How to Recognize Motivation: Part 2, Fear
Understanding motivations in others helps you to improve your communication skills, your ability to persuade and to bring about positive change.
As I wrote in part 1 of this series on How to Recognize Motivation, you can’t motivate other people. But you can help people find their motivation. You can speak to motivation and engage people at a deep level, and bring about change as a result. This post looks at a common motivation: fear.
Sometimes, people are motivated more by fear than by other motivations. When they do go forward, it’s because they’re trying to get away from something. And when they stand still and take no action, it is usually because they are holding themselves back in order to avoid something. Avoid problems. Stay away from consequences. Get away from failure, worthlessness and pain. You can hear when fear is the motivation because people talk about what they don’t want, or want to avoid, or how they want to get as much distance as possible from something they deem undesirable.
There’s no denying that fear gets our interest, and holds it, at least for a little while. Our entire nervous system is designed to be afraid in a heartbeat, and it often goes off without warning. It also gets our interest when people tell us we have reason to fear. Our nervous system responds by wanting to fight or get away.
Fear as a Short Term Motivator
That’s why the oldest trick in the persuasion deck is to really scare someone, and then offer them an easy solution that eliminates the threat. It’s practically guaranteed, at least in the short term, to generate interest and engage motivation. For example, in the two weeks following a speeding ticket, a driver will typically behave better on the road. But it doesn’t take long for the old habit of behavior to kick in. Fear is insufficient as a long-term motivator for change.
You must walk a fine and fearful line to use fear as a motivator. Apply too little, and it won’t gain any interest. Apply too much, and you overload and exhaust the receptors for it, with the paradoxical effect of losing interest. Even if the amount is just right, you have to keep using it to keep people interested.
Keep in mind, while fear plays an important role in motivation, it cannot create sustained motivation by itself.
We will look at desire as a motivation next.