Use Fear To Motivate Yourself

Fear is powerful. We all know it.

It is the most effective behavior-controlling emotion, but usually it’s not in a good way. We can change that by changing what it is that we fear.

Knowing that fear is a deterrent – that is, you run away from polar bears, not towards them – it would make sense to be afraid of something that chases you towards something good, right?

polar bears enjoy chasing you towards success

Over the last few months I’ve been working on a secret project. It’s something I’m very excited about, but that certainly didn’t stop me from getting lazy about it. I got off track one day and it turned into two months (I won’t admit it if it was longer than this :-)). Not good. I was in danger of losing it.

Fear saved me from losing it!

One day in my procrastination, I was struck with fear – but it was a good kind of fear. I came to the realization that this project (which is on “dream road”), was in serious peril. This fear pushed me to start again and I’m back on track now.

Pick A Fear…Any Fear

I have always heard negative things about fear, but it was surprising how it helped me. It made me wonder – what if people were most afraid of things like…

Not changing the world
Not getting in shape
Not living the dream

Fear powerfully shoves us in the opposite direction, so you’d find yourself really trying to change the world, get in shape, and live your dream. These are the things in life to fear, because they matter.

Some might wonder if the fear would freeze them instead of motivate them. That depends on a subtle difference – is your fear that you can’t accomplish these things or that you won’t? The healthy fear is that you won’t do what you want, even though you know it is very possible. When you fear your very ability to do something, you lack the confidence and you’ll freeze in self-doubt.

To use fear for motivation:

  1. Reecognize your vast potential (all humans have ridiculous potential)
  2. Be terrified that you’re not on track to reach it.

This technique kills apathy and challenges you. Ironically, it can be more motivating than reward-based motivation. It provokes you to protect your self-image and live with more purpose. You’ll be on a mission to make your life the way you’ve imagined it.

When we see the glimmering trophy at the end of a path and still settle for less…

When we’re slowly sputtering towards our dreams and running out of fuel…

When we aren’t burning with passion for life…

We become polar bears on thin ice. We need to be scared because polar bears weigh more than 1000 pounds. But good news! The resulting fear will motivate us to find solid ground and a seal to eat.

polar bear girl

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Georgia Smith

Good article! I’m so glad you talked about both can’t and won’t, it’s something that heaps of bloggers forget to cover these days. I love that your posts are always even-handed 🙂

Stephen Guise

I suppose that’s better than ham-handed. 🙂

Thanks Georgia! I appreciate your comments.

Kickstart Your Change

Thanks for this – I agree: “Ironically, it can be more motivating than reward-based motivation. It provokes you to protect your self-image and live with more purpose. You’ll be on a mission to make your life the way you’ve imagined it.”

People often overestimate the power of rewards — particularly extrinsic rewards like money, status, etc.

I also like this exercise from Sebastian Marshall:

Imagine a vivid, beautiful picture of a life you want. But then…

I imagine losing it all by being too lazy and procrastinating, or being too afraid to take the large-scale action required to get there.

I imagine already having it, and then watching it slowly dissolve and be lost because I wouldn’t do what I’m capable of doing, I wouldn’t do what it takes.

Paint a picture so beautiful I can taste it, I can feel it, I’ve got it – and then I lose it if I don’t do the action that’s required.

Stephen Guise

That’s a really excellent exercise! We already know from studies that losses hurt more than gains feel good, so it makes sense that we respond better to fear.

I like how you do it personally – to vividly picture your dream life (which is where most advice stops) and THEN see it slipping away. The typical advice is to picture the dream and focus on how good it would feel to obtain it.

Thanks a lot for sharing that.

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