Achieving Peak Motivation

August 13th, 2007 by Steve Pavlina

Several people have asked me about the origins of the polarity concept I began exploring last year.  Where did it come from?  How does it relate to personal growth?

These ideas actually stemmed from some journal entries I wrote in 2002.  At the time I was asking myself questions like these:  What is the deepest source of ongoing motivation, such that if we tapped into it, we’d be as motivated as we could reasonably expect to be?  How might we behave if we could experience peak motivation on a daily basis?

I quickly recognized that I couldn’t just trick myself into experiencing peak motivation.  Rah-rah pump-yourself-up techniques only last so long, but for sustained motivation, it’s all about the why.

Are we really driven by pleasure and pain?

Many self-help experts, including Tony Robbins, say that our actions are driven by the fundamental forces of pleasure and pain, aka the carrot and the stick.  That model is useful to a certain extent, but the way I’ve seen it used in practice, it mostly becomes a tautology.  Pleasure gets defined as anything you’re attracted to, and pain becomes anything that repels you, and these factors may be physical, emotional, psychological, or even spiritual.  To me that’s like saying the source of motivation is whatever motivates you.  Sure that’s technically true, but it isn’t very helpful.  It’s circular logic.

The pleasure/pain model will only get you so far in life because eventually you hit a plateau of complacency.  When your survival is at stake, pleasure and pain will be strong motivators.  But what if you’re doing just fine and aren’t particularly threatened?  Some say you must adapt the carrot/stick model to motivate yourself further — create bigger carrots and bigger sticks.  Reward yourself more and whip yourself harder.  But I think there’s a better approach than trying to motivate yourself with the human equivalent of canine obedience training.

Discovering polarity

A “sustained state of peak motivation” means that feeling highly motivated becomes your everyday default.  You may still have ups and downs, but in this ideal state it’s normal for you to wake up feeling intensely motivated, to maintain that feeling through most of the day, and to go to bed feeling fulfilled and excited about the next day.

I saw there were basically two different paths to a sustained state of peak motivation. 

One path was to be driven by love.  The other was to be driven by fear.  Love and fear are the two fundamental poles of motivation.  If you chose to embrace either one fully — really chose and commit to that choice — you’re far more likely to feel inspired, driven, and unstoppable.

When you make this choice consciously and then commit to your choice, you undergo the process of polarization.

Love polarization means you adopt the mindset of unconditional love for everything that exists.  You center your life around serving the highest good of all.  This commitment stems naturally from the decision to align yourself with the polarity of unconditional love.  Think of this as an outward flow of energy.  Your focus is on giving and on making a contribution.

Fear polarization means you become unconditionally self-centered, driven by greed, power, and lust.  Your commitment is to make your life the best it can possibly be, purely for your own self-gratification.  Think of this as an inward flow of energy.  Your focus is on acquiring and absorbing all that life has to offer you.

Although they may seem similar on the surface, love and fear are different creatures than pleasure and pain.  Love and fear represent different internal mindsets, whereas pleasure and pain are external pressures that direct your behavior.  So this isn’t a behaviorist model because we’re looking at the inner choices, not merely the outward actions.

Lightworkers and darkworkers 

Someone who polarizes with love becomes a lightworker, and one who polarizes with fear becomes a darkworker.

In actuality the vast majority of people (more than 99% I imagine) are neither lightworkers nor darkworkers because they haven’t made the conscious commitment to polarize.  They may have strong leanings one way or the other, but they remain indecisive about what’s most important to them.  If you ask them point blank, such people will say they prefer a balanced approach or that they simply disagree they have to make a choice at all.  The most driven people I’ve ever met, however, tend to fall very strongly on one side or the other.  Either they’re absolutely gushing with a desire to contribute and to make a positive difference in the world (lightworker), or they’ve concluded that doing whatever it takes to make themselves happy is their top priority (darkworker).

Note that being a lightworker doesn’t mean you’re a self-sacrificing doormat for others; that mindset is what I call lightworker syndrome.  You’ll often see it in spiritual types who try to hold themselves to high ideals yet can’t even pay their own bills, usually because they inherited a false model of how such people are supposed to live.  Serving the greater good means recognizing that you are a part of the whole and that it’s more effective to serve from a state of abundance than one of scarcity.  The more effectively you can meet your own needs, the better you can serve.  Long-term lightworkers generally have no trouble supporting themselves because they produce plenty of value for others, so receiving value in return is a natural consequence.  They know that denying their needs isn’t going to help anyone, nor will it create a positive model for others to follow.  Sacrificing one’s own desires for the greater good may sound noble to some, but in practice it just isn’t very bright.

