Overcoming Negative Emotions and Boosting Motivation

July 25th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

A negative emotional state can really ruin your day. Prolonged stress, depression, or anger are clearly not conducive to high levels of performance. And the worst part is that these emotional states tend to be self-perpetuating. Working while overly stressed can lead to even more stress. Depression and worry can cause you to avoid taking the kinds of actions that will help you escape the pit of negativity. And anger can lead you to take unproductive actions you may later regret.

While emotional variety can spice up your life, hopefully you’ll agree that remaining stuck in a prolonged negative emotional state is something to be avoided. So if you find yourself in one of these states, what can you do to boost your motivation and keep it high?

I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time studying emotional states (far more than you’d care to know), and I’ve tried many different strategies for consciously managing my emotions for most of my adult life. I felt this was a worthwhile investment because of how important emotions are in human life. Our feelings largely control how well we utilize our physical and mental resources. Our feelings can literally make or break us. I’m sure you can think of a few people who’ve been ruined by their inability to successfully manage their emotions.

If you’ve followed Tony Robbins’ work, you’ll note that he places a great deal of emphasis on emotional state management. While I tend to favor different techniques than the ones he espouses in his books and seminars, I’ve found that what he teaches works if you practice it enough. The state management strategies he teaches come from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), and there are other sources for that same material aside from Tony Robbins if you don’t like his particular style.

What I don’t like about most NLP state management techniques though is that they tend to be very short-term in their effect, and they take some serious conscious effort to apply them. If I’m feeling down, I can use a technique like changing my physiology (i.e. body stance) or conditioning an anchor to make myself feel terrific. And it works just fine. But it doesn’t stick, and an hour later I can feel I’m gradually sinking back to my previous emotional state. Given that I eventually need to sit down at my desk and get back to work, giving myself a temporary emotional boost is nice, but it doesn’t do all that much for me over the course of a week unless I’m repeating it every hour. This is my personal experience, so I’m not saying this is true for everyone. There’s tremendous individual variety in the efficacy of NLP techniques.

Similarly, I can watch a comedy or listen to some music to cheer myself up, but the effect is still very temporary. Giving myself some temporary new input to cheer myself up is nice, but usually my previous emotional state will simply reassert itself within an hour or two later.

So what does work? How do I keep my level of motivation perpetually high?

This might sound overly simplistic, but the best strategy I’ve found for staying motivated and positive is to maintain the daily habit of listening to motivational audio programs. I own quite a few of these programs, so I have hundreds of hours of audio at my disposal. Most of it is in audio cassette format, so I just pop a cassette into my tape player and listen. Some of my favorite people to listen to are Earl Nightingale, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, and Denis Waitley.

While these programs are usually packed with great information and ideas, I find that the information itself isn’t what usually provides me with the greatest benefit. It’s the emotional/motivational fact that provides me with the biggest long-term payoff. I’ve listened to some of them dozens of times, so I’m not getting many new ideas out of them. But even though the information doesn’t change, the positive attitude behind the information reinvigorates me every time. I’ll often listen to these audio programs while exercising or while doing other physical tasks like preparing meals or eating, so they don’t even take up any extra time. Most of the time I don’t even concentrate on them — I just listen passively while I focus on something else.

For me the effect is undeniable. After 30-60 minutes of listening to someone like Zig Ziglar talk about goals, I invariably feel very optimistic and focused. And I tend to get a lot of high-priority work done when I’m in that kind of emotional state. But the key was for me was to maintain this as a daily habit.

Just like physical exercise should be a daily habit, I feel daily emotional conditioning is at least as important. Whenever I’ve fallen out of this habit for weeks or months at a time, I’ve invariably gotten sucked down into negative emotional states. Then I remember my solution, plug back in, and my attitude and productivity shoot back up again.

When I went through college in three semesters, I listened to these motivational tapes religiously. My average weekday was about 8 hours of classes, but I remember that in my final semester I had one day each week with 13 hours of classes back to back, from 9:00 AM to 10:00pm with 15-minute breaks between each class. Those days were pretty insane, but in those short breaks as I walked from one class to the next, I put my headphones back on and listen to my cassettes. So no matter how tough things got, I was constantly re-conditioning myself to have a positive, can-do attitude, and this kept me enthusiastic and on top of my workload.

If you can only afford one such audio program, one of my all-time favorites is Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale. This program is fairly old, and Earl is deceased, but in my opinion it’s still one of the best programs of its type and a great one to start with if you’ve never listened to any other motivational audio. You can find a copy at Nightingale Conant — it’s about $40 there for the unabridged version on cassette, CD, or MP3 (Amazon charges $70 for it).

If you don’t want to spend any money, you can probably find a small selection of audio programs at your local public library. Mine has several dozen, and since the library is only a mile from my house, I often check them out and just buy the ones I feel are really outstanding.

I plan to add some of my own audio programs to this site eventually, since I personally find them tremendously beneficial, but I want to finish my book first before I start doing audio recordings.

What I like about listening to audio programs is that it’s easy, mindless, and passive. All I need to do is stick on my head phones, pop in a tape, CD, or MP3, and press play. I generally aim for about 30 minutes per day (usually when I exercise). This is enough to keep me feeling generally positive and optimistic all day long and getting plenty of work done.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there are an awful lot of whiny people on this planet, and their negative emotions will tend to rub off on you and infect you with the whininess disease if you don’t inoculate yourself against it. Daily inoculations of motivational audio programs are the best antidote I’ve found for this ailment. It helps me stay focused on my goals and avoid going to pity parties.

Pick up some kind of motivational audio program, and try listening to it for at least 30-minutes a day for a week, and see what effect it has on your attitude and your actions. I think you’ll find as I do that this habit is one of the best you can develop.

Reading uplifting material is also effective, but I personally prefer audio for my daily emotional conditioning, so I can do other things at the same time. But there are plenty of great books and articles that can help keep your attitude positive as well.

Is it possible to overdo it? Yeah, I think so. I find it best to maintain an even emotional state that falls on the optimistic side. In my experience that’s the best for personal productivity — I don’t work as hard when I’m feeling pessimistic. But I don’t think it’s wise to get yourself so emotionally rah-rah that you lose sight of reality and start making foolish decisions. The goal should be to manage your emotions in such a way that you can best leverage your physical and mental resources. Most people would label this “sweet spot” the state of being passionate about what you do. But don’t push your emotions to such a level of intensity where you’re blocking access to your best thinking. Put yourself in a state where you feel positive and generate positive results; don’t overtrain yourself to the point where you’re feeling great about mediocre results.



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