The Power of Fear as a Motivator: Harnessing its Potential

When fear and pain shows up

Why does something massive and awful needs to happen first before you’re really spurred into action?

This wake-up call – which often catches you by surprise – shakes up things and suddenly makes you very eager to make a change. It’s like this emotional threshold that is finally been met, and you say to yourself: no more.

  • Because you need to step up for myself.
  • Because you don’t want to end up in this situation again
  • Because you want to get out of this situation as quickly as possible

In these moments, you’re suddenly willing (instead of being aversive) to take a risk and step outside your comfort zone and commit to a change. Do something about these problems that were playing in the back of your mind for so long.

So why’s that?

Why can’t we have this energy all the time to be motivated to act and do something? Why do you need to wait to feel this lousy pain first?

Fear and pain motivate

You might not have thought about it in this way, but although pain is actually a very big force in your life that you purposefully try to avoid, it can also be a force that gives you that welcome nudge that you so desperately needed. You can see fear as a motivator.

how fear keeps us safe
Resource from DNA-V – What makes us Stronger

Pain or fear come in many shapes and forms

People experience fear and pain differently, because it’s their perception of reality. Some examples:

  • Some people have a fear of spiders, others simply giggle about the thought.
  • Grief, the pain of losing a loved one, can last years for someone, whereas others deal with it far quicker.
  • Some people have a strong fear of embarrassment, disapproval, rejection or humiliation. Others simply seem not be bothered by it that much.
  • Boredom is also a (milder) level of pain we all experience from time to time. I know people who can comfortably sit with it, have patience, whereas I also know of people who find being bored infuriating.

What matters is that this pain doesn’t need to be big to someone else, but it has painful for you. It’s your perception of reality. It’s you who is confronted with it and has to respond to it. You suddenly lose someone you love, someone calls you fat and unfit, you fail to withdraw money from the cash machine, your partner breaks up with you, or you wake up with a banging headache after a night out. You feel bad and think, no way this is not going to happen again. I’m going to do something about.

We suffer more often in imagination than in reality”


Because the fear of loss is much greater than the desire to gain – roughly two-to-one – pain is a very powerful force that you can actually use in your advantage. A force you can push you over the edge, making that slightly scary decision that pops up in your mind sometimes. That decision that you keep putting off because you’re too anxious to do something about it.

The trick is to learn how to use pain to become your friend, your ally, rather than your adversary. When pain becomes your friend, it drives you to take action and produces results.

Be accommodating to your fear and pain

You might be feeling bored, anxious, uncomfortable or worried right now, but this is simply not enough. This won’t get you anywhere because it hasn’t brought you anywhere so far, has it?

By bringing up the level and intensity of the fear or the pain, you’re more likely to do something about your situation right now. Realise this isn’t actual pain, but the fear that something leads to pain. There’s a striking difference between the two. In the end, it’s all about your perception. Your belief, your sense of certainty, something will happen. This in the Instagram filter you’re unconsciously using in which you see the world. So, tweak this fear-filter in your advantage.

Get in touch with your pain

Pick the action that’s on your mind for a while. Something that might have led you to initially read this blog. Get a piece of paper and write down what it will cost you if you don’t change right now. If you stay in the status-quo. What will happen if you don’t make that phone call you need to make? If you don’t start and save some money? If you keep failing to look after yourself or others? What would happen to your social life? To the opinion you have of yourself? What will it cost you six months from now? What about one year from now? Or even five years from now? Where will it bring you, or fail to bring you? How does that make you feel? Bring out all the real emotions, so you’ll be compelled to do something about it.

Example action: costs if I not find adventure in my life

Emotional costsPhysical costsSocial costs
Feel frustrated and disappointedNot pushing myselfNot seeing friends
Not being true to myselfLack of fitnessMissing out on potential relationships
Regret of not livingPoor healthNot exploring things I want to explore
What are my costs of inaction?

Once you’re happy with your list, make sure you get reminded by it, ideally on a daily basis. Stick it on your fridge, or hang it up on the inside of your front door, so you’re reminded by it once you go out. Don’t run away from it, don’t be ashamed of it, but instead use it as a guide and treat it as your newly acquired friend. Your friend that motives you, if you allow it.


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