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Updated on: Friday, May 31, 2019, 03:38 PM IST

What motivates you: fear or happiness?

motivation  |

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These opposite moods of fear and happiness affect decision-making, too, writes Dr SHRIRANG BAKHLE.

Consider exercise (walking etc.). What drives you to do it: fear of obesity, fear of heart attack – or the wish feel fit and healthy? Interestingly, the activity is same: walking. But the motivation can be vastly different. And therefore, what happens while doing the activity can also be vastly different.

Consider a person who smokes cigarettes. He (or she) decides to quit. Will s/he be successful in giving up cigarettes permanently? Or will s/he give up for a few days – only to restart it again? The most important deciding factor will be reason for motivation: is it fear or happiness?

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Suppose, this person had developed cough along with blood in the sputum. So s/he went to the doctor who suspected cancer. That put tremendous fear in the mind of the person. So s/he decided to quit smoking. But suppose, the tests came negative for cancer. A few days passed. Over time, the fear became less – and with that the motivation to quit became less intense. And so, the person starts smoking again.

Consider another person. This person is an exercising person who loves the feeling of fitness. But s/he, too, is prey to the habit of smoking. This person, too, goes through the same story of cough and suspicion of cancer. But this person loves and values his (or her) feeling of health and fitness. Once s/he realizes how the smoking is going to damage the health sooner or later, this person quits smoking. But because the motivation is “I want to remain healthy and fit”, the motivation is likely to last long – even after the fear of cancer or heart attack has gone away.

There is one other problem created by the fear motivation. It leads to build up of stress. For example, consider a student who has to study for an exam. What is the motivation: fear of doing poorly in the exam or the wish to do well in exam? It is important to note that the activity is the same: studying. If fear is the motivation, then it remains in the mind as long as the study period lasts. Remaining in a fearful and unpleasant mind state for a long time is not at all good. It can lead to many other problems: loss of confidence, damage to self-esteem, irritability and disturbed concentration etc.

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On the other hand if the motivation is ‘doing well in the exam’, the mind state is quite different – and better. Here ‘doing well’ may mean different things to different students. For the academically good student, it may mean topping the class. For the average student, it may mean passing comfortably. But the mindset is the same: anticipation of happiness. This feeling leads to positive emotions such as determination and enthusiasm.

Of course, fear is not always bad. Fear makes us cautious. For example, while driving, fear is a good motivation that makes us take precautions. But being fearful throughout the driving period is not good.

These opposite moods of fear and happiness affect decision-making, too. For example, the decision to change jobs, the decision to give up the job and start a business. What is the motivation: fear or the pursuit of happiness. For example, if your motivation is fear, you are unlikely to give up a secure job and start a business. But if your motivation is anticipated glory, then you may give up the job and start business.

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It is important to note that fear and happiness are emotions. Once you realize that the mood is affecting the decisions, you may want to wait and change the mood to a more appropriate one and then take the decision. For example, suppose you are thinking of changing your job. Do you want to get a new job because you are ‘fed up of your old job’, or because you ‘like the new job’? If you are in an unhappy mood, you will want to get rid of your existing job and take up whatever job is available – even if it is not so good. But if you are in a good mood, you may want to wait till a really better job becomes available.

How to make good use of the best of both methods? The fear (or anger or sadness) motivation may be a starting point. So you decide to do a particular activity that can take you from unhappiness to happiness. At that time, change the goal: from avoiding pain to becoming happier. For example, if your relationship with a person is disturbed. So you decide to do a few things (such as spending more time with the person) to remove that unpleasantness. Now, change the motivation: make the motivation ‘improving the relationship’ (and not ‘removing unpleasantness’)! You will notice how this change will make a huge difference for the better!

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Published on: Saturday, May 07, 2016, 07:12 PM IST
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