Similarly, being a darkworker doesn’t mean you’re totally evil and trampling on everyone you meet; that mindset would be darkworker syndrome.  If you’re going to channel fear energy and use it to your advantage, you don’t throw away your intellect in the process.  Again, such people inherit a false model of how they’re supposed to behave, such as the “evil genius.”  Becoming an effective darkworker means being totally dedicated to serving your own needs, and in most cases you aren’t going to meet your needs by hurting others — you’ll just end up creating a lot of enemies.  Trampling on others to get ahead may seem like a good short-term approach, but the intelligent darkworker recognizes that it’s a foolish long-term strategy.

When you polarize with either fear or love — and totally commit yourself to that choice — peak motivation becomes much easier to sustain.

Love and fear are the conscious enablers of our peak motivational states, whereas pleasure and pain are the unconscious drivers.  We can do amazing things when acting out of love, and we can do equally amazing things when acting out of fear.  There are other ways to motivate ourselves, but they basically come down to a (weaker) mixture of love and fear together rather than the purest mix of them.

Post-polarization

The really interesting part is what happens post-polarization.  I’ve said that both polarities ultimately lead to the same place, although it may take many years for this to be realized.  The lightworker eventually figures out that if s/he wants to do the best job of serving others, it’s imperative to find a sustainable way to meet his/her needs and create some level of personal abundance, if for no other reason than to avoid the distractions created by scarcity.  Similarly, the darkworker eventually discovers that the more s/he helps others, the easier it is to get what s/he wants too.  Instead of being faced with the choice between love of others and love of self, it is recognized that the pinnacle of one side is the pinnacle of the other.

Can you reach this peak motivational state without polarizing?  Yes, but it’s likely to take you much, much longer; realistically you probably won’t get there in this lifetime.  Polarization is a shortcut.  It’s easier to stay highly motivated if you focus intensely on either serving others or serving yourself — and you maintain that focus for a few years at least.

I think for virtually everyone, polarization is a key step that shouldn’t be skipped.  It can always be delayed but not bypassed.  Even as you may recognize that love of others and love of self can be the same thing — many people do — there’s a huge difference between knowing it intellectually and really living it.  Polarization is a commitment to choose one of these two paths — the path of loving others or the path of self-love — and focus on it intensely with all your strength.

Although I see both paths as equally valid, the lightworker path was my preference.  From my very Christian upbringing, I was taught that my ultimate role in life was to serve other people.  Even my high school’s motto was, “A man for others.”  In trying to fill that role, however, I often became overcommitted trying to make everyone happy — everyone except myself.  I always felt bad when I had to pull back on some of those commitments just to restore my energy.  Although I felt I was contributing, it wasn’t my best contribution, and it wasn’t sustainable.  I was trying to lay golden eggs while starving the goose.

Only by making such a strong commitment to this path did I recognize the importance of meeting my own needs.  Even though I thought I was on the right path, I was actually setting a bad example for people, showing them that service was a painful form of self-sacrifice.  And of course it doesn’t have to be that way.  So I learned the importance of doing things just for me, for no other reason than that I enjoy them.  When I take time to do these things, I have far more energy to give to others.  And this sets a better example for others too.

Some have reached this same place by following a darkworker mindset, focusing first and foremost on meeting their own needs.  Another term for this path is enlightened selfishness.  The commitment here is to do what it takes to make yourself happy.  Eventually you discover, although it may take many years, that making others happy makes you even happier than making only yourself happy.  You don’t become happy by surrounding yourself with unhappiness.

Why to polarize

Yes, both polarities ultimately lead to the same place.  But that polarization step is important.  Why?  Because most people cannot immediately recognize and implement a lifestyle which maximizes both polarities at the same time.  At best they only have a shot of making a real dent in one side or the other.

For example, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What’s the best career I can choose right now that would make me happiest?
  2. What’s the best career I can choose right now that would most benefit others?

Your verbal answers may be the same for both questions, or they may be different.  But your real answer is the career you’re working in right now.  As smart as I’m sure you are, did you actually manage to succeed in optimizing even one of these questions?  For most people the answer is no on both.  Trying to go from where they are now to an answer that optimizes both questions at the same time will only keep them stuck where they are.  It’s way too much to ask.  But it’s much easier to come up with a clear answer to one question by itself.  By choosing a polarity, you have a fresh career path that will at the very least, either make you happier or increase your service to others.  And if you pursue that singular path long enough, you’ll eventually see that when you optimize one question, you optimize the other as well.

Polarization is a process to help you accelerate your path to peak motivation, happiness, and fulfillment.  Think of it like choosing a major in college.  You’ll graduate sooner by picking a major vs. remaining undeclared.  Even if that decision seems to limit your options, it improves your focus and makes it easier to take correct action.  If you remain undeclared indefinitely, you’ll never graduate no matter how much time and energy you invest in your lessons.  On the other hand, once you graduate you’re no longer so limited by your original choice, although it may still remain a strong guiding force for you.



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