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Motivation and Leverage

Ok so we all know what motivation is don’t we? We know that it means getting revved up enough to take action on something and get around to getting things done. Am I right? No I’m not. There is more to motivation than getting all psyched up and juiced to achieve something.

I am not just talking about getting going and having drive, I am talking about what drives all of our behaviour. It is a term that is very misunderstood by most. It is the term used to describe every action that we take and every decision we make.

Another word for motivation is leverage. So what is it? What are you doing right now? Well obviously you’re reading this page but why are you reading this page? There must have been some motivation to read this page. Remember also that motivation can be good or bad. Whether you help someone or murder them is all a matter of motivation. 

Motivation is simply getting enough leverage to commit to an action, make a decision or avoid a particular action. The difference between making one choice over one that is opposite depends on the motivation you have.

Our motivation is dependent on things such as our past experiences and what we believe our decisions or actions will lead to, it’s not always accurate. Your motivation to exercise may be the same as someone else’s motivation to starve themselves. 

So what exactly determines our motivation? Why do we do what we do? Why do different people do different things in the same situations? It’s all due to the two universal human motivators, which are the driving force behind all of our actions at the deepest level.

Pain and Pleasure

Ok so how does pain and pleasure determine our motivations toward the things we do? How does it relate to our consistent behaviour and how can we use it to our advantage?

The amount of pain we associate to a behaviour as opposed to not doing it will determine if we do it or not. Conversely, this also relates to the amount of pleasure. Simply put, if we associate more pain to doing something than not doing it, we will surely engage in the behaviour. This is our motivation or leverage.

Have you ever been in a situation in you life that was painful but you kept doing it and kind of hung out in the pain, then one day you just said “that’s it” and you made a radical shift in that behaviour? That’s because you got enough leverage, you associated so much pain to it that not changing would result in some greater pain.

This often happens to people in negative relationships. You may be in a relationship with someone and it’s painful but you subconsciously feel that leaving would result in greater pain. It might be the fear of the unknown, pain of loneliness, inconvenience, fear of change, whatever it is it has kept you in the negative relationship. 

Then one day something happens, like a switch in your brain, something tells you that not leaving this relationship will result in far greater pain than you would experience if you leave. This emotional association is the motivator of change. If the pain outweighs the pleasure then you will change.

Lets say you take drugs, the same applies. Although it causes you pain, it also brings pleasure at a deep level and not taking drugs, you believe, would lead to an enormous amount of pain. You would have to go through withdrawals, you would be exposed to harsh reality etc. 

Whatever your perceived pain is it will determine your motivation in favour of the pleasurable option or the least painful one. 

So how do we use it to our advantage? After all, pain and pleasure, our habits and what we associate to experiences has been set up throughout your whole lifetime, you didn’t choose it, you just picked it up along the way and it affects your life. How do we control this concept so that we are the master of our destinies rather than being at the mercy of our circumstances?

Getting Leverage

You can’t change a behaviour by thinking yourself into it, it needs to be a fully associated emotion. What does this mean? It means that you need to get your motivation from your nervous system rather than your intellect or logical mind. That way it goes beyond will power and becomes just a part of who you are. This makes change eventually seem effortless. 

Lets say you have a consistent habit of worrying. You know intellectually that worrying won’t produce any desirable results but it gives you a subconscious excuse not to do something. Why would your mind want that? Well you may believe that taking appropriate action will lead to pain because you don’t know where to start or maybe it might be so much of an effort that worrying may make someone else fix the problem for you. 

Again, you might not choose this consciously but based on what your mind perceives will lead to pain, this seems to be the easier option. This applies to every behaviour and emotion. The emotion might be depression. Of course no one is consciously motivated towards depression but if it gives you some relief by having others pay attention to you then it may fulfil a need for connection that you perceive would not be possible without that consistent depression. 

The thing that you haven’t associated to yet is that you might actually experience more pleasure from a different source than you were getting before and the pain of depression may become more associated for you. Confused? Good, then we’re making progress.

So how would you change a habit such as these, or any other negative, consistent behaviour? Simple, you need to find the leverage, the motivation that will drive you in the more productive direction. Well obviously but how do I do that?

STEP 1: You need to identify the behaviour or emotion that you want to change. Make sure that there will be no other negative consequences in doing this. Think of the things you do and think on a consistent basis. Are they moving forward towards your purpose in life, are they in line with your identity and values? Or are they holding you back? 

Use this opportunity to take anything you want to change. Don’t limit the list and don’t worry about the how, because if the why is strong enough then the how will reveal itself. Don’t worry about what you believe is realistic, just include everything.

STEP 2: Now once you have the “what” you need to figure out the “why”. That means you need to have enough compelling reasons why this behaviour absolutely must change. Think of the long term effect, then think of the immediate effect that this behaviour will have on you. Even think about what it has cost you in the past.

How will not changing affect you? Are you really willing to stand for it? What pleasure will you get if you do change it? 

STEP 3: Next you need to fully associate emotionally to the pain that not changing will bring you. By fully associating I don’t mean that you just think about it intellectually, you need to feel the pain in the moment. The pain needs to be massive and it needs to be immediate.

If you have trouble getting into a painful state, try remembering a time when you were experiencing so much pain that it made you make a massive shift in your life. Once you have this experience firmly in your mind, think back and associate to it. How did it make you feel? How did you get into that state? Refer to the section about emotional states for more on how to control emotion and get yourself into any state.

STEP 4: The next thing to do is to find an alternative. Come up with something you could do instead of the old behaviour. The new habit or behaviour needs to be something positive, something that moves you forward. It should also be something that can provide the same amount of pleasure as the old behaviour used to bring.

STEP 5: Condition the new behaviour. Every time you find yourself engaging in the old behaviour, catch yourself, then correct it. Reward yourself for noticing and correcting the behaviour. It is of utmost importance that you are consistent with this step.

At first it might seem to take some will power but over time you will notice that it becomes almost effortless, it will become part of your identity. 

STEP 6: The last step is to test it. You can do this a number of ways, you might try a technique called future pacing which was developed as part of NLP (neuro linguistic programming), another way is to find yourself in the situation and see if you end up reverting back to the old behaviour or wanting to do so.

Don’t get too caught up with this step, most of the time life will provide the test for you. It’s up to you, if you feel like you have successfully changed the behaviour then go for it. But remember step 5, this is a crucial step because if something is not conditioned then it won’t last. The conditioning is what got you into the negative habit in the first place.

I should take the opportunity to give reference to Tony Robbins. I have borrowed and adapted these steps from his work and he needs credit where credit is due.

These steps can be used also to create a habit or behaviour trait that you think will help you in your life. It can be used to negotiate a sale or contract, to help someone else change their limiting behaviour, wipe out a limiting belief and basically to create or eliminate anything you want in your life. 

This is a great way to create motivation toward new behaviours and away from old ones that you otherwise may not have been motivated to do without the right leverage. It can even help motivate you in a direction you are already heading that you may want to reinforce.

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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons

Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.

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