Negative Motivators are DESTROYING Americans

Banner Photo By John Silliman


Podcast Script Below

By Dave Nelson, Founder at Milestone Mind

June 13, 2017

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.
— Thomas Paine

I had just joined this new company, and was having my first one-on-one with my new boss. I was drawn to him in a lot of ways, and found his servant leadership style incredibly appealing and used his approach as inspiration for my management style years later when I was building sales a team in New England and Canada.

We would meet often, and talk about a range of topics from personal to professional, the past and the future. He was often kind and insightful, but as I got to know him more, and saw behind the curtain, I found he was highly conservative, and did not paint outside of the lines - definitely not my style, as I am a bit of a rebel at heart.

We found ourselves in a conversation one day, and the notion of my major came up from college, as he didn't recall what I had majored in, and just presumed it was business.

When I told him my focus was Anthropology and Sociology, he seemed as though he threw up in his mouth a little, gasped for air, as in (how did we let this guy in the door), composed himself, and said with a sheepish laughter, "that's a throw-away major." 

Being young in my career, I nervously laughed it off, and got on with my day. During my early days as a working professional, I sometimes did wonder, though, "was that a throw-away major?" 

Over the years, I am convinced it has become anything but that, and a topic evermore important for the state of our country and the world today.

When Thomas Paine, one of the major authors of our democracy and a man who lived during the founding of America when the population had much higher concentrations of Native Indians, was asked about his opinion of human happiness, he often had a blunt response in direct opposition to that of modern civilization, which is somewhat of a paradox given his position in forming the democracy we have today.

In 1795, he would exclaim, "Whether (modern) civilization has most promoted or most injured the general happiness of man is a question that may be strongly contested." He went on to say, "Both the most affluent and the most miserable of the human race are to be found in countries that are called civilized."

There is a lot of talk today about human happiness, particularly in America, and how to 'be happy.'

I heard a podcast recently, and the guest was a coach from NYC. She was gloating about a new technique that supposedly was having tremendously positive effects for her clients: punishment as a motivator.

I was appalled when I heard this, and felt infuriated that this poison was being broadcasted out to people, who for all of the right reasons, are seeking information that can help them in their lives.

I couldn't believe this person was using this technique and exclaiming its success. She couldn't have been more wrong as it pertains to the science of motivation, and what actually sustains motivation over the long-term. 

Negative motivators, such as punishment, encapsulate close to 95% of American's lives today. These are any activities we do because we have to, ought to, or should do, and so forth and not because we'd like to or desire to.

The motivation continuum is much more than just being 'motivated' or 'not motivated' as we often here about others or ourselves. But, the second piece of either statement is always left out, and that is how come they are motivated or not motivated.

The continuum moves from the far left, where amotivation lives (motivation doesn't exist), to the far right where intrinsic motivation lives, in which case the person loves the activity and is highly motivated to do it. 

There are four additional motivation types moving away from amotivation to intrinsic motivation, and they are all classified as extrinsic, meaning, the activity is done because of what the activity produces, not for the activity itself.

For instance, you may perform a task because if you do not, there are punishments - these types of activities are called external motivators (i.e., see suggestion above on punishment) and has shown in several studies to greatly diminish motivation for those particular activities over time. Check out Ryan and Deci's work from the University of Rochester.

It could be how you are approaching homework for instance, or even your lifestyle, as in, if I do not change, I will get yelled at or a bad grade. So, the reason for the activity is to avoid punishment.

Unfortunately, with most negative motivators, it has shown that the paradox of the intended outcome of the event is what usually results. So, lifestyle changes do not happen and you get the poor grade after all. 

If you move to the next extrinsic motivator, you enter what is called Introjection Motivation and this classifies someone doing a particular activity because of ego, but even more, validation of the ego from others.

Mostly you perform the action because you want other people to validate you. Again, this form of motivation has shown that your desire for such activity will significantly diminish over time, and you find yourself either burned out, ill or performing the activity poorly.

