Admit it: when nothing's at stake other than your boss's disapproval, you don't exactly feel the urge to get working. Finding the motivation to take on a task, whether at work or home, can be a constant struggle. Though working through your laziness might seem like the best course of action, a meaner method can make more of an impact on your productivity.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It can make you shriek like a little girl in public and shake uncontrollably while speaking to an audience. Yet beyond making your palms sweat, being afraid can improve your productivity. So try using scare tactics to motivate yourself more effectively.
Why does threatening yourself work? As psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky told The New York Times, scare tactics work because we're worried the threat might actually come true.
Kahneman and Tversky argue that we hate to lose. Our natural competitive streaks extend beyond board games and sports—because losing (i.e., failing to accomplish a task) makes us feel inadequate, so we go out of our way to avoid that feeling of being less-than-par.
Though winning is enjoyable, we perceive failure to be so acutely awful that we'll do just about anything to avoid it. As the researchers state in their interview, when we lose, "We feel almost twice the emotion over a loss as opposed to a gain."
That fear is a strong motivator because there's potential for the end result to make us feel the pain of our failure. No one likes facing their angry, disappointed boss when they're behind on a deadline or completely forgot about an important task. The memory of those gut-twisting, unpleasant feelings can keep you working hard to avoid a repeat situation. As deadlines loom and the fear of failure becomes more of a possibility, we grow increasingly motivated to succeed.
No matter what you need motivation for, scaring yourself into getting things done can work in any setting—and all you need is your own imagination.
Can't seem to convince yourself to sit down for half an hour and work on that creative, off-duty project you never managed to start? Imagine the scary and realistic options of what could happen ten years down the road if you never complete it. Will you be stuck in your unbearable desk job, filing instead of expressing your creative strengths? Will the sting of seeing friends' success make you feel inadequate? Use the fear of those feelings to get started on your project.
Trying to break a bad habit? Rather than promising yourself you'll knock it off as part of your New Year's resolution list, think about the negative possibilities of continuing the habit. Could your obsessive nail biting cause bloody, never-healing wounds at your cuticles? Will your constant knuckle-cracking swell your joints, leading to painful, arthritic fingers in your old age? Whatever scary thoughts you can drum up for your future, utilize the fear to motivate yourself to change.
Whether you're already someone who views every task through a doom-and-gloom mindset, or you're an optimistic worker, try tweaking your viewpoint to offer a little more fear. The more you fear loss and failure, the more motivation you'll find hiding in the back of your mind.
If fear isn't your thing, try playing the right type of music while you work (or listening to video games), standing up when you're feeling lazy, or having a couple drinks at lunch, among other things.