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While the modern view is that you get things by being magnetic, I would argue that fear of failure is still a strong motivator, this is...

It’s all fine and well to be motivated by altruistic means, but I would argue that the top performers in most fields are fuelled by something other than the prize at the end of a rainbow. Take professional athletes for example. All of those fancy montages that play during a championship run, and the celebration that comes with hoisting a big trophy above your head, might provide some degree of motivation. The truly great players however, need something else to push them to get up at 5 in the morning and do weight training or wind sprints. That something is usually an absolute fear and loathing of failure. As humans, for some reason many of us don’t like to use desperation and failure as motivation, or at least we don’t like to talk about doing so. The narrative of: “Just believe in yourself and do what you love and everything will go your way,” is now the preferred method of motivation. Thinking positive thoughts 100% of the time is seen as the top echelon of Zen achievement.

The Not-So-Secret

Not for me! I know how and what I am motivated by, and I think many other people are as well, they just don’t like to admit it. Maybe it has something to do with playing sports growing up, or spending hundreds of hours in a boxing ring, but achieving success was by far the secondary concern to me. The primary goal/obsession, was always to never lose, never quit, never fail. I believe this desperate mindset allows you to tap into a sort of primal motivation that is more powerful than the intellectual-based “higher thinking” stuff that is preached in most places these days. When I was in high school I played on a pretty successful basketball team. In my senior season we went undefeated. I truly believe that one of the key reasons we were so successful is that we never looked ahead and “fought for a title.” Instead we focused on our next opponent and swore we would never lose to them, we became consumed with the idea that the other team didn’t deserve to beat us, and a knot would start to form in your stomach at the thought of losing to them. That sick feeling of failure can push ever further than a joy of winning in my mind. It is not as “sexy” of a motivational idea as sending positive thoughts out into the universe, but I think it has a fair degree more merit (at least for people like me).

It Worked For Batman

This extreme fear of failure can be used to push the odds in our favour if we make conscious decisions to set ourselves up for the fight that we want. When you hear successful entrepreneurs talk, they inevitably speak of when they took a risk, and probably overextended themselves. What got them up early in the morning, and kept them working late at night was that constant nagging at the back of their mind saying that if they didn’t work that hard they would fail. When you learn to embrace that little voice, to own it, and make it yours, that’s when you begin to find out if you really can make a go of it, or if you need to switch up your path.

In the personal finance world, I find debt to be a massive motivator. Being in debt puts people in a corner. For some, that weight crushes them and starts a downward spiral, but for others it is essential to bringing the most out of them. It is what can push them the hardest and the furthest. By strategically putting yourself in debt to buy an asset, or by one day realizing that to get ahead in life you MUST slay the consumer debt dragon, you are reaching into a great pool of motivation. Some say that this type of motivation comes from a dark place and that somehow it is intrinsically less pure than the beautiful mist of positivity that seems to be all the rage these days. All I know is that it is brutally effective and that it drives me every day.

Yay For Sports Analogies

Coaches are fond of quoting an old basketball coach that said, “When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.” For lawyers or businessman you could likely substitute studying in for practicing. To be all that you can be means channeling the primal drive that comes with fear of failure and using it before it uses you. Or you could just read The Secret for the fourth time and hope something falls into your lap because you are sending out good vibrations (man, it’s no wonder the Funky Bunch were so successful).

Article comments

kc says:

You said “Being in debt puts people in a corner.” How many people are in debt because of ego and vanity?

“Renting is throwing your money away”? I need a $500,000 mc Mansion
“That new F250 only costs $40,000” I need this truck instead of just buying a $1,000 truck that will get me from point A to B….

Debt for many is something they can choose not to get into, however, that makes you look poor…. many people are hypocrites.

Teacher Man says:

True KC, debt can obviously weigh you down as well, I guess I meant primarily debt for investment or wealth-building activities.