How to Leverage Positive and Negative Motivation to Spur Action

Are you more motivated by promises or by threats? What about the people around you?

Communication and influencing language expert Shelle Rose Charvet says that you can figure out whether someone is wired for positive or negative motivation. Then, you can use that information to influence and incentivize them.

Continue reading to learn how to leverage positive and negative motivation in others—and yourself.

Leveraging Positive and Negative Motivation

Some people feel more motivated by the promise of a reward, and others are more motivated by the threat of negative consequences. (Charvet calls this matter of positive and negative motivation the “Direction” category.)

According to Charvet, someone who’s positively incentivized will frequently talk about their goals—what they want to achieve and add to their life. For example, they might excitedly tell you, “If this project succeeds, we’ll have the only product of its kind on the market.” On the other hand, someone who’s negatively incentivized will tend to talk about their fears and problems—what they want to keep out of their life. They would emphasize that “Unless we get this product to market quickly, we’ll fall behind our competitors.”

To influence someone to take action, talk to positively incentivized people about opportunities they can gain and negatively incentivized people about threats they should avoid.

Incentivize Yourself With Strategic Self-Talk

Just as you would mirror the positive or negative language of others in an attempt to spur them into action, you can intentionally choose to think in the language of these mental habits to spur yourself into action. This works because the words you use to think have a dramatic impact on your emotions and behavior.

The strategy you need will differ depending on the incentives you prefer. Positively incentivized people often push themselves too hard, as they hyperfocus on the potential rewards of accomplishing their goals. To avoid this mistake, regularly tell yourself that time spent on things that aren’t directly related to your goal—like sleeping and exercising—are valid forms of progress toward your goals, since personal health boosts your productivity. For example, think to yourself, “Going for a run this morning will help me design this website.”

On the other hand, negatively incentivized people may struggle to motivate themselves if there’s no immediate penalty for inaction hanging over their heads. In this case, you could reframe the situation and see inactiona loss of momentum—as a threat that you need to avoid. For example, you could say to yourself, “I need to wake up at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow or I’ll never break out of this dull routine.”
How to Leverage Positive and Negative Motivation to Spur Action

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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