Fear, the Suckiest Motivator—Even for Lawyers

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a lawyer say they need more fear so they can motivate themselves to find happiness—well, maybe I would buy my 7 year-old the Lego Death Star he so wants.

woman kissing frog

Only optimists kiss frogs.

Of course, “I need more fear” isn’t what most lawyers say. Instead, they talk about needing to kick themselves in the tookus so they will do X, or to quit fooling around and get serious about their job search, or they have to get out of their current job by some arbitrary deadline. These are all about motivating through fear.

And then, surprise! The kick in the butt only works for a few weeks, getting serious about job searching gets put aside for meeting serious work deadlines, or the deadline passes and depression (and inaction) set in.

I’m not saying that fear doesn’t work as a motivator. It does. When there’s a crisis looming, fear sharpens your attention and focus wonderfully. But then one of two things tends to happen: either the crisis passes, and the fear motivation disappears, or the crisis becomes constant, and you get numb to it—so in effect, the acute fear disappears and chronic, lower-level fear replaces it.

If fear is your drug of choice, when a crisis disappears, you have to manufacture another, just to keep yourself going. See any parallels in your life or someone else’s?

Another thing to keep in mind about being motivated by fear–it really corrodes your soul. The longer you depend on it, the more work you’ll need to do to overcome the effects of fear. It can certainly be done, but why work harder than you have to?

Real and lasting changes are built on that much-maligned thing called hope, and its cousins joy and love. Hope isn’t enjoying much popularity these days, because changes made based on hope often are long-term ones, which aren’t so flashy and don’t usually produce overnight success. In a culture obsessed by quarterly earnings statements and Twitter speed, long-term strategies get the short shrift most of the time.

Yet the long-term solutions, the ones that motivate you by connecting you to your joys, your loves, your hopes—those are the foundation of something lasting. When you’ve got hope, joy and love, you can weather the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without needing Xanax or alcohol or other constant distractions just to make it through the next few hours. Instead, with hope you have the resiliency to weather what you’re facing, most of the time.

That’s why I spend oodles of time with clients helping them connect to what they really love, to what makes them want to leap out of bed in the morning. Or, in the case of non-morning people like me, at least not hiss and growl for the first two hours of the morning.

So what exactly do you do to connect with hope and joy? It doesn’t have to be big. In fact, I find that seemingly small steps produce the biggest results over the long haul.

Choose the simple thing, like allowing yourself to do something that seems unimportant, but that delights you. Check out one of my posts (here and here) on dates with yourself for ideas. My personal favorites are going to a really good fabric or art store. Those visits fire me up for days, and I don’t have to spend anything but time to get a huge kick out of it. That’s the kind of activity you’re looking for–something that makes you kinda giddy with excitement.

The key is to do something consistently. Weekly or even (gasp) twice weekly will really get you going toward hope, and your dreams.

If you’re looking for New Year’s resolutions, connecting to hope and joy is one that’s worthwhile and might actually produce the long-term change that you’re after. But don’t wait until Jan. 1—start today!

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who has the coolest job ever–coaching attorneys on reclaiming their hope and their lives. And she even does free sample sessions if you ask nicely! Contact her at jalvey AT jenniferalvey.com.

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