Motivate Yourself Without Coercion


“Musts”,” shoulds”, and “oughts” can drain your motivation when you’re thinking about your tasks.

A more effective approach is to remind yourself of what you “want to” do and why you want to do it.

In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated, David Burns writes about motivation without coercion.

“Want To” Over Must, Should, and Ought

If you want to stay motivated, use “want to.”   Eliminate “musts,” “shoulds,” and “oughts” from your vocabulary.

Via Feeling Good:

“A possible source of your procrastination is an inappropriate system for self-motivation. You may inadvertently undermine what you attempt by flagellating yourself with so many “oughts,” “shoulds,” and “musts” that you end up drained of any desire to get moving.

You are defeating yourself by the way you kill yourself to get moving! Dr. Albert Ellis describes this mental trap as “musterbation.”

Reformulate the way you tell yourself to do things by eliminating these coercive words from your vocabulary. An alternative to pushing yourself to get up in the morning would be to say, “It will make me feel better to get out of bed, even though it will be hard at first. Although I’m not obliged to, I might end up being glad I did. If, on the other hand, I’m really benefiting from the rest and relaxation, I may as well go ahead and enjoy it!”

Using Rules for Results

One of the keys to improving in an area of life is to raise your standards or “rules” in terms of “musts,” “shoulds,” or “coulds.” For example, getting in shape means changing from a loose set of rules around eating and exercising that aren’t working, to a more precise set of “shoulds” or “musts.”

The more dramatic the results you need, the more rules you follow.

I find this a very interesting point because it walks an interesting line. I can easily see how it’s less inspiring to drive yourself with a bunch of rules. It’s one thing to be disciplined, but it’s another to have desire. I can see how you can rob your internal desire, in the name of discipline, if everything you internally see everything you do as a “should” or a “must.”

Using Wants for Feeling Good

From a results standpoint, improving in an area usually means turning “shoulds” and “coulds” into “musts” to get the results you need.

From a “feeling good” standpoint, the key is to remind yourself that you want to take these actions because you want the results.

I think the key here is to use a two part process of first mapping out your rules for results, then reframing them as wants over rules.

I think this has two benefits. One benefit is that you keep your feeling of freedom of choice. The second benefit is that if you fall off your horse, rather than an all-or-nothing mentality or guilt for breaking your rules, you get back on your horse.

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Translate shoulds into wants.  Use “wants” over “shoulds.”
  • Expressing WANTS creates freedom.  Turning shoulds into wants produces a feeling of freedom of choice and personal dignity.
  • The carrot works better than the stick in the long run.  A reward system works better and lasts longer than a whip.
  • Frame it as positive action towards your goals.  Look at things in terms of “what do I want to do? What course of action would be to my best advantage?”

Reframing using WANT over SHOULD is way more effective and inspiring.

I do use a simple list of 3 musts to guide my day, but I haven’t found it to be a problem.  If I had laundry lists of actions then I could see how that too would be a problem, but since I limit myself to 3 items, it helps me prioritize and keep momentum.

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