Learn How Motivation Works and Improve Your Productivity and Health

When I type “motivation meaning” into my Google browser the top page result from the online dictionary is:

Motivation: desire or willingness to do something; enthusiasm.

This simple definition of motivation opens up two scenarios — the good and the bad. You can have the desire for something “bad” or the desire for something “good”. When someone mentions motivation you probably associate it only with the positive. But did you know that motivation can be bad for your health and productivity?

Motivation can be classified depending on whether your desire to do something springs from your heart or from external factors. If it springs from your heart, from your inner core, it’s called internal motivation. If it’s driven by external factors it’s called external motivation.

But whichever way you decide to classify the concept of motivation, at the end of the day the feelings that are generated reside inside of you. And it’s the nature of these feelings that will determine whether or not motivation is good or bad for you.

What’s driving your motivation?

We are all motivated to carry out tasks that make life less painful for us. We are all motivated to do things that have a pleasurable value attached to them. Again, this pleasurable value can go one of two ways — the good or the bad. And what determines the pleasurable outcome as good or bad for you is the motivator in place. Let me explain.

Let’s use a common example — the use of food. Imagine you want to have a slimmer look or have a six-pack. You can achieve either of these outcomes by eating healthy and sticking to a decent exercise routine.

The question however is: “Why are you trying to achieve a slimmer looker or have a six-pack?” Maybe you want to impress your lover. Maybe you simply want to be healthier. How you answer this will determine whether your desire to achieve a slimmer looker or have a six-pack is bad for your health and productivity, or not.

If your primary motivation — [main desire to achieve] — is to impress your lover this is bad news for your body and brain. If your primary motivation — [main desire to achieve] — is to take accountability for your own benefit, this is good news for your body and brain. Fascinating — right? Which brings us to the concept of self-depreciation.

Unhealthy Motivation and Self-depreciation

Enter into a psychologist’s therapy room anywhere in the world and the concept of “esteem” will come up either directly or subtly. Why? Because a convergence of societal, individual and other factors can leave anyone vulnerable to having low self-esteem. And many inner child difficulties have a component of low self-esteem.

Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) talks about “self-depreciation” instead of low self-esteem. Simply put, self-depreciation means that you devalue yourself. Self-depreciation means that you derive your sense of worth from what others think about you. Self-depreciation means that your sense of worth is dependent on external factors and not on your own inner qualities. In short, self-depreciation results in a wounded inner child who might function well on the surface but has emotional pain or confusion on the inside.

Returning to the slimmer look or six pack examples above, if your primary motivation is to impress your lover then you are attaching your worth to an external “object”. This kind of motivation is coming from a self-depreciating angle.

It’s okay, once in a while, to engage in motivation arising out of self-depreciation. Because of a host of negative experiences as we grow up, we have insecurities about ourselves. This makes it inevitable that there are moments in life when you will devalue yourself. Moments when you put yourself down. And that is okay — only if it happens once in a blue moon. Problem is when self-depreciation becomes a default style of motivation.

Self-depreciation, corticosteroids and low productivity

When your default motivation style is due to self-depreciation your brain will have a constant outpouring of corticosteroid hormones. Why? Because when you devalue yourself any disapproval or interpretation of disapproval from others is interpreted as a social threat to your psychological health.

And your brain responds to all threats — psychological, physical, social or otherwise — in the same way. It sends the stress response to the frontline. The stress response involves multiple pathways in the brain and body. One of the pathways involves the release of corticosteroid hormones by the adrenal cortex.

Corticosteroid hormones are supposed to protect you, but at a certain tipping point they become the bad guy. A research article by Ron de Kloet et al published in Trends in Neuroscience puts it concisely:

“Corticosteroid hormones secreted by the adrenal cortex protect the brain against adverse events and are essential for cognitive performance… Corticosteroid effects on cognition can, however, turn from adaptive into maladaptive, when actions via the two corticosteroid-receptor types are imbalanced for a prolonged period of time.” [Trends Neurosci. (1999) 22, 422–426]”

If your desire or willingness to get ahead in life is pushed by an agenda of wanting to please others or gain their approval your life will not be self-confident. You become unassertive in dealing with people you consider significant to you. You tend to disregard your own preferences for those of others and you could be easily manipulated by them into doing things that go against the grain of your values.

The constant stress of trying to please others while you devalue yourself leads to blockade of glucocorticoid receptors in your brain’s prefrontal cortex. One of the effects of this mechanism is cognitive impairment. Difficulty in maintaining mental focus and less than stellar memory and learning are some of the side effects of cognitive impairment. Without adequate focus and difficulties in learning your productivity is going to take a nose dive.

Poor cognitive performance translates into low productivity in all areas of your life. You can still perform, but you are not doing so at your optimal best. I bet you want to perform to the best of your ability — right?

Self-depreciation, neuropeptides and poor physical health

A highly engaged stress response occurring over a prolonged period of time is not only bad for your cognitive performance, it’s also bad for your physical health. The stress response mediates your immune system function.

