What Is Better Motivational Fuel Than Stress or Anxiety?

If you don’t want to use stress or anxiety as your primary motivational fuel, what kind of fuel would you like to use instead? What can you say about your desired fuel source for taking action and getting results?

I like to think of spending a day at an amusement park as a good analogy for my ideal type of work motivation.

When Rachelle and I spend a few days together at Disneyland, we always take a lot of action and have days full of fun together.

We don’t need anxiety, fear, or worry to motivate us to act.

We virtually never go for just one day. We typically go for 3-4 days in a row. This eliminates any feelings of scarcity since whatever we miss one day, we could easily do on a different day. Especially when we go on weekdays, this gives a sense of time abundance, so we can go at a relaxed pacing and not feel stressed or pressured.

Our intentions are simple: Enjoy the day. Have experiences we’ll appreciate. Spend time outside. Walk a lot. Enjoy tasty vegan food. Play together. Be silly. Create beautiful memories. Help others have good experiences too.

I’ve probably spent close to 100 days of my life at Disneyland. I’ve been going there every decade since the 1970s. Not once have I ever just sat there and procrastinated. I always took lots of action. I always put many miles on my shoes. I always felt pleasantly motivated to keep taking action and having different experiences all day long.

That made me super curious. Why is it that Disneyland is so good at motivating me to take action – all day, every day… even for 30 days in a row without a day off and not feeling like I need a break?

As I looked more closely at pre-existing sources of motivation that I liked, I generalized and abstracted the patterns from them. Then I injected more of those successful patterns into other areas of life, like my creative projects. This included strengthening qualities like curiosity, exploration, immersion, playfulness, variety, stimulation, making projects social, etc. I gradually discarded the fuel sources that didn’t work well, such as old patterns I learned from school that involved dull assignments, time pressure, and a huge disconnection from meaning and purpose.

Have you ever had a day where you found yourself taking lots of action with ease? Have you ever encountered a source of motivation that felt very aligned and pleasant? If so, study the heck out of that. See if you can have similar experiences again, and observe those experiences from the inside. Discover why that works so well for you, even if such experiences have been rare in your life so far. Then do your best to abstract and transplant similar qualities into your approach to work and other parts of life.

In other words, instead of trying to force yourself to run on a misaligned fuel source, identify the best fuel sources you’ve found so far, and inject them into your life on a much grander scale. Isn’t this what we’d like the planet to do as well – to replace nasty and stinky fuel with green and clean fuel?

When I was a kid, there was a huge contrast between a day at school and a day at Disneyland. School was dreadfully boring but also fun. Disneyland days were fun but scarce. If I could have made a free choice back then, there’s no way I’d ever have chosen a day of school if I could have chosen Disneyland instead. Back then I didn’t have that option, but today I can discover and use whatever motivational fuel suits me best. I don’t have to settle for boring work days. I can do my work in a way that’s fun and engaging for me.

When I’m at Disneyland, I have no boss, so in my work life, I don’t have a boss either. It’s more fun and rewarding to make my own decisions about what to do next. Then I can follow my natural motivational flow wherever it takes me, just like I’d always do at Disneyland.

At Disneyland there’s no fixed schedule (except for some optional shows and parades). So I schedule very few items on my calendar. Most days my calendar is blank. I appreciate having most of my days free of any appointments.

At Disneyland I’m surrounded by a field of perpetual invitations. There are always plenty of interesting things to explore. So I like having a work life rich in interesting experiences to explore. I want to feel like there are plenty of good invitations present at all times.

At Disneyland I’m surrounded by playful people who are enjoying themselves. Is that so hard to create in one’s work life too? It starts by saying no to the opposite.

At Disneyland I get to make tons of micro-choices, most of which will turn out well no matter which direction I go. These kinds of conditions can be recreated in business too, starting at the level of intention.

Today I would often rather work than go to Disneyland or go on vacation. I enjoy a work life that includes lots of exploration and stimulating creative work. I get to engage with growth-oriented people in Conscious Growth Club every day. I work at a pacing that feels good to me, speeding up when I want to go faster and slowing down when I prefer a more relaxed pacing. That didn’t happen by itself, and I didn’t begin my entrepreneurial journey with this mindset. Mostly I learned this the hard way, eventually concluding that trying to get myself to work productively based on my initial default approach was just awful.

Discovering better motivational fuel required leaning away from what I learned about work and life when I was younger. I had to discard the expectations and assumptions that had taught me to motivate myself with stress, worry, anxiety, time pressure, fear, competition, satisfying others’ expectations, money, etc. That was not easy because a part of me was conditioned to think it was irresponsible or impossible to expect work to be interesting, engaging, and highly motivating most of the time. It was only by delving deeper into that zone of trouble and dropping the unnecessary shame and guilt about it that I found much better and longer lasting motivational fuel.

Does any of this ring true for you as well? Have you been socially conditioned to steer away from your best sources of motivation, so you can be controlled more easily?

Do you ever worry that if you really leaned into your best motivational fuel, it might create some negative social consequences for you? Have you ever thought about simply letting those consequences play out?

One question that really got to me was: What kind of life will I live if I regularly – instead of rarely – use the power of my sparkiest motivational fuel?

I find that there’s a certain wildness to my best motivational fuel. I don’t have full control of it. I can’t just lock it into a set of fixed rules. Sometimes it will cooperate with structure, but other times it will rebel against too much structure because it loves to go with the flow, wherever that leads.

Working with your most powerful motivational fuel takes practice and patience, and your ability to understand and predict its behavior will improve over time. Initially you may not trust it, worrying that it may be too wild, too reckless, or too irresponsible and that it might get you into trouble. And initially that may indeed seem to be true. But the more you dance with this fuel source, the more you may come to trust it.

I felt like I had to go through a transitional phase first where this fuel source pulled me well out of my comfort zone to get me further away from my old assumptions and habits. It crushed the parts of my life that weren’t working well anyway, even though I resisted such purging at the time.

This powerful fuel showed me glimpses of what life could be like through peak experiences, and that left me with an even bigger contrast when I tried to lean back on old fuel sources that were far less stimulating.

Do you have to do this perfectly to improve your results? Nope. Even making small tweaks to your motivational fuel can make a meaningful difference. But imagine what could happen if the easygoing flow of inspired action became your everyday experience?

While it may seem indulgent to delve into experiences that motivate you with ease, I highly recommend it. I had some insightful breakthroughs by doing more of what I found naturally fun and motivating – and learning to do that guilt-free. This enabled me to keep improving other aspects of life, such that there isn’t such a huge contrast between work days and fun days anymore. Now I tend to enjoy both about equally well, just in different ways. And I don’t have to lean on stress or anxiety to self-motivate.

When you get in tune with the flow of your best motivational fuel, life is much easier and more enjoyable. Long-standing problems finally get solved as if they were no big deal to begin with. Scarcity leaves, and abundance becomes your new reality.

Remember that more is possible. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been stuck with weak motivational fuel. You can always switch to a different fuel source. Instead of using money as fuel, you could try meaning and purpose. Instead of using obligation, you could try heart-aligned service. Instead of using stress and worry, you could try fun and playfulness.

This is a deeply personal exploration. What fuels me may not fuel you. So don’t just assume you can copy my fuel sources and expect them to work for you equally well. Don’t look to Disneyland for motivational clues if you hate Disneyland. Look into your own past for the clues that life is giving you. Be grateful for the gift of those clues, and follow them to your own best sources of motivation.

Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site stevepavlina.com and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

You may also like...