On Positive Motivation and Accountability

“Positive” motivation arises from the need to seek out what can be experienced, in contrast to “negative” motivation that is born out of the need to avoid something. In many ways, negative motivation is like being pushed from the behind (the past) while positive motivation is like being pulled by the future.

Accessing meaningful motivation — not simply the kind of motivation that gets us to work each morning (which, believe me, is still incredibly important!) — is a lifelong challenge, commitment, and practice.

A self-responsible person is motivated to be fully alive and to be aware of his or her decisions as opposed to living life by default. A self-responsible person is ready, able, and willing to turn negative motivation into positive motivation. This is done by clearing what is negative or toxic from one’s life and turning towards what is desired instead. In other words, negative motivation enables us to determine who and what we are not, while positive motivation allows us to decide who and what we are and will be.

Two ways that can help discipline yourself into staying motivated are internal accountability and external accountability.

1. External Accountability

Accountability that arises from the nature of a relationship with somebody (such as a family member or friend) or from the nature of an agreement with somebody (such as a business partner) tends to be motivating for most people. However, these relationships are also charged with issues of trustworthiness and integrity, which are linked to one’s sense of self-respect.

If you are struggling with this type of accountability, it might be worth exploring the Positive Use of Tattling. Psychotherapist Thom Rutledge describes it as follows:

“To stoke the motivational fires when you decide to make a change, you simply tell on yourself. Tell at least one other person who you know cares about you, someone who doesn’t feel the need to control your efforts to change and who won’t support you in making excuses if you drop the ball. Most of us can use the experience of not being harshly judged for falling short of our goals. Eventually, we can even learn to stop condemning ourselves for our human imperfection, learn from the mistake, and give it another shot.”

2. Internal Accountability

Ironically, it usually takes some measure of internal accountability in order to create external accountability. While I believe that external accountability is a simple yet powerful tool to remain connected and committed to others and our goals that we should use throughout our lives, I also know that it is critical for us to be able to strengthen a sense of internal accountability in order to not become dependent upon others’ presence in order to stay motivated. This type of accountability is accountability between self and self — accountability to oneself.

In the words of Thom Rutledge:

“When you hold yourself accountable for living up to your own expectations, which are congruent with you personal value system, you earn your own respect.

If you want to start making proactive, responsible decisions in your life to act in ways that give you a stronger self-image, you will need to stay motivated.”

To explore your internal accountability further, I invite you to journal about your inner dialogue surrounding a personal struggle. You can frame it as a conversation between your Default Setter and your Decision Maker (or whatever two “voices” are at play in the situation).

  • What decisions have you made in your life about who and what you are and are not?
  • What decisions have you made in your life about who and what you will be?
  • What current thoughts and behaviors in your life influence your answers to the above two questions?
  • What is one action you are committed to making today that would move you forward from a place of positive motivation?
  • What is one thing you might benefit from “tattling on yourself” about? Who is one person you might go to in order to “tell on yourself”?

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