“Approach motivation” and “avoidance motivation” are two motivation techniques which help better define motivation. They are very simple and help me see my reason for taking action in a more complete way. Approach motivation is simply taking action because you desire something ‘good’ to come into your life. Avoidance motivation is doing (or not doing) something to avoid what you think is ‘bad’.
Think of approach motivation as taking action for anything that gives you happiness, pleasure, or joy. This can also be viewed as achievement motivation. This can include spending time with a girlfriend/boyfriend or husband/wife, eating a food you really like, watching a movie that inspires you, exercising, spending time with loved ones, or simply relaxing on a warm day, just to name a few. When you picture something – or a state of being – that you really want, motivation to make it a reality is often a logical next step.
However, approach motivation is not without an opposing force. Have you ever really wanted something, thought about it intently, but never taken the action to make it a reality? This leads me into the next classification of motivation.
Avoidance motivation is taking (or not taking) action to avoid something unpleasant. Think of it like this. A woman is really interested in getting to know a man she likes. He’s smart, good looking, and kind. She doesn’t know him very well. She’s a little shy and has a hard time approaching people. She really likes this guy, but there is a problem. She believes she will get rejected, make a fool of herself, or do something ridiculous. As such, she never approaches the guy. Her avoidance strategy is to just never try.
The question to ask here is, “Which pull is the stronger of the two, the desire for connection, or the need to avoid rejection?” Unfortunately, the desire to avoid rejection or what one would perceive as a negative outcome often overtakes the potential for a positive outcome. Since there is no guarantee of a successful result from talking to this man, the woman plays it safe and never takes the step.
The conflict of approach avoidance motivation
I can totally relate to the scenario of the woman mentioned here. Not because I face her situation, but because there are other life scenarios which dictate the action I take (as of April 2010). There have been times I have NOT exercised because I attributed more pain/discomfort with exercise at that moment than the gain of health, strength, and fitness from it.
I also stay at my full time job because I want to avoid the potential problem of no ‘set’ income and health insurance and losing a house with a family – even though leaving it could lead to a glorious new path for our family.
And my job pays well! I work with awesome people and it allows me to provide for my family. So there is a ‘double whammy’ here of approach and avoidance motivation to overcome. This is a special case. I would have to give up something great for something even greater. What a challenge! But generally the avoidance motivation is all that must be surpassed to take action.
The conflict of approach and avoidance motivation can be frustrating. How often do you face a decision and back off because you are afraid of the potential harm or rejection or temporary struggle it might entail? What about moving away from something that is providing for you? I know I face these challenges on a consistent basis!
Approach avoidance motivation working together
I believe this conflict can be solved by focusing the mind and creating a strategy where the desired result of something ‘good’ in life is very strong AND the negative result of NOT taking action toward the ‘good’ thing are BOTH so strong that you are compelled to go make it happen. In a sense, they overwhelm the negative thought of getting rejected (or whatever the negative thought is) because the pull for both the positive result and what might not happen if the action is not taken win the day.
Think of the woman in the above example now. She wants to be with the man she desires. He will add love and joy to her life. She thinks of a life destitute of passion and joy from his absence. She sees herself with the man with a happy family. She knows he is kind, loving, and considerate. She sees a small window of opportunity. She can see both the wonderful time she will have with this man and the feeling of dread and emptiness from not taking the chance. She makes her move, no longer worrying about any rejection or negative outcome.
By classifying motivation as approach and avoidance, a greater understanding of decision making is reached. It is no easy task to create BOTH approach and avoidance motivation for the SAME thing that lead you to action. Generally they CONFLICT with each other. But if you can make them BOTH work for you, you will have unlocked one of life’s greatest mysteries.
My Friends: what have you noticed motivating you the most in your life? What ‘good’ things are you motivated to bring into your life? What ‘bad’ things are you motivated to keep out? Have you used both approach and avoidance motivation in your life to achieve a desired result?
image by h.koppdelaney
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