When your body is under constant threat it becomes difficult to get an opportunity to settle into a restorative heal-and-repair mode. Chronic stress decreases immune system functioning and this leads to poor health.

Immune system functioning is facilitated and moderated by a complexity of pathways. One such is through neuropeptides (brain proteins) that are marshalled to handle significant real or perceived challenges to your physical or psychological well-being. This response is supposed to be adaptive and protective, but over a prolonged time, as in chronic stress, it turns destructive.

The book Stress, Neuropeptides and Systemic Disease traces the pathways to stress-induced disease. These diseases include the following:

· Regulation of immune response

· Modulation of immunity

· Pathogenesis of arthritis

· Gastrointestinal function

· Hypertension

· Chronic Congestive Heart Failure

When your motivation mode is always through self-depreciation you are operating from what I call high demands — low control matrix. Your pleasure/happiness/sense of worth is conditional on doing tasks (high demands) that others must approve of. When others must approve, instead of you, this is low control.

The high demand — low control matrix is stressful because you are not in control. Played out over time, this matrix messes up your physical health through a stress response that lowers your immune response.

Healthy Motivation and Unconditional Self-love

There is, of course, a type of motivation that is good for your health and will boost your productivity ten times over. This type of motivation, the healthy type, uses the high demands — high control matrix. This type of positive motivation is a result of living a lifestyle that is grounded in unconditional self-love.

When you have unconditional self-love your pleasure/happiness/sense of worth does not depend on doing tasks (high demands) that others must approve of. Instead, you are motivated to do things because they represent your core values. When you are motivated by your values then you are in control of yourself. In other words, you are operating from the high demands — high control matrix [HDHC Matrix] side of things.

The beauty of operating from the HDHC Matrix is that you are not under stress to please others in order to live your life. Because you are motivated by your core values (and not the values of others), you will be attracted to tasks and things that you enjoy doing. And it’s a no-brainer here that when you do the things you love you perform faster, bigger and better. In other words, you have superior output when you are doing the stuff of your dreams.

Case Study — The Doctor Who Became a DJ

Kane was a brilliant medical resident who finished among the top 5% of his cohort. He went on to successfully practice as a plastic surgeon at a highly sought-after boutique facility. On the outside and to everyone that saw him, he was a brilliant doctor and a true gentleman. But Kane was burning on the inside. Kane was living his life from the high demands — low control matrix. His inner child was a very sad human being who was pitiful, resentful and angry.

Three years into a successful practice Kane felt so pressured. He was on the verge of burnout. Talking to a childhood friend one evening over a cup of coffee at a Café Nero, the seeds of a solution came to him. Kane’s friend reminisced about high school and reminded Kane about his DJ stunts back in the day.

To cut the long story short, within a year Kane had quit medical practice and taken on full time music DJ work. As a music DJ, Kane was operating from his side of the high demands — high control matrix. As a plastic surgeon he was fulfilling his parents dream. Kane’s dad had dropped out of med school in year 3 and his mother was a nurse. When Kane wanted to become an automotive mechanic, the parents had pushed him to medicine. He had the intelligence and work ethic to complete medical school but what motivated him was to make his parents happy.

As a music DJ Kane finally found himself. He became a celebrity DJ within a year of starting work and he has never looked back. He stopped struggling with his persistent low self-esteem and became more confident of himself, adopting a lifestyle of unconditional self-acceptance.

Here’s a question for you: Which side of the matrix are you standing on? What type of motivation is driving you?

Identifying Your Matrix

If you want to be healthier and perform better, your default motivation mode should the positive type. A healthy motivation mode is, as we have seen above, one in which you live life from the high demands — high control matrix. This leads to a lifestyle of unconditional self-acceptance. This simply means that your motivation is driven by your core values. Even when you are in service of others, your motivation is still driven by your values.

In one of his books, Dr Windy Dryden, a professor of Psychotherapeutic studies, lists beliefs about self which are common in self-depreciation. The core problem with holding these views is that you globally rate yourself negatively.

The result of this negative rating of self is prolonged exposure to unnecessary psychological stress which has negative long-term effects on your mental and physical health and declining productivity. Being aware of these common negative beliefs about self is the first step in living healthy, becoming more assertive in your life, and achieving optimal productivity.

Which of these beliefs do you use to devalue yourself? Which of the beliefs below are stopping you from living life according to your core values? Which of the beliefs here is compromising your healthy and productivity?

· I am bad.

· I am worthless

· I am unlikeable/unlovable

· I am insignificant

· I am defective

· I am repulsive

· I am useless

· I am stupid

· I am inferior

· I am pathetic

Are you negatively motivated? Or are you positively motivated?

Salute to your better health and optimal productivity.

Salute to a life driven by your core values.

Salute to a lifestyle that nurtures your inner child from a state of distress to a state of unconditional love and true self-confidence.