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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Guilt isn't a Good Motivator

Real and lasting life change isn't motivated by guilt or fear. If you want to be on the Disciple Cycle, to change your life in response to Jesus, and to share that good news with other people, then guilt and fear need to be put in their place.

Guilt isn't a bad thing, neither is fear, but they aren't motivational tools. Unfortunately, they are often used to try to motivate people. Churches and preachers may emphasize God's punishment in response to sin as a way to frighten people into following Jesus. Other groups use guilt as a tool for pushing people away from sin and into righteousness.

The problem is that guilt and fear can't be maintained over a long period of time without losing effectiveness. The physical analogy to the emotions of guilt and fear is pain. Pain can be used as a motivator, but the motivation will only last as long as the pain is present and the pain has to constantly increase to maintain the same levels of motivation. Pain wasn't meant to be a physical motivator, so when it's used that way things get bad, quickly. Neither were guilt and fear meant to be emotional motivators.

Pain, like guilt and fear, exists to tell us that something is wrong. If we're injured or about to be injured, the pain of our bodies announces it to our minds. It's telling us to stop what we're doing and look for a way to heal. Guilt and fear are the same; they hurt us emotionally so that we realize we should stop doing something and find a way to heal.

If you're doing something that makes you feel guilty, that's an indication that you should stop. But the next step is to look for healing and hope. If you feel pain because the fire is too hot on your skin, you'll pull your hand away from the flames. You might even run your fingers under cold water, if you burned yourself. When guilt is used as a motivation, it's the same as holding your hand as close to the fire as possible. Guilt can only be maintained in close proximity to the cause of the guilt (the same with fear and pain).

Instead, go to the opposite of what's causing the guilt. Like cool water, look for what will alleviate the pain and heal you. If you're struggling with substance abuse, don't spend time around the substance, look for the reasons that drive you to abuse and address those. If you're trying to not gossip, avoid people who do and find positive things to say.

Motivate change with successful change, not with guilt or fear.

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