Check your motivations

Check your motivations
Photo by Christian Lue / Unsplash

Have you seriously considered why you are doing what you’re doing? Your motivations are likely complicated - there's probably a cocktail of reasons behind it. Either way, thinking through and rationalising big decisions is essential instead of being on autopilot or going with the herd.

Before starting on that next project, job or phase… check your motivations for doing it. Why? Not all incentives are created equally. Consider if you’re being driven by negative energy or positive energy. Depending on the situation and the reasons - there can be disastrous outcomes.

What is Negative energy? Below are examples of negative energy (non-exhaustive):

  1. Jealousy
  2. Doubt
  3. Fear
  4. Anxiety
  5. Desperation
  6. ...

Negative energy is not always bad; it can and is best used for the short-term. Our mind is hardwired to use fear to help us survive. In the past, our ancestors would feel fear when we encountered a dangerous situation, for example - meeting a tiger in the wild, to get us out of the way quickly and safely. Negative energy is very effective in helping us avoid disaster in the short term. We use fear of a dateline to jolt us into finishing that last-minute assignment. Negative energy can be used to achieve positive outcomes.

However, I argue that the more prolonged and frequent the task, the more it should not be driven by negative energy. I’ll elaborate on the reasons below:

Firstly, negative energy, especially fear, is highly emotional. The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes emotions and is built for quick responses to save us from sticky situations. However, it might not always result in the best outcomes. It often results in short-term thinking to quickly resolve the issue and produces harmful consequences. Being emotional isn’t bad; there is a time and place for it. However, if the task requires logical thought, using the emotional brain isn’t very effective. If your activity requires creative thinking -  you shouldn't use negative energy to fuel you. When we are scared, our fight or flight response gets activated; who can be creative when we are about to die? Instead, we want to utilise the prefrontal cortex for logical, creative, long-term goals.

Secondly, negative energy is unsustainable and results in burnout and chronic tiredness if left unchecked. When we meet a “tiger”, our heart rate increases, we start to perspire cold sweat, digestion stops, and our body excretes adrenaline. All these physical phenomena help us have a slight boost to get us out of the “dangerous” situation. However, this isn’t sustainable in the long term. Being paranoid stops you from having a good night's sleep (which causes many other problems), you want a healthy digestive system, and you want to utilise glucose sustainably.  

Yea, sure, If I know I’m running on negative energy, I will just change it.

The tricky thing is that sometimes it is unclear what motivates us. Firstly, we often don't even think about why we are doing something, which is fine for most things, but for items that we often do, and with significant consequences, we need to seriously consider why we are doing them. Secondly, even if we think about our motivations, we often lie to ourselves about our true motivations. Usually, there's a cocktail of reasons for action. Some of them are positive energy, and some of them are negative energy. The positive motivations shield our negative ones, and we tell ourselves a narrative saying we are doing things for good and downplaying the darker motivations. If you're not careful, it can be a slippery slope where the negative reasons can overwhelm the positive ones, and you find yourself questioning why you're doing something in the first place.

The other tricky situation is the fine line between positive and negative energy. It is easy to confuse the 2 of them. Hustle culture is an example of this. Yes, the end result is usually good economically. This mindset is encouraged and celebrated in our capitalistic society. However, the basis of it comes from a place of lacking something. We will never stop wanting more and will not feel fulfilled with this mindset. I argue that over the long term, we should be contented and doing ______ (insert activity) because we simply want to and are fueled by positive motivations. If possible, we need to feel like we already have everything we need at this exact moment. In conclusion, negative energy can be justified, and it might be confused with positive; carefully consider if they are truly sustainable and virtuous.  

What should we do instead?

  1. Seriously consider our motivations if you haven’t so
  2. If negative motivations exist - address and clear them from memory. Potentially use a forgiveness exercise as you’re a generous person (I will write another article on this).
  3. Shift negative motivations to positive motivations if it benefits your situation (which most likely does)

Some examples of positive energy  (non-exhaustive, to be added as I come across more):

  1. Care
  2. Passion
  3. Intrinsic Confidence
  4. Charity
  5. ....

Let me know if any part is wrong! I am sharing what I have learnt from others. Thanks!