Thursday, July 20, 2006

Motivating force: appeal of success or fear of failure?

As this summer starts to disappear into the past, I find myself, as usual, drafting a series of goals or rehashing old ones in order to keep them new. Many nights, I have closed my eyes and allowed my mind to roam free with all the wonderful goals it would like to see become reality within the next five, ten, and twenty years. I know it might seem a bit weird that I am thinking and planning that far ahead, but it keeps me excited about the future. Sometimes I wish I could fast-forward my life, just to see if I accomplished all my goals.

Anyway, with all these goals swimming in my head, each one getting generous amount of smiles from me, regardless of how ambitious any one of them is, I had to ask myself what motivates me to achieve these goals. Better yet, what motivates people to achieve their goals? Are we motivated by the prospect of success (in achieving our goals) or by the fear of not accomplishing these goals? And which of these two motivating notions do we prefer or tend to lean towards?

Here is a picture for you to imagine. When you try to achieve a goal, what do you see? Do you see Ms. Success jumping up and down (with pompoms in hand), praising your steps towards your goal--and so you move forward? Or do you see Ms. Failure insulting you and telling you not to even bother--and so in defiance or as a challenge, you move solidly toward your goal? It is a subtle difference in motivational approach: the fear of failure or the love for success, but I think it is helpful to see where we tend to lean towards.

We must recognize that one of the two, the "fear of failure" or the "love for success," has a greater influence on us than the other does, even though loving one necessarily implies loving the other, or more simply, the two phrases are essentially synonymous. One of these two phrases is at the root of our motivation to achieve our dreams, however ambitious they might be. Therefore, if we know which phrase drives us, it can allow us to keep the journey towards our goals in the right perspective and maybe even make the journey easier.

I am also tempted to ask which motivational leaning is better. When I refer to my own record of accomplishment, it seems that goals hide behind particular obstacles, and once one conquers these obstacles, one’s goals are more readily seized. With a tendency towards "fear of failure," the obstacles seem outward, so one may feel that one has a target, a wall to punch out of one's way--and this might make aiming towards a goal easier. And if one does fail, it makes it easier to bear the disappointment, because one thinks about all the Ms. Failures shouting in one’s ear. With a tendency towards "love of success," the obstacles seem to be within, one cannot readily see it--and this might make aiming towards a goal harder. But the success approach has that benefit of having a cheerer, someone to say, "Yes, you can do it." However, if one fails, it is a bit more difficult to bear the disappointment. One’s personality probably determines the particular phrase that rules one. If you are an optimistic and energetic kind of person, with an "of course, I can do it" attitude, the "love of success" might rule you. If you love a challenge or you are the "I'll show you" kind of person, or you are a pessimistic kind of person, the "fear of failure" might rule you. It seems then that if a personality style is appropriately matched with the right motivational phrase, one should witness relatively no difference in the effectiveness of either of the two phrases.

Like I said before, both phrases are essentially the same and might be equally effective. So, ultimately, it is probably the balancing act (in our minds) between the appeal of success and fear of failure that gets us moving--we need to have both (though in seemingly differential amounts) in the motivating cooking pot.

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At 23/7/06 6:12 AM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

Hi Rosemary,
You may find in later life, once you are older that life doesn't also go as planned - however sharp the clarity of a goal or vision analysis, even when with the best of intentions.
Sometimes goals work smoothly for the longest time, then destiny steps in from nowhere and throws all cauton to the winds for an equally long time. But this is wisdom that comes mostly with age after having lived a little and shed a few skins.
I have learnt to go with the flow and to carry in my heart...the best of the best, which is all I can do. To know that a Higher Power is always in control and with his own ideas, plans and goals and sometimes nothing that that we could have even dared envision (either good or troubling) for ourselves.

At 23/7/06 6:13 AM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

Sorry, in the 2nd line I meant to say:
always go as planned & and not also go...

At 25/7/06 4:20 AM, Blogger Rosemary Esehagu said...

Hello, Susan, I find your comment interesting.

I am 24 now, but let me assure you that many years ago I learned (and have since continued to learn) that life does not always go according to my plans—this is something even little children begin to learn, and one never fully learns no matter one's age. Some things have happened in my life that I would never wish on even my enemy, and some things have happened that still make me wonder how I could be so lucky. All of these happenings have produced me, my unique life.

My current faith is that God has plans for me and his plans are far superior to mine. But this does not mean that I should sit down with an idle mind. I will dream and I will plan (as He calls me to), with God's grace, and it is through doing so that I will see God's beauty and will for me, either by him meeting or exceeding my goals and expectations, or by him showing me an entirely new path through disappointments, failures, and so on. Planning is not certainty; it is a proposal to life, and life, at its discretion, WILL delete or add.

I have had my share of failures (or “redirections”) and successes, and I have learned from and am still learning from them; they continue to shape the person that I am. I cannot have a clear concept of what my failures and successes are (and so learn from them) if I did not set goals and try ardently to achieve them. Whether I achieve my goals and dreams is an entirely different matter, and this is what makes life… life. After all, life would be boring if we always knew what cards it is going to give us, if we always knew the exact directions. For me, settings goals (and striving towards them) and then witnessing what life has to say (good or bad) about them is what makes life exciting, challenging, and worth looking forward to.

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