As you continue to move across the spectrum, you start to get closer to intrinsic motivation, moving next to what is called Identification Motivation, where you perform the activity because it is in line with your authentic value system and beliefs (why people might partake in endurance races, for example, and how, although painful in of itself, it expressed traits and beliefs about that person that they can non-verbally display for people through the race itself).

To then moving to Integration Motivation, where you have created motivation towards an activity that is in line with your goals and desires. To finally reaching Intrinsic Motivation where the activity is entirely satisfying and meets all of your needs.

The most important aspect to understand about the motivation continuum is that your motivation towards the activity will substantially increase the more intrinsically aligned it is to you and decrease the further away it gets from Intrinsic Motivation, to ultimately not being motivated at all on the far left.

Being in both the fitness and mindset industries, I have found that many people I help initially have discovered that the bulk of the activities they do, turns out, almost all of them sit entirely on the extrinsic continuum. Two major points to call out here: first, itis not totally their fault as in a lot of cases we've never been educated about motivation at large and why and how we do things. But, next, this is a pandemic problem for many people today, specifically in America because many of the tasks and things we do on a day-to-day basis are because we have to, ought, should, need to and so forth, and generally, do the activity because we are moving away from some form of punishment, in most cases that being of perceived failure, instead of moving towards success and satisfaction.

The former is a negative motivation approach, and the latter is a positive motivation approach. Negative motivators for healthy activities also sabotage motivation. For instance, negative self-talk, which goes hand-in-hand with extrinsic motivation, can significantly diminish one's desire for that activity, even if it turns out to be enjoyable and good for them. People will again use terms like 'I need to, I have to, I should,' and then, of course, the obvious ones, being 'I can't,' 'not now,' 'sometime soon,' and 'so forth.' 

They will also use dictation language, where they think talking to themselves negatively or is if they are a drill instructor will motivate them. Studies show this is completely false and does not work.

Lastly, people see only outcomes and become overwhelmed, so just never get started. Instead of seeing day-to-day steps that will inevitably lead to a positive outcome, most likely better than the one initially imagined.

There is a catch to all of this, though, and that's what we want to talk about now.

Simply how you approach an activity, and the belief you build around it, is first, a choice, and second, how and why you are motivated to do such an activity. And, that it should be noted that not everything we do will be wholly intrinsically motivated, however, life can not be completely extrinsically motivated, either, as it is for the majority of Americans, if one seeks to have fulfillment and be satisfied.

I am here to say, extrinsic only motivation, will not provide intrinsic satisfaction if that is the case for your life. Study upon study will show this. And a major point to re-iterate, ego involvement and doing activities solely for the approval from others (Introjection Motivation), paradoxically sits more left on the extrinsic motivation continuum than the other extrinsic motivators, meaning, you actually close to hate or resent the activity you're doing but continue to do it for ego and approval, thinking these things are the only path to a successful life; they are not. Or, you recognize this, but don't change for fear of failure.

If we just look at this objectively, and not philosophically, forcing oneself to do something, that deep down they despise, even if subconsciously, will have a tremendously negative effect on psychological health. It's not to say certain activities or choices fall into this category, but these extrinsic activities should not be the majority of your life, as they are today for many, unfortunately in our society.

A couple of staggering statistics that bring this notion front and center include seeing both the mortality and mental health diagnosis rates incline steadily amongst, most notably, middle age white men between 45-54. This is incredibly telling. This has been thoroughly studied by researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton.

They theorized that, since 1999, it is because we had a shrinking working class society having men turn to despair, alcohol and drugs as alternatives, but upon further research, there was no discrepancy between wealthy and non-wealthy white men from this study - both groups were seeing significant inclines, so their findings were somewhat inconclusive.

To theorize on these findings with my opinion based on my studies in sociology and psychology, there are several factors at play, including the notion of lack of social meaning, and the acceptance of and support for victimhood, and the wide-spread use of negative motivators, something victimhood only perpetuates.

