You probably have heard about B.F Skinner (the legendary behaviorist) and how he used food pellets to motivate his rats but there’s something you don’t know. Those rats were, in fact, starved to 3/4th of their body weight. No wonder they worked for food.
Skinner’s rats are a bit oversimplified but, nonetheless, you can usually get rats to do many sorts of things like pressing levers and running through mazes and they don’t have to be that hungry for doing that.
One of the things you can do to get an estimate about the rat’s motivation is you can tie a little spring to his tail and see how hard he pulls when he is going for that food pallet, because that is how much work he is willing to do to get that food.
Now you might ask – How motivated is a hungry rat?
The answer is it depends on how hungry he is. But another answer is – it depends on what’s chasing it while he is running to the food!
So suppose you have a rat over here and some food over there and you waft in some cat odour from behind (rats are terrified by cat odour), the rat will zoom to that food pellet a lot faster than it will if it’s just hungry.
In short, a rat who’s running away from something that it doesn’t want towards something that is does want is the most motivated rat.
This idea of terror avoidance as a tool of motivation is a pretty harsh idea, full of suffering, but it is also very useful at the same time. One of the things you regularly observe in people is that they are trying to move towards some kind of goal that they have. And then … they stop! They are afraid of what they might encounter and when they have to face their fears, they stop. And that’s totally understandable, because their goal and their fear are both in front of them but unfortunately negative emotions are much more powerful than positive emotions. So the negative emotion of fear stops them and the positive emotion of reward cannot get them to move forward.
Let me present the alternative approach: Do not face your fears, instead, let them chase you.
Now the question is – how do you do that?
When you are trying to make a difficult life decision, you weigh out the pros and cons of making that decision.
*BEEP BEEP* That’s an incomplete analysis!
One thing you’re not doing is weighing out the pros and cons of ‘not’ making that decision – and that’s where real motivation lies. Because sometimes, the consequences of not making a decision are much more catastrophic and terrifying than the consequences of making that decision.
You can say things like, “I’ll avoid smoking because it will surely improve my public image” (seeking a positive end) but it’s not a powerful as, “I’ll avoid smoking because if I don’t, I’m surely going to end up with a cancer and die a painful death” (avoiding a negative end).
So this is how you let your fears chase you, gentlemen, by contemplating the worst possible outcome you can get from doing or not doing something. Next time someone tells you to face your fears, don’t fall into the trap and stay motivated. Later!