Friday, February 12, 2010

Using Negative Emotion to Achieve Positive Goals

A while back, I wrote an important post concerning one of the great motivators of personal change: disgust. Very often we will not make the efforts required to change a habit pattern until the consequences accumulate to the point of disgust. We tend to change, not when we want to, but when we need to.

Some of the bitterest losses in markets can also be some of the best motivators of change. When you've made a mistake often enough and paid a dear price each time, eventually you want no part of that mistake ever again. It's not discipline; it's the disgust that keeps you from doing the wrong things ever again.

Psychoanalysts have long understood this: they not only promote awareness of unconscious patterns that we repeat; they also bring to our attention the cost of those patterns. When we don't sustain change, it's often because we're not emotionally connected to the *need* for change. Many people like to use visualization as a technique to rehearse desired behaviors. Equally powerful is the use of imagery to more closely connect us to the consequences of negative behaviors: it's tough to fall into a pattern that disgusts us.