In Sebastian Junger's fascinating book, "Tribe," he denotes much of what people have been experiencing is a denying of certain biological factors that are inherent to men and women, but that are rarely met in many individuals's 9-5 jobs, today. He expressed our states of being are heavily influenced by three primary things: our experiences, our environment, and our endocrine systems. 

One major point he makes, as supported by Israeli ethicist Austin Dacey, is the lack of shared public meaning has caused significant social despair. Not shared corporate meaning, not shared even family meaning, but rather shared public meaning. That we join in arms with our fellow human for something that matters to the world in a meaningful way. We do our part.

As an example, the military for some serves this need, however, when veterans come home, Junger points out that they are thrust into a society who has chosen to put the blinders on, and thus have close to no sense of this public meaning amongst today's American community. So naturally, we seek to gain this state of mind in alternative ways, that unfortunately have proven to be incredibly self-destructive.

Of course, military and war are not the only way shared public meaning is found. Young men and women find it in sports, but often ends there for many. It can also be found in day-to-day life by creating purpose that the work we do every day shares the common good of man, not always the common good of the bottom line or stock prices. 

But, how come this shared public meaning has strayed so far from modern society? 

Going off of a notion found in Junger's findings, I believe it is due to Victimhood, which is brought on by negative motivators, the latter of which I am going to focus.

So before we continue to paint this picture of doom and gloom, I am actually going to propose a straight-forward solution to negative motivators. 

And it's that we create positive motivators in our lives, and if that we can find purpose and meaning in our lives as individuals first, it is only natural that shared social meaning will find its way into the broader society, thus creating that shared sense of purpose and meaning we desire as humans, non-violently that Austin Dacey attests.

Let's give this a try. I want you to make the following statements, and let me know which one gives you more satisfaction and sense of belief, conviction, and purpose, and that maybe these are things you would want to get behind. The desired outcome is the same; the motivation is different:

Outcome One:
1.  I should be healthier.
2. I want to he healthier.

Outcome Two:
1. We should have the best public school systems in the world.
2. We'd like to have the best public school systems in the world.

Outcome Three:
1. We can't suffer decline.
2. We desire to experience incline.

Outcome Four:
1. I need to pass this exam.
2. I desire to pass this exam.

Outcome Five:
1. I need to diet to lose weight and not die.
2. I'd like to change my diet to improve my well-being and thrive.

I have some homework for you. Any time you find a negative motivator settling in, be it with why and how your motivated or how you self-talk, catch yourself, think about how to reframe it to a positive motivator, or maybe how it can become an activity that creates intrinsic motivation, I believe that you will be satisfied with the results.

All motivation and even victimhood seek to create meaning from circumstances, however, for many, it is not the meaning they are hoping for (which for humans tends to be real pleasure and satisfaction) when significant extrinsic and negative motivators are at play. 

Unfortunately, the latter only provides artificial and fleeting pleasure and satisfaction, and diminished motivation at that.

Four years ago I was interviewed once by my alma mater, and they asked me the question, "you were a liberal arts major and are now in business, what gives?" 

The question was kind-hearted, and in favor of liberal arts education, but I found myself answering with "business is about people," (of course, so is society as a whole) and went on to say, I search to find the answer to the question "what motivates humans?" I've always been so fascinated by this question and striving to understand it. I was intrinsically motivated to answer this question, with thorough and thoughtful evidence, and upon reflection, not to manipulate people and be better at my job, but rather, because I cared about their happiness and satisfaction, and that my happiness depended on it. It was symbiotic happiness, and how I strived to lead and manage the team, I was responsible for, but not as a boss, rather as a member of this micro-egalitarian community we aimed to create within the broader context.

So now when I think back to my former boss who said sociology was a throw-away major, no matter how harmless the comment was aimed at being, I realize today, evermore, the vital importance of understanding, learning about and becoming a purveyor of human motivation and well-being for the world, and how a shared sense of healthy purpose is needed for everyone, myself included.