Sunday, September 30, 2007

Motivation without Coercion

In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated, David Burns writes about turning rules around “musts,” “shoulds,” and “coulds” into “wants” to get and stay motivated:

“A possible source of your procrastination is an inappropriate system for self-motivation. You may inadvertently undermine what you attempt by flagellating yourself with so many “oughts,” “shoulds,” and “musts” that you end up drained of any desire to get moving. You are defeating yourself by the way you kill yourself to get moving! Dr. Albert Ellis describes this mental trap as “musterbation.”

Reformulate the way you tell yourself to do things by eliminating these coercive words from your vocabulary. An alternative to pushing yourself to get up in the morning would be to say, “it will make me feel better to get out of bed, even though it will be hard at first. Although I’m not obliged to, I might end up being glad I did. If, on the other hand, I’m really benefiting from the rest and relaxation, I may as well go ahead and enjoy it!”

Key Points
Burns drives the following points home:

  • Translate shoulds into wants.
  • Turning shoulds into wants produces a feeling of freedom of choice and personal dignity.
  • A reward system works better and lasts longer than a whip.
  • Look at things in terms of “what do I want to do? What course of action would be to my best advantage?”

Using Rules for Results
One of the keys to improving in an area of life is to raise your standards or “rules” in terms of “musts,” “shoulds,” or “coulds.” For example, getting in shape means changing from a loose set of rules around eating and exercising that aren’t working, to a more precise set of “shoulds” or “musts.” The more dramatic the results you need, the more rules you follow.

I find this a very interesting point because it walks an interesting line. I can easily see how it’s less inspiring to drive yourself with a bunch of rules. It’s one thing to be disciplined, but it’s another to have desire. I can see how you can rob your internal desire, in the name of discipline, if everything you internally see everything you do as a “should” or a “must.”

Using Wants for Feeling Good
From a results standpoint, improving in an area usually means turning “shoulds” and “coulds” into “musts” to get the results you need. From a “feeling good” standpoint, the key is to remind yourself that you want to take these actions because you want the results. I think the key here is to use a two part process of first mapping out your rules for results, then reframing them as wants over rules.

I think this has two benefits. One benefit is that you keep your feeling of freedom of choice. The second benefit is that if you fall off your horse, rather than an all-or-nothing mentality or guilt for breaking your rules, you get back on your horse.

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