How to motivate yourself without the mental crutch of positive thinking
A few people have written in to say they think I'm too hard on positive thinking. I've been criticized because I haven't supplied an alternative for self-motivation. Fair enough. Here's how to motivate yourself without having to resort to the problem-filled strategy of positive thinking.
Firstly, I'd like to expand a bit on what I think the problem is with positive thinking. Basically, the way I see it, positive thinking boils down to lying to yourself. You try to ignore any negative assessments you make of the world, and fill yourself with "positive energy" or some such nonsense.
How can you make good decisions by lying to yourself?
Positive thinking just seems like a way of pretending problems aren't there to me. This isn't a good way to live your life. You wouldn't want your accountant, lawyer, plumber or doctor to pretend problems didn't exist. But for some reason it's okay if you do it to yourself.
And I can see the proof of the damage it does all around me. Detox clinics are full of positive thinkers who thought they'd be strong enough to deal with the side-effects of recreational drugs. Prisons are full of positive thinkers who thought they could get away with it. Morgues and hospitals see too many young drivers whose positive thinking and self-belief gets them into car accidents.
But despite all these negatives, positive thinking does have one advantage - it can be motivating. If you believe you can do it, like the little engine who could, then you're more likely to try.
But what if there was a better alternative? Something that gave the motivational benefits of positive thinking without the bad information side-effects?
Fortunately such a strategy exists. It's more motivational than positive thinking can ever hope to be, and doesn't involve lying to yourself. It can be summed up in one, simple word.
Ambition is the greatest motivator known to man. Whenever you meet successful people who've made their own luck, ambition is the constant characteristic you'll find. It drives people to overcome the obstacles of life like nothing else on Earth.
It's the burning, desperate ambition inside the world's most successful people that causes them to reach such great heights. It's hunger for the prize that pushes a world-class sportsperson to get up at five in the morning for a ten mile run in the rain. It's the urgent need for a better world that motivates a great scientist to defy conventional wisdom and make exciting new discoveries.
It's been said that most politicians would crawl over broken glass to gain more power and a celebrity will do anything to hold onto their fame. That's how motivating ambition can be.
Contrary to popular wisdom, it's often self-doubt rather than self-belief that drives the ambitious to push themselves that little bit harder. A Wimbeldon finalist doesn't train ten hours a day because she's sure she'll win. Instead, she worries that, when she step up to the line for the first serve of the most important game of her life, the other girl's going to outclass her. She's so desperate to make sure that doesn't happen, that she'll do anything to prevent it.
That's what ambition does to you.
Form a picture in your head of what you want out of life and where you want to go. Think big and aim high. Want it so badly you can almost taste it. Fill yourself with a desire for the prize, and a willingness to do what's necessary to grab it. That's the way to become ambitious.
I've perhaps made this strategy sound a little unpleasant, and it can be. It's an unfortunate fact of life that the paths to the best rewards are often filled with difficulty, self-doubt and struggle. But these problems are nothing compared to the wonderful feeling you get for having overcome them.
Ambition is hard, but the rewards are the best on offer anywhere.
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