What Motivates You? (And Why it Matters!)

What motivates change?

Think back to all the times you were motivated into action and try to remember what it was that triggered that response. I’d be willing to bet that most of the time the changes were made in order to solve a problem.

It could have been to lose weight because of a concerning doctor visit or to get out of debt after looking at a credit card statement.

Our desire to solve a problem motivates us into action so we give it our “all” until our stress levels reach a tolerable level and we no longer feel burdened. The problem with this approach is that it rarely leads to lasting change. It’s a cycle and one I have found myself numerous times before.

The Cycle

  1. Emotional conflict leads you to act.
  2. Because you’ve acted, you feel better — even if the situation hasn’t changed much.
  3. Feeling better takes the pressure off, lessening the emotional conflict.
  4. Less emotional conflict means there’s less reason to continue doing the things that reduced the conflict in the first place.
  5. Since you feel better, you no longer feel a pressing need to follow through on your actions.
  6. And the original behavior returns.

Does this cycle look familiar to you?

How many times have you acted because something was causing you stress?

This reminds me so much of the New Year’s resolutions people set each and every year. Think about what the gym looks like and how easy it is to find a machine in December. As soon as January 1st arrives though the gym is packed and it’s no longer as easy to get your workout on. You may even have trouble finding a parking spot.

Then two to four weeks into the new year, things begin to return to normal again which means our old behaviors return as well.

No problem was really fixed but we start to feel better because we did something about “the problem” — even if there weren’t any real results. At this point it becomes more about the absence of emotional conflict — not that we’ve actually solved our problem — hence the return to your old ways.

The reason for this is because most resolutions are made with solving a problem in mind. We should instead try to focus on what outcome we want to create for ourselves.

Problem-Oriented Motivation versus Outcome-Oriented Motivation

Problem-oriented motivation works briefly until the problem seems “fixed” or until you fail — forcing you to stop whatever it is you’re trying to do. This the culmination of “the cycle”.

Outcome-oriented motivation has you focus on what you want to create for yourself giving you a longer term goal to strive for and a better chance of reaching it. This method bypasses the cycle allowing you to get the results you really want because you are motivated by what you want — not by what you don’t want.

For me, losing weight has definitely been a problem-oriented approach. I have started program after program over the years because I didn’t like how I looked, and every time I started to feel a little less awful about how I looked or made some progress what did I do? I went right back to my old ways and behaviors just as the cycle says I would.

Forget about looking for motivation by solving problems and instead try to create purposeful outcomes.

What’s Your Motivation?

So are you working hard to curb your spending, solve your debt problems OR are you working to create wealth and financial fitness in your life?

Your answer to that question could keep you from fighting an endless battle with yourself.

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About Brad Chaffee

6 Responses to “What Motivates You? (And Why it Matters!)”

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  1. I’m struggling with debt right now. It’s funny – I managed to finally deal with my weight problem after almost 20 years of being significantly overweight. My motivation? To get fit and healthy. I wanted to FEEL good, and it worked. And now it’s part of who I am.

    But my debt? I’m struggling for the right motivation. WHY do I want to be debt free? How will that change my life? When I answer that question, maybe I’ll be able to deal with my debt. 🙂

  2. Travis says:

    Your “hit upside the head” style of motivation is just the kind of thing I need…..thanks for that, Brad! I have to admit, when I started this journey, my goal was to eliminate my debt and stay out of bankruptcy. Somewhere along the way, I realized that being debt free isn’t my goal, my goal is to learn how to manage my money successfully. Getting out of debt and building wealth will both simply be the result of achieving my goal.

  3. It usually takes a Significant Emotional Event to create lasting change and resolve these types of conflicts. Without the S.E.E. your mind/body naturally revert back to what it considers homeostasis or “normal” (also why your body gains weight back so easily).

    The motivations you mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. They are what start you on the path for change, but the end goal is definitely a powerful guide to help you find the rest of the way.

    Great example! Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  4. JMK says:

    We were never in major debt, just the mortgage, and it was well within our means. But we also weren’t maximizing what we could accomplish with the income we had. We were just cruising along, paying our bills, spending pretty much what we wanted, and hoping that someday we’d retire, but not sure when or how well.
    When my DH was laid off several years back we initially panicked because we had no idea how much we really needed to cover the basics and therefore how long we could get by on just my salary before things became desperate. That lay off was the best thing that ever happened to us. It forced us to really scrutenize where the money had been going and what was necessary spending and what definitely wasn’t. Turned out if we cut to the very basics (but didn’t move or sell a vehicle) we could live on about 55% of our combined take home pay (pre layoff). If we were willing to downsize we could certainly live on 40% or less for the very basic essentials. He got a huge severance package (~1yr salary) got a new job at the same salary within a couple of months and in the end we came out way ahead financially. The biggest change by far was that we now knew exactly how much our basic costs were and decided to be far more deliberate about what we did with the ~45% of our income which was theoretically “excess”. We always thought of retirement as a far off dream, and assumed, without actually knowing, that we were way behind on where we should be with our savings. Turns out that now at 48/52 we’ve completed the savings needed to retire at 65. Now our entire focus is on additional savings and quickly paying off the remaining mortgage so we can retire much earlier. Now that we have our eyes clearly on retiring no later than Dec 2020 at 56/60 not much deters us from following our frugal spending plan. Now if I can convince DH to downsize we could actually retire in about 3 years instead of 8…

  5. Kris says:

    I’m struggling with getting my online business back to being profitable. Part of the problem is that I don’t always treat it as a business (there are times I don’t do much but expect it to perform). But part of the problem is that I rely on Google, and that’s not good business, but at least partially out of my control. So, I can certainly control the first one, and while I am trying to create wealth I am not always doing it with enough “gusto”.

  6. RichUncle EL says:

    I think having too much on your plate at once can lead you to not succeed at your goals. I want to focus on my debt so bad but I am on a limited income, I also have fitness goals that I have to reach and my blogging goals. Thinking too much on all those things can be daunting.

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