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Moving Beyond Post-Apocalyptic Strategies for Motivation

Brene Brown

When I’m teaching clients how to practice self-compassion, I tell them that they cannot rely on using fear and shame to motivate themselves. And I should know, because I do it all the time.

If you read my blog, then you know I often say things like, other people have spouses and children and are still able to go to the grocery store and make dinner. So what the hell is your problem? This has the effect of making me feel like crap, but it doesn’t do much to make me get off the couch, even if I am hungry.

With my clients, I’ll use examples like, why do you keep watching episodes of The Walking Dead? Get in there and work on that paper! Do you want to fail? Because that’s exactly what is going to happen!

The problem with fear-based motivation is that, even when it works, which is usually a few hours before the paper is due, you still won’t feel good about yourself. Because your inner critic will say, well, if you had started the paper earlier, you would have done a much better job. 

So my brother is still anxious and depressed. His primary motivational strategy to get himself to go to work is the zombie apocalypse. How do you think you’re going to save your family when the world is ending when you can’t even log in? It worked for a while, but you can only motivate yourself with fear for so long.

What people don’t realize when they create a crisis to motivate themselves is that we don’t always fight. Sometimes we take flight or freeze. And once we’ve shut down, no amount of fear can make us act. So we get stuck in this vicious cycle of shame in which we avoid everyone and everything.

Fortunately, a recent episode of The Walking Dead echoed these same sentiments, which added to my credibility. Since I don’t watch it, I’ll quote his epiphany:

Even Rick Grimes has had to take a break from berserk mode on the show. He became a man of peace for an entire season when he realized how misguided his young son had become; someone who was too quick to resort to violence & unwilling to give diplomacy a chance. It served a lesson relatable to life—if even our heroes during the zombie apocalypse cannot remain in crisis mode, then it certainly can’t be a winning formula for us during normal times. My problem is I’ve motivated myself through such extreme emotions—anger, resentment, fear—for so long, that I’m left with no clue as to how I can jump-start my resolve right now.

So what do we do if we’re not going to motivate ourselves with fear? We motivate ourselves with love. So obvious when we think about how we motivate the people we care about, but it rarely occurs to us to do so with ourselves.

Unless you’re some enlightened being like the Dalai Lama or Pope Francis. I’m sure they motivate themselves with love.

This morning was the first day that I did not want to get out of bed. It’s that time of year when it happens, shortly after daylight savings time ends. So I tried to practice what I preach and thought about how I could make it easier to get up and get ready. I played my favorite song. Turned up the heat. Talked to myself in a loving way. And today it worked.

Maybe it won’t always work. It’s a long time until spring, after all. But even when being loving doesn’t get me out of bed, it still uses up a lot less energy than berating myself.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

4 responses »

  1. Christy – hey honey – I feel your pain loud and clear. And I understand! I truly do.
    The black cloud of shame has been my constant companion since the age of 8 – youngest age I can recall the vivid voices telling me I was unlovable because of……
    …….. etc.
    And yes my poor relationship choices – have all been related to same ruptured core.
    Christy – you are a beautiful woman – both inside and out – and deep down u know this is not a matter of opinion – but rather a universal belief by all who know you based on truth/reality. You are also a brilliant woman with the strength of a warrior!!!!!
    No one should have to endure lonliness and emotional burdens alone. It changes who you are.
    I have been aware for some time of a still small voice prompting me to start something -a conversation? – a monthly support group for women like myself – where I can be a source of encouragement. Where I can share knowledge gained via focused search in addition to 3 failed marriages.
    I am 3 years in now and finally in a good solid place with hope and optimism for the future I am building through going back to school.
    However, I am well aware that if I were to start dating anyone even the perfect man – my world could get unstable. I think we could help each other somehow. Think about it and I will call you soon to see if u want to have dinner.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Strength and Weakness | Normal in Training

  3. Pingback: Why the Incredible Hulk is a Poor Model for Stress Management | Normal in Training

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