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How Negative Motivation Can Help Us Overcome Problems

How Negative Motivation Can Help Us Overcome Problems

Image by bionicteaching (license).

Note: This is a guest post by David B. Bohl of SlowdownFAST.

Imagine you are giving one of the biggest and most important presentations of your life to a potential new client or business partner. You are sure that you know it all and can win them over, so you go in thinking that it will be a piece of cake. You whip out the fancy PowerPoint slides and graphs, crack a few jokes, and deflect any questions that have a negative tone to them. You are on top of the world and you know it!

The next day, you find out you didn’t get the project.

How would you feel? Devastated? Cheated? Angry? What if when you got back to the office your co-workers started criticizing your presentation and your method of delivery? What if others pointed out your mistakes in front of others? Now how would you feel? Ganged-up on?

Not so fast. They may be trying to help you.

Honest feedback

It’s called negative motivation, and many people believe that it is necessary to get people fired up. Sometimes it’s the only way to get people to understand where they went wrong.

Recently, the tactic made headlines when the Ohio State football team got a dose of negative motivation through a special DVD created by coaches at Ohio State that consisted of put-downs, insults, and attacks against the Buckeyes that followed after their 41-14 loss to Florida last year in the BCS title game.

How did the players react? Some were a little upset, but many of them saw the message behind the words. They got motivated, they understood how they failed last year, and they realized that perhaps they were a little too optimistic that the title was going to be handed to them on a silver plate.

Negative motivation is part of a trend of new self-improvement techniques being practiced by many personal development coaches. They are using the power of the word to let people know that everyone has room for improvement – even them. While they aren’t going around using foul language or personal attacks, they are using negative feedback – the rigorous truth – to help people make a positive change in their lives.

Truth changes

Some of us at times think that we are the undisputed expert on a subject – there is nothing we don’t know and people would be a fool to listen to anyone else. What we don’t realize is that by being over-confident in our abilities, we can often become so stuck. As the world changes around us, we don’t realize that what was true yesterday isn’t quite so true today. With technology and the world changing so fast, it can be challenge to keep up – and if we slack off and stop learning or discovering then we opening ourselves up to failure.

Negative motivation can give us that needed “deflation” we need to bring us back down to earth. It helps us realize that maybe we do need to update our skills, read up on current trends, or just be a better person to those around us. None of us can hold ourselves above anyone else – we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and that is what makes us unique individuals. We all need a healthy dose of reality every now and then to make sure we don’t forget that we are all on equal ground on this planet.

So how can you use negative motivation to make a positive impact on your life? When it appears that others may be putting your skills down or questioning your authority on a matter, listen to what they are really saying. You may be able to help yourself by learning that you were wrong, or that you do have flaws. It is also in your best interest to find ways to help find a solution that highlights not only your abilities, but you as a person as well.

Negative motivation can be a powerful tool to help you grow. Are you ready for a tough dose of reality to get you back on the track to lead a successful and prosperous life?

David B. Bohl writes about living your vision at his own blog: SlowdownFAST. If you enjoyed this article, you may like to subscribe to his feed, or read one of his most popular articles, Conflicting Desires: Knowing That We Have Enough vs. Always Wanting to Better Ourselves.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • This is a thought provoking article, David. My thanks to Henrik for sharing it and to you for writing it.

    I am a little troubled by the premise here, though. I’m sure we’ve all had people in our lives who *thought* they were practicing negative motivation, but actually they were being cruel. Personally, I have a really hard time learning when I’m in a negative state of mind.

    I’d be interested in hearing your opinion of the relationship between positive emotions and learning.

  • I like this post, different from the norm. I personally, like the idea behind negative motivation and I think that stems from being quite critical myself. Its easy for me to use negative motivation without it affecting my emotions at all. In fact, its easier than positive as I often feel people are sucking up or looking for a favor otherwise. I’ve learned that it highly depends on each person’s style whether it is effective or not. After clarifying to a person that your feedback is legit and hopefully helpful to them, I’m all over using it then.

  • Dear Never,

    There’s a fine line between being rigorously honest with someone and being brutally honest. You’re absolutely right that the latter involves cruelty.

    The world has taught us to be cynics. As a result, it’s easy to judge and compare ourselves to others. This is a prime example of negativity.

    When we’re able to detach from that way of thinking, and realize that most people are inherently good, we can see things as they really are.

    It’s also important to think about duality. Not everything is good or bad, nor is it right or wrong. Things, and people, come in shades of grey. They can be two things at once, but the good can often overshadow the bad – or the mistakes – that people make if we look for it. After all, we’re all human. We’re imperfect, we make mistakes, and we’re vulnerable.


  • @David – thanks for the reply. I can see your point about duality. However, I do think we have to consider intention as well. If I am being honest with someone with the intention of being honest and helping I might be tough, but I won’t be cruel. If my intention is to make myself feel better while tearing someone else down – not so good.

    I’m not trying to imply that your techniques are bad or wrong. I just want to emphasize the idea that this is a skillful way of communicating with another person. If you don’t understand the technique, it’s probably best not to use it.

  • Divine

    Thank you for posting this article. I also try seek motivation, never thought of it this way though from a negative point of view and this article helps tremendously. My appreciation to you is in the highest sense.

    To show you my gratitude I would like to share with an article I found that also helps in regards to negative experiences, what they are, how to stay positive ect…: http://consciousflex.blogspot.com/2008/01/how-to-stay-positive-in-negative.html/
    Thank you indeed, please keep up the incredible work!

  • Dynamic75

    I like your point about the intention of the negative motivation. I think that the recipient should have a balance of both negative and positive reinforcement, to much of either one could leave them with a false sense of confidence or demoralized. Then again it also depends on the individual; some people just have thicker skin.

  • I think this is a question of extremes, not being either too positive and also not being too negative. If you are over positive you wont feel the need to grow, if you are over negative you wont feel that you can grow to achieve your goal. So in some cases i think this is helpful, and not a one size fits all approach.

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