How to Motivate Yourself Effectively

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How to Motivate yourself effectively

Barbara has been experiencing some really difficult emotions:  a combination of jealousy, fear and anger. Like most of us when confronted with our shadow emotions, she was relentlessly critical of herself for even having the feelings. 

I’ve written on emotions/feelings before, and all emotions are simply neutral.  There are no “bad” or “evil” or “wrong” emotions. It’s what we do with them.

The Vicious Inner Critic

Unfortunately, what many of us have tended to do with our emotions is try to think our way through them and judge them.  Many of us have a vicious inner critic and we will let that voice have full sway in beating ourselves up. 

Neither of these strategies actually works – and what ends up happening first is that we stuff the emotions we don’t want. Then, we eventually can’t feel any of our emotions, because when you stuff one, you end up stuffing them all.  Here’s the link to the article where I talk about that.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

What struck me this time as we worked to be self-compassionate with all emotions, the beautiful and easy ones, as well as the ones we judge to be “negative,” “bad,” or “ugly,” was not how quickly Barbara went to criticizing herself and her vicious inner critic, but her response when I talked about some strategies for silencing or diminishing the power of the inner critic’s voice (which, by the way, doesn’t mean to ignore it or stuff it). 

Barbara’s immediate response to even naming the viciousness of the inner critic was, “If I don’t beat myself up for it, I’ll never motivate myself to get beyond it.”

If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a hundred times – and many times in the past couple weeks with various clients. 

Can you relate?  When have you noticed a “flaw” or seen a portion of your shadow side clearly, and – instead of having compassion, you beat yourself up?

And even worse – if someone encourages you to simply be with the emotion, and feel it and let it pass through, your response is:  “If I don’t beat myself up, I won’t make the changes I need to make in my life.”

We do this all the time!  Nine times out of ten, when I encourage someone to be self-compassionate, the response comes back – “oh, but if I am compassionate with myself, or if I don’t beat myself up for this, I’ll never get beyond it.” 

We have bought into the lie that unless we beat ourselves up – and pretty ruthlessly at that – we’ll never shift or change or heal or grow.  Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. The more you beat yourself up, the less ability you have to heal it and grow from it – or change it. 

The Shame Voice

This dynamic is one of the ways we keep ourselves in shame – and if there’s one thing I know about shame, it is that as soon as you stop shaming yourself for one thing, your mind or shame voice will say – oh, but what about this (another area where you aren’t perfect or your shadow comes out).  It’s the most vitriolic, caustic inner voice that I know. 

Beating yourself up simply feeds the shame.  It sends you down a spiral that will eventually end in either stuffing it back in (where it comes out in unexpected ways) or you simply freeze and end up not doing anything.  Or… you may start making changes with great intentions, but it’s the inner critic voice that always tears you down that has the microphone. 

Judgment doesn’t motivate

Have you ever noticed that if you’re judged enough times you begin to believe the judgment, even if it’s completely untrue?  When that critical voice has the microphone, you can’t make the changes you want to make. That’s one reason judgment doesn’t – and can’t –motivate you to move forward.

I love synchronicities!  Just as I was noticing this dynamic was so prevalent in my clients, a member of Sounds True just sent an email about it.  She has a course that deals with this aspect of working with self-compassion. Kristin Neff, PhD, has spent her career working with self-compassion.  This brand-new audio program represents a shift in her work toward dealing with this phenomenon. 

Just in the short advertisement email about the program, she clearly named and described the dynamic I’ve been seeing in my clients.  And more than that: her research shows what I have been seeing in my own life and that of my clients: 

Research shows that the number one block to self-compassion is the belief that it undermines our motivation. We believe we need to be harsh and critical to get ourselves moving to reach our goals. But in fact, self-compassion inspires motivation. If we care about our well-being, we are able to a) reach our full potential, and also b) change habits and behaviors that may be harming ourselves. 

                                                        ~Kristin Neff, PhD

Reaching our full potential is one of the core reasons I developed the Spiritual Transformation Group. Moreover, I teach both self-compassion and compassionate witness (in which the group holds a loving and open space of compassion when a group member is working through an issue, an emotion, or difficult situation that they’ve encountered that is impacting them) as part of our group work. 

Practicing Self Compassion

Most of you also know that I value the practical, and so I also teach you how to practice self-compassion, how to work compassionately with your inner critic, and how to do compassionate witness as part of this group.  If you’re interested in learning more, my group is now open and there are a few spaces left. Read more about it here

In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with a self-compassion exercise that is adapted from one that Kristin Neff shared in her promotional email.  It will help you begin to shift from trying to motivate yourself by beating yourself up inside.

It will show you a way to motivate yourself with self-compassion that will lead to changing old behaviors and habits that don’t serve you.  I have actually been doing this sort of work with my clients in sessions and groups for years, so if you have worked with me before, some of this may feel familiar: 

Here is the Practice

how to motivate yourself effectively
  1. Preparation: 
    • Make sure you have a journal or piece of paper and something to write with, and at least 15-20 minutes of time to devote to this exercise.
    • Find a place where you can be comfortable and also write.
    • Take a minute to connect with the Divine and ask for help.
  2. Write down a behavior you would like to change, along with some of the problems it is causing in your life.
  3. Next, write down how your inner critic is expressing itself when this behavior arises, and try to be as descriptive as possible.
  4. At this point, take a moment to get in touch with part of you that feels criticized. Write down how this feels and how you have been impacted.
  5. Now take some time to give yourself a moment of comfort, to recognize that it is hard to receive this criticism. Take a few moments to write any words of kindness, validation, and understanding for the pain you have experienced because of your own inner criticism.
  6. Turn toward your inner critic with curiosity (and as little judgment as possible). Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this to myself? What is motivating this behavior? Is my inner critic actually trying to help or protect me?”
  7. If you have found a way your inner critic may be trying to help or protect, write some words of thanks to your inner critic.
  8. Now that your inner critic has been heard and thanked, you can make space for a voice that is motivating and compassionate. Take a few moments to connect with your heart.  Then get in touch with your compassionate voice of encouragement and accepting inner wisdom.

Feel into this part of yourself. From this place, can you see any patterns or reasons why you may be stuck? Are there any contextual factors? Maybe it is associated with stress? Maybe it is a learned behavior from your past?

Can you learn from what has been unproductive in the past and think about how you can do things differently in the future? When you are ready, write down your answers to some of these questions.

  1. Once you feel ready, write some final words of kind encouragement for how you might make a change from this new perspective.
  2. Conclusion:  write down some words of gratitude toward yourself and the Divine for what you’ve noticed or learned from this time.

Please let me know how it goes and what shifted internally for you with this exercise.  Were you able to motivate yourself through your self-compassion? How does that differ from trying to motivate yourself by beating yourself up?

With love and gratitude,


Photo credit for first photo: Cornelia Kopp on / CC BY

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