Take Your Motivational Pulse by Identifying the Mmmm and Stress Factors

Following Through, Understanding Emotions

If you’ve been following my work, you know that I advocate pursuing all goals on the basis of “motivation by love,” not “motivation by fear,” because it’s the only kind of motivation that can lead you to consistent success over the long-term.

That’s great in theory, but how do you ensure that in practice? One way is to use a method I learned from P.J. Eby that involves taking your own motivational pulse. He has you look for both “Mmmm” and “Stress” Factors. Once you know what is motivating you right now, you can take steps to align your motivation with values (love) rather than threats (fear). As usual, I am presenting his method, but giving my own explanation for it. I’ll explain it with an example:

Suppose you have a goal to send out a job query today, but you are stalling or stuck on it. This is your signal that you are in some kind of conflict, and would benefit from taking your motivational pulse.

First consider whether there is stress associated with this task. Ask yourself, “how will I feel if I don’t get this query out today?” Then pause and observe how you feel.

If you remain calm and neutral, that means you are not feeling pressured about the query. It would not be the end of the world if it went out tomorrow. You are not stressed. That is a good thing. That means you are not being driven by fear, which will shut down your creative juices and make the query letter much more difficult to write.

On the other hand, if you feel a knot in the pit of your stomach, or your heart tighten (or any other negative affect), you are stressed about this task. That stress needs to be neutralized in some way so that you can regain full mental functioning. That is crucial if you are to send out a decent query letter without tying yourself up in knots.

How do you neutralize it? First and foremost, you need to introspect this negative emotion so you can be completely clear on the issue. What is it you’re fearing? What is the threat looming over you, causing this stress? The nature of the threat determines your next step.

Sometimes the threat is very serious. Perhaps you are desperate to get this particular job, because if this particular job doesn’t come through, you are going to be evicted from your apartment. News flash: if you are counting on getting some specific job to avoid being evicted, you may not be fully accepting the real threat of eviction. You may not be protecting your quality of life sufficiently. Giving yourself permission to experience the real fear around that can help you accept the facts, and motivate you to take much more dramatic preventative action. Maybe you need to get a job at McDonald’s.

Keeping a huge fear out of awareness takes a huge amount of mental energy that could be used for dealing with the threat. Many colossal mistakes can trace their origins to pushing the fear out of awareness until it was unavoidable. Looking for the “stress” factor can help you avoid a tragedy.

On the other hand, sometimes the threat is minor. Maybe you feel stress about sending the query because you aren’t exactly sure what to put in it. As a result, your emotional system is anticipating it will be hard to write. But in fact, this is just a minor obstacle. If you do a few minutes of thinking about what should go in, or you do a little research on the web, you can get the clarity you need to write the letter effectively.

In short, when you accept the negative emotions and identify the threat explicitly, you can then see what value is threatened, and how best to adjust your approach to get the value accomplished.

But this will work if you also have the “Mmmm” factor in place. You tell whether you have the “Mmmm” factor by visualizing completing the goal. Imagine you have sent the query letter. Do you feel a warm glow? Are you excited and pleased? Or are you unmoved?

You need that Mmmm factor to move forward. On a practical level, you need positive motivation to help you over any hump. It’s the future payoff that motivates any uncomfortable short-term effort that may be needed to achieve an ambitious goal. At a deeper level, an “Mmmm” factor is evidence that the task is tied to some value of importance to you. You do not feel positive emotions unless some value of yours is at stake.

So, if you are unmoved by the thought of success, you need to validate the importance of this task to you. Why is this on your “to do” list if it isn’t something that you care about? What would be the positive payoff? Logic can help you identify the causal consequences of acting. Find the consequence that triggers the Mmmm factor, and you’ll know why you are taking this action, and be motivated to move forward.

The bottom line: You need to activate the Mmmm factor and disarm the stress factor in order to feel effortlessly motivated to do a task. If you take your motivational pulse, you can then adjust your motivation to slip into action.

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