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Path to Health - Day 15: Turning Fear Into Motivation

I have two groups of people before me, and I'm going to give them the same task to accomplish--let's say they have to build a house from start to finish in just one month. For Group A, I promise that whoever can accomplish this task wins $5,000. However, for Group B, I tell them that whoever does NOT accomplish this task will LOSE $5,000.

Which of these two groups do you think will have more people that successfully complete the task? Try imagining yourself in either group--which scenario do you feel compels you more towards action? If you run with your gut, the majority of you will say Group B. And the reason is quite simple: we are motivated more by the fear of losing what we already have than we are by the promise of gaining what we don't have.

This is the powerful effect behind DietBet and similar sites such as you put up some of your own hard-earned money in escrow to the promise that you will complete Challenge X along Timeline Y. If you fail, you lose your money. And the amazing thing is that it doesn't even have to be a huge amount of money. I used in the past to motivate myself to work more on music, and even just the threat of losing $5 each week where I missed a day of practice was enough to light a fire under my ass. However, it goes without saying that the bigger the risk--the more you have to lose--the more committed you will be to action.

Our brains are hardwired to protect what we feel is our property, whether that's money, physical possessions, our families, friends, or even our sense of self-identity. Oddly enough, we're not as wired to protect our own physical health, unless the threat is far more immediate (such as moving out of the way of an oncoming train). We're mostly content to just lay on the couch bingeing on NetFlix while we cram Doritos and Mountain Dew down our throats. But if you understand how your brain reacts to certain fears--if you can anticipate your own behavior under certain conditions--then you have the power to create conditions that force yourself to improve.

Some people have difficulty implementing these effects, however, because they refuse to fully perceive the threats around them. A salesman working on 100% commission should be busting his butt each month lest he doesn't get paid enough to eat or make rent. However, if that salesman has grown up his whole life with someone else always ready to bail him out of trouble, then his subconscious will rely on that safety net, giving him more leeway to slack off when he should be making a bunch of cold calls.

So do you have any safety nets holding you back from action? What are they? What do they look like? How much can you cut yourself from them? I'm not necessarily saying you have to quit your job or take out a second mortgage and bet it all on a single option. The point of using fear as a motivator isn't to get stupid and put all your eggs in one basket. But if you can find a way to increase the risk level in one area of your life where you feel you've been slacking, you may start seeing some better results.

Understand your fears. Understand what drives you. And craft an environment that will force you to work towards what you want by using one fear (the fear of losing what you already have) to overpower another (a fear of failure, fear of success, fear of perfectionism, or whatever else). When you develop the right environment, success not only becomes easier--it becomes inevitable.