence and cool headedness in dating and caring, supportive relationships.

So, how do you cultivate "passion motivation"?

The first step is acknowledging that it is an option. I work with a lot of guys who never really gave it any credence. I talk to a lot of guys who sort of throw up their arms at the futility of all of their efforts. But if you are looking for it, there is a chance you will find it.

The next step is working to identify when you are in the other types of motivation.

The problem is that most of us have developed years of habitually motivating out of punishment and desire for acceptance. We have whole belief systems about who we are and how the world works that support these motivators. We have neuro-pathways that turn towards these limiting motivators unconsciously and without our control.

It can be tough to turn that boat around.

It takes time, reflection, and support. It requires an embodied sense of living from a place of passion and love (not just a concept in your mind).

So, what do you do?

My next tip is going to sound like an old boring platitude but stick with me and I'll give some new meaning.

Do what you love.

I know you have heard it before and it has probably lost all meaning, but think of it this way: Practice the act of motivating from a place of abundance and self-love. Do what you love because it is a way of training your brain to automatically respond in this way. Thus, you are not only building yourself towards a better 'you' - you are also having fun doing what you love.

Lastly, you might want to work with someone who can support you in your journey. This might be a coach or a therapist or a mentor. This would be someone who can provide much more than what a friend can provide. They would help you identify and break down those limiting beliefs and develop habits towards a life of passion and purpose.

I hope this was useful for you, and if you would like to learn more about my work and coaching, you can follow this link here.


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