Get Benefits from the Negative

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In weight lifting and many other exercises, you normally get benefits from lifting weight against the pull of gravity. But you can also get benefits from restraining the weight as gravity pulls it back down.

In setting goals for both your work and your life, there’s a similar dynamic available: you can feel powerfully motivated by looking at what you’ll receive if you accomplish the goal. This is well understood. But few people recognize that you can often feel as powerfully – perhaps even more powerfully – motivated by looking at what you will lose if you don’t achieve the goal.

These extra sources of motivation come from what I call “getting the negative.”

Pain and Gain

Of course, this analogy isn’t intended to encourage an “either/or” approach. The plain fact is that you can and should benefit from both the positive and the negative motivators you perceive in achieving – or not achieving – any particular goal.

In weight lifting, you normally tense your muscles and lift the weight up, but the smart weight-lifters also tense their muscles to lower the weight extra slowly.

In the same way, when goal setting, it’s fairly common to take note of the benefits and advantages you’ll obtain if you achieve your goals. But the smart goal-setters also take note of what they’ll lose and miss out on if they don’t.

Example 1: Suppose your goal is to learn a foreign language.

If you learn the language, you’ll obtain many positive benefits and advantages, such as:

  • Enjoying the pride and success of having accomplished your goal.
  • Getting along better when in that foreign country.
  • Conversing with people, maybe friends, in that language.
  • Enjoying and learning from the pleasures and deeper meanings in the literature, arts, and performances in that language.

If you don’t learn the language, you’ll suffer the negative effects of many penalties and disadvantages, such as:

  • Experiencing the disappointment and humiliation of not having accomplished your goal.
  • Floundering and getting lost like an illiterate tourist when in that foreign country.
  • Missing all the meaning and content when people, maybe friends, converse in that language.
  • Remaining ignorant of the pleasures and deeper meanings in the literature, arts, and performances in that language.

Example 2: Suppose your goal is to gather information and then during a certain meeting report on the status of a particular project.

If you gather the information and make the report at the meeting, you’ll obtain many positive benefits and advantages, such as:

  • Enjoying the pride and success of having accomplished your goal.
  • Recognition and appreciation of your hard work preparing and delivering the report.
  • Deeper knowledge and understanding of the nuts and bolts of the project.
  • Satisfaction that you contributed – at least in some measure – to the success of the meeting and perhaps some larger effort, as well.

If you don’t gather the necessary information and/or don’t make the report at the meeting, you’ll suffer the negative effects of many penalties and disadvantages, such as:

  • Experiencing the disappointment and humiliation of not having accomplished your goal.
  • Recognition and disapproval that you weren’t able to meet a hard deadline for reporting on the project.
  • Substandard knowledge or understanding of the nuts and bolts of the project.
  • Personal disappointment that you didn’t contribute to the success of the meeting and perhaps some larger effort.

Whatever the specifics of a goal may be, the point is that you can nearly always find both positive and negative motivators that will flow from your level of success in achieving it.

By all means, continue to focus on the time-honored positive benefits and advantages you’ll obtain if you accomplish your goal. But from now on remember there are almost certainly some negative effects you’ll experience if you don’t do the work necessary to accomplish your goal, on time, and to specification.

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