Up the Fear Factor

If you want to learn to live within your means, get out of debt, and start to build wealth and financial security, at some point you’re going to have to change what you’re doing and do something completely different.

That much seems obvious to most of us. Do the same old thing, and you will get the same old thing. Change something about what you do, and your life will start to change.

But most people don’t change what they’re doing. They have lofty but achievable goals. They have a time limit. They may even purchase the gym membership or the motivational CDs or the on-line marketing course. And, as a video I’ll link to further down tells us, over seventy percent of us will fail to follow through. The gym membership will go unused, the motivational CDs will remain in their box (maybe the shrink wrap will get removed, maybe not), the 90 day refund period for the course will pass with no action on the part of the purchaser. Most people don’t even bother asking for a refund!

Why don’t people follow through?

My own theory, based not only on study and reading, is that many folks simply don’t know how to motivate themselves.

Motivation is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, yet often the marketing of self-improvement products will treat it as such. Tony Robbins videos are the perfect example. It’s clear from watching him that his motivation is not the money he makes. When we watch him on video, we see a man who is engrossed in what he’s doing, and really, really charged up not only from helping people, but from entertaining them. He’s an international success because he’s tapped into his real motivations. Yet when you watch him advertise his coaching programs, he talks a lot about how many millions of dollars he’s made by being Tony, with the implication being that you to can make millions of dollars.

Or look at the gym ads. They have print (often small) talking about how you can be healthier and more energetic, but the pictorial advertising all shows rock hard abs and svelte young bodies, all smiling, none sweating. They may also show before and after pictures of those who have had significant weight loss. Clearly, the advertisers are targeting those who are motivated by the desire to be young and thin and beautiful, not healthy and energetic.

It took a Tony Robbins tool to help me understand why I hadn’t made significant progress in changing my habits and progressing towards my goals. To put it succinctly, I hadn’t tapped into my real motivation for changing, and so my script was not only not motivating me to change, it was actually motivating me to stay the same.

The values tool is here. The assessment actually includes two different profiles, a values profile and something Tony calls a DISC profile. Both are valuable tools for understanding what motivates you. I highly recommend that you take the fifteen or so minutes to complete it, and then take the time to really read the printout of the results you get back.

In my own case, I found out that I was not motivated AT ALL by the prospect of getting rich. In fact, the prospect of getting rich might actually be a motivation for me NOT to change my habits, the score is so low! Power was also not a highly motivating factor for me–I can operate both as a leader and as a follower, and have no innate preference for either position. I do enjoy both roles when I’m working with others, and I often prefer to work alone.

I am, however, very highly motivated by altruism, aesthetics, and most of all by the chance to learn something new.

So I’ve reframed why I don’t want to be poor any more, and why I want to get out of debt and balance my budget.

I had to pass on two very tempting learning opportunities–a Tony Robbins coaching course, and a Jeff Walker marketing course, because I was broke. I not only didn’t have the money in my bank account, I didn’t even have room for the first instalment of the payment plan on my credit cards! I want to have money in my bank and clear credit cards to pay for courses that interest me.

I don’t want to be poor any more because as it is, I cannot help out my parents, who are in deep financial crap, or my children, who are drowning in student debt.

And I don’t want to be poor any more because I’d like to be able to afford a nice, aesthetically pleasing hobbit hole.

I’ve already found those reasons to be better motivation than the prospect of one day having a million dollars in cash, property, and stocks.

But the most effective motivation I’ve found so far is fear.

That’s right. Fear.

Fear is usually seen as a negative emotion, and is often considered a demotivator. The truth is that it CAN be a demotivator. Often fear is what holds us back, even if we don’t know it. Fear that if we make a million bucks, our friend and family will stop being friends and family and start being leeches. Fear that if we spend all our time making money, we won’t have time to pay endless games of Civilization IV. (Not that this has ever held me back. No, not hardly… :p) Fear that we’ll fail or screw up. Fear that others will think we’re being ridiculous. Fear of __________ [Fill in the blank with your favourite catastrophe]

Our fears are endless.

Fear is a far more powerful motivator than any other motivator. We are all much more motivated by the fear of losing something we already have than we are by the pleasure of gaining something else. Believe it or not, this fear of loss can be used to positively motivate you to take action, if you change your point of view a little bit.

I had a free coaching session with a Tony Robbins trained coach (another thing I highly recommend you do), and I told him that I wrote very well, but I was having difficulty with the editing stage of novel writing. He asked me, “How fast would edit your novel if I threatened to kill your autistic son if you didn’t get it done?”

A bit violent, perhaps, but to the point. I realized that with that kind of fear motivating me, I’d be working at my editing day and night until it was done. It would probably take me a matter of a few days, not weeks or months. My problem wasn’t that I couldn’t edit. My problem was that I hadn’t found the right way to motivate myself to actually do the editing.

Fear is powerful, but we will (hopefully) never be motivated by the fear that we or a loved one will die if we don’t change. (Although that does happen. Year ago a doctor told my dad that he could quit smoking or die. He quit.) So how do we tap into that fear?

Once again, recommended reading: Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Greeny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. (We’ll just call them the VitalSmarts people for short…)

The VitalSmarts people have identified a process and a number of strategies that those wishing to change can follow. In their book, they recommend visiting the default future. What will your future be like in two years, or five years, or ten years if you do nothing to change?

That’s the fear factor at work. Make it vivid, so you understand that if you do nothing that’s what you’ll be living. In my father’s case, death was all to real. He had pneumonia, and already was struggling for breath.

In my own case, every time I visit my parents, I visit my default future. A broken down house, an unreliable car, no money to visit those kids and grandkids who are living out of town, no money to travel, no money to even buy decent Christmas presents. Unfit to the point where an extended shopping trip in Wal-Mart requires the use of a motorized cart. In some ways, my default future is a lot like my present, only gradually worsening and for the rest of my life.

This strategy of imagining what will happen if you don’t change is in line with what Tony teaches in this video.  At one point, he says that the fear that keeps people from following through on their dreams is the same fear that everyone has, but that successful people are more afraid of what will happen if they don’t follow through than if they do. They’ve visited their default future, and they’re motivated to change.

So here we are, you and I, attempting to change our futures by taking action in the present. Visit your default future, and feel the fear.

Then take action.


About Ruth Cooke

Ruth Cooke B.A, M.Div., MPS is a writer, public speaker, and itinerant preacher whose areas of expertise and interest include poverty issues and solutions, parenting exceptional children, sexual orientation, and the place of religious institutions in society. If you would like Ruth to come preach, speak or lead a class or group, please contact her via email.
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