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How to Avoid Motivating Yourself to an Early Grave
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Mike Bundrant of the iNLP Center.
During my high stress years as an executive in corporate America, my least favorite part of the day was hearing the alarm clock go off in the morning. Getting up to face a new day of tough work challenges and even tougher office politics wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for me. So, I needed a little extra motivation to put my feet on the floor and head for the coffee pot. How did I do it? Easy. I scared the hell out of myself.
Here’s the scenario. I am awakened from sweet slumber by the alarm clock. Naturally, I hit the snooze button. It goes off again five minutes later. You know the deal. Snooze. Alarm. Snooze. Alarm. Snooze. As I keep this up, an image begins to grow in my mind of the consequences of being late for my morning meetings. With each passing moment, the pressure increases until I am imagining the utter embarrassment of being 30 minutes late to a meeting that I am supposed to facilitate. Soon, I am witnessing my whole career flash before my eyes. With a shot of pure adrenaline, I bolt out of bed, bypass the coffee and rush to save my job.
You can imagine after a few years of this “negative outcome” motivational style, my adrenal glands were not happy. Burn out was inevitable. We all know the side effects of high stress – a lower immune system, poor sleep, high blood pressure, heart disease – I could go on.
The question is, how do you motivate yourself to climb your personal mountains while remaining chilled out? The prompt to move, get going and get something done, for many, seems antithetical to being at ease. It makes more sense that calls to action are driven by urgency. To the body, urgency equals stress. At first glance, stress-free motivation seems antithetical to this primal aspect of human nature.
Zen motivation changes the equation. Essentially, Zen motivation allows you to enjoy a grounded, present and peaceful state of being while remaining motivated to get things done. The secret lies in staying connected to the outside world.
Do this little experiment to begin to understand the power of Zen motivation. It is best done with a paper and pencil at hand, but not required.
Think of something you are having a hard time motivating yourself to do, such as work, exercise, balancing your checkbook, scheduling a tough meeting, etc. If you can, write the name of the task down in the middle of a piece of paper.
As you consider the task, notice the various thoughts you have about it and the physical feelings or tensions you’re experiencing. Write them down, too, if you can. For example, “I can’t do it” or “I hate doing it” or “I just have to get this done” or “Come on, Mike!” or “Tension in chest and shoulders.” Write freely for a minute or so and don’t censor yourself.
Now, shake all that off and clear your mind.
Next, get into a more present, grounded state by tuning into an environmental sound, such as the sound of distant traffic, the hum of your computer (or the white noise of a fan, refrigerator, running water, etc…). Don’t try to relax yourself on purpose - just tune into some mundane, repetitive sound. Keep listening to this sound until you feel settled.
Once settled, reconsider the task you need to get done. Write it down on a clean sheet of paper and notice the thoughts and feelings that come to your mind and body. Do you notice the difference?
Considering what needs to be done from a Zen-like state has built in motivation. When we are connected to the environment and grounded in the present moment, unless there is real, physical danger, there is nothing to resist. We do what needs to be done without making a big deal about it.
With Zen motivation, we remain calm and connected, not stressed out, as we go about our business. The “urgent” matters of the day stop feeling like emergencies and fall into place as high priorities that we can attend to right away, but without the emotional urgency that causes all the stress. The key is connecting to the environment. Of course, sound is one way to do this. There are many others.