How Do You Motivate Yourself: With Love or Fear?

“The heart is like a garden: it can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?” ~ Jack Kornfield

My whole life has been a story of discipline. I started exercising and eating healthier in eighth grade. I planned out my studies meticulously so I would finish school assignments exactly on time. I always arrived five minutes early for any appointment or meeting. Disciplined.

When I began my yoga studies in earnest at the age of twenty-two, I applied the same disciplined nature to my yoga practice. I had extensive practice plans and had scheduled in all the parts I should be doing: pranayama and meditation at dawn, asana practice after work with standing poses on Monday, hip openers on Tuesday, etc.

People would comment about how disciplined I was. I just smiled, knowingly, because I knew what I was doing was “good” and they could learn something from my organized way of living. Yep, a little self-righteousness, too!

Then one day, about fifteen years ago, while I was contemplating the yogic term tapas (self-discipline), I had an awakening: my discipline, everything, all that I did (including exercise, eating well, rigidity around how I used my time), came from fear, not love.

It wasn’t focused on all the wonderful benefits I received through discipline but what I would lose if I didn’t do it.

If I didn’t exercise, I wouldn’t have my exercise high all day. If I didn’t eat perfectly, I would gain weight. If I didn’t do my practice, I would lose my state of consciousness.

So much fear! I knew I wanted it to change. I didn’t want this level of fear in my life, especially around my spiritual life whose very essence was love.

I was planting seeds with my practice, as Jack Kornfield’s quote said: “The heart is like a garden: it can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?”

I wanted to be planting seeds of love.

While choosing to make a change in our life because we are afraid of something at least gets us going (quitting smoking because of the fear of dying, working on being on time at work because of the fear of being fired, beginning meditation after a heart attack), we ultimately want to shift from fear to love, from what we don’t want to what we do want.

Focusing on what we don’t want simply continues to plant fear in our hearts. Focusing on what we do want, and that we deserve what we want, plants seed of compassion and love.

So, what did I do? I quit everything. I quit my entire practice—including eating well, exercising, being rigid with my schedule—and entered into a study of discipline. Two discoveries would forever change my perspective.

The first reflection came from the word tapas, itself. Roughly translated, it means “inner fire” and refers to the inner fire to know ourselves, the desire; and we learn about ourselves through our yoga practice, our study of life, and everything we do for ourselves.

I like to also think of it as the inner fire to feel good, to be doing what we really want to be doing, to love our life.

We can use this “inner fire” to inspire us to be disciplined with whatever we want to do, to continue our actions even when we feel resistance. (You know, the preference to sleep in rather than get up to exercise, to eat junk food rather than prepare something healthy, to grab for a cigarette rather than not.)

The desire drives us to want to learn more and is stronger than the resistance when we stroke it. And we stroke it by focusing on what we want, getting excited about what our action will help us feel.

The second transformational nugget was the word “discipline” itself. The word comes from the Latin root “disciplina” and means “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge.” Think in terms of a disciple learning at the foot of a master.

Again, our discipline to do our own practice helps us to learn about ourselves, it is a teacher for us, our master, so to speak.

Knowing I wanted my practice to be based on love, not fear, to be planting seeds of love from it, I continued to hold myself back from practicing.

The fear bubbled to the surface. I feared I would lose “everything” for quite some time. But then, a deeper desire began to percolate up. A curiosity about a certain pose and how it would feel, a curiosity about a breath, a new meditation I felt a niggling to try. 

I felt an inner excitement to get to my mat, and I finally did.

Self-discipline is tricky for many of us. In my work, I rarely come upon anyone who says that what they do for themselves is deeply satisfying and they feel they do enough. Most of us feel we need to do more, we aren’t disciplined enough.

The judgment itself comes from fear. Let me say that another way, if you are judging yourself for not having enough self-discipline, you are basing your practice on fear.

So how do you change the focus?

Instead, return to why you do what you do. Why do you do yoga, exercise, eat well, or do anything else you feel you would like to be more disciplined around? What brought you to it in the first place? Sometimes along the way, we lose site of our deeper purpose.

Bring your attention back to that deeper purpose. Put your love into it.

While I wish I could say the fear was eradicated for me, never to return, I must admit it does return. I can say that when it surfaces I now have new tools to handle it. I am better able to see it for what it is and return to the state of love quickly.

Ironically, I realize that my fear-based discipline did teach me something about myself and led me to a life with more love.

About Laura Erdman-Luntz

Laura Erdman-Luntz, MA, E-RYT(500), Yoga Educator, Life Coach, and Author, has been teaching yoga and life coaching for over 20 years. Join Laura in January 2014 for #31DaysOfYoga, a free, tribal event encouraging a daily yoga practice during the entire month. Come to Bali with her in February!

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