What Motivates Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done

The Role of Procrastination, Emotions, and Success

Anxiety may cause health problems in one person, but it may be the key motivator of another.

The fear of failure may paralyze one individual and for another be fuel in the tank on the way to success.

Negative emotions propel many people to success.

Mary Lamia, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, a professor at the Wright Institute at Berkeley, and the author of numerous books. Her latest is What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions, and Success. In this book, she highlights the role of emotions and how our innate biological systems motivate us to achieve.

I recently talked with her about her considerable research and experience into the role of emotions and motivation.

 

Successful people often use their negative emotions to achieve their goals.

 

Understand Negative Emotion

Motivation. Most people talk about positive motivation, but you carefully talk about negative emotions. Why are negative emotions often overlooked or discounted in the motivational literature?

Labeling emotions as positive or negative has little to do with their value, but instead involves how they motivate us through the ways they make us feel. Negative emotions like distress, fear, anger, disgust, and shame motivate us to do something to avoid experiencing them, or they urge us to behave in ways that will relieve their effects. Although we can be motivated by anticipating the positive emotions associated with pride, such as enjoyment or excitement, often what motivates us to get something done has to do with our response to negative emotions, such as in the avoidance of shame or in an attempt to seek relief from anxiety about an uncompleted task. People who are successful in their endeavors have learned to make excellent use of the negative emotions they experience. Erroneously, my own profession has promoted the notion that only positive emotions motivate us. This is possibly a misconception based on the positive psychology movement which focuses on positive human functioning rather than mental illness, and has more to do with resilience than motivation.

 

“Professionally successful people are emotionally attached to their goals.” -Mary Lamia

 

Why We Play the Comparison Game

Will I Ever Catch Up?

He put his head in his hands.  We had only just sat down in a small café. It seemed that this was one time that I should not speak, so I let the silence drift between us mixing with the steam off my coffee mug.  My friend had asked for this meeting, but I didn’t know what he wanted.  The noises all around us dimmed when he finally looked up at me and explained. “Every time I start to feel like I am about to really achieve something, I don’t know what happens. I give up.”

I was surprised. He was successful. I’m not a psychologist, but it didn’t appear he was depressed so much as needing a boost of confidence.  Our conversation continued back and forth until a theme started to emerge.

My friend consistently compared himself to others who were, in his opinion, doing better, achieving more, and advancing faster.  He didn’t feel he could “catch up” to them.  The reality, of course, was that no one expected him to “catch up.”  He was doing well.  What was his real issue?

Comparing.

Recently, I heard that only 12% of women over 50 are satisfied with their bodies.  40% of men are dissatisfied with their appearance.  And the vast majority of us would change something about our physical appearance if we could.  We compare ourselves to airbrushed models and feel less attractive.

Why are we so discontent? Why do we unfairly compare ourselves to others?

There’s always someone richer, stronger, faster, smarter, or more talented, more polite, or more attractive. There are likely also people poorer, weaker, slower, less intelligent, with less talent, manners, and looks. Comparing ourselves to others can be debilitating in more ways than we realize.

 

“Leaders do not define success by the competition.” -Skip Prichard

 

Don’t Compare Up

When we look at someone else who has what we don’t have, we are “comparing up.” What does this do?  It robs us of joy.  It depresses us.  It makes us feel bad about ourselves, lowers our self-esteem. We may give up on our goals, thinking “Well, I could never compare to him” or “If she is that good, why should I even bother?”  We become less productive.  It slows us down.  We spend so much time comparing that we find we aren’t doing.  It invites envy, the insidious emotion, to a prominent place at the table of our mind.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt

 

Don’t Compare Down

There are times we “compare down.”  We look at someone and feel sorry for him.  We hear about someone and think she doesn’t have what I have.  Whether it makes us feel better or superior, we have all had moments where we look at someone else as not as good as we are. While we pat ourselves on the back for being so brilliant, we actually are filling our mind with a cancerous attitude.  Arrogance creeps quietly into the room of our mind, an unnoticed intruder taking over.

 

“We’d achieve more if we chased our dreams instead of our competition.” -Simon Sinek

 

Shift the Focus