# 94 on my 99 Life Tips–A List is: As much as lies within you, be motivated by hope more than by fear.
For your entire life, two great underlying motivators have debated and fought over all your decisions — hope of gain and fear of loss. These two combatants, working in opposition, have driven you to do, or not do, to opt for, or against, every choice having meaningful results from the time you were old enough to exercise free agency (self-direction in your preferences).
Scan through a listing of headlines and sub-titles on Medium, or any platform like it. Nearly all seek clicks and readers by triggering hopes or fears. I recently read an interesting article on Medium by Ashley Broadwater that admits playing upon reader’s fears hoping to make headlines go viral. Similarly, look at a news media website. It’s nearly all fear… with a sprinkling of hope. This isn’t a judgement—merely an observation you may not have noticed or framed in these terms.
Can you guess which of these is the strongest, most predominant? Do people prove to be motivated by hope more than by fear? Sadly, no. The dominant motivator is fear, as shown in this research paper.
Fear has Instagram
Quicker to act on the brain, fear stimulates a more primal region, causing autonomic physical responses in a way that hope does not. Fear is the Tony Robbins of motivational speakers shouting at your brain. (Not that Tony himself motivates by fear, he’s just bigger and louder—look at his website).
Hope is meek, mild-mannered Seth Godin. (Compare Seth’s website). Like Seth, Hope relies on an understated, minimalist style and aesthetic. It is an emotional motivator that comes from higher, cortical levels of passive brain activity and more rational and active reasoning. Yes, hope is there, but seems a little unsure of itself, almost apologetic, as if it would be too much of an imposition or interruption if it were suddenly to speak up and assert itself.
Not Fear. Like a lie, Fear is halfway around the world before Hope can put on its pants. Except in our case, fear has taken over the brain before you can arouse hope to compete. Hope won’t cause an adrenaline dump. It won’t make your heart climb into your throat. Fear will do both those things then post it on Instagram.
These two, one larger and louder, the other more suppressed and quiet, are so ingrained, and one in particular, fear, so deeply rooted into both your physiology and psyche, you may not be aware of either. You cannot see them anymore, you’ve grown so used to them. Which is exactly why I’m writing this. I want you to be aware. You NEED to be aware. You’re making all of your decisions at their behest.
Fear wins on points
Fear wins on points as the dominant motivator. But it has an unfair advantage gained by being first to the market, so to speak.
Neurophysiologists and psychologists agree that fear appeared very early in evolutionary brain development. It is the proverbial lizard-brain. This makes sense. Responding to saber-tooth tigers quickly can save your life more than contemplating Sartre and metaphysics hoping to create more inspirational cave art. Fear is why the art is in caves — and hope is why, even in caves, there is art.
Think of the fear that would drive humans to live in caves, and the hope that would inspire them to create art on their walls. Beautiful and inspiring isn’t it?
Fears and hopes and dreams of our own
And that’s you and me. We have fears that drive us into our own caves. Both you and I seek protection and security. We hate the idea of loss. We are afraid to fail. These fears make us tolerate conditions we would never encourage a loved one to accept. Some fears paralyze our most precious dreams. Until the hope of their realization whispers in our ear, and we take up the pen, or the brush. Other fears cripple our resolve and erode our self-esteem—until we confront our demeaning and demanding boss, break free from an abusive relationship, and go for our hopes.
Hope, meek, mild-mannered hope is all we have to nudge us forward out of comfort, and safety, and certainty. Hope encourages us with promise, prospect, potential, and possibility in our struggle to overcome fear. We overcome fear, all of it, by reaching for the hope of something better, something more than, even though we put everything at risk to arrive there.
So, dear friends, as often as you can, be motivated by hope more than by fear. At the very least I hope by reading this you’re stirred to a new cognizance of what motivates you on a day-to-day basis and especially what drives the most impactful, big-picture decisions you make.
More to say and the takeaway for now
There is more to say on this subject than can I can address in one article. I’ll be working on related stories on this topic, having only scratched the surface in my background research. The relation of hope and fear to behavioral economics, politics, labor markets, relationships, and social justice movements are all topics I hope to write about. I’m excited to discover more, and I hope my findings will assist in your life’s journey.
As a writer, I know the mind-crippling fear you must overcome (repeatedly) hoping your work can be meaningful to others—not just scoffed at and cast aside. Kudos to all of you who face down that elemental fear to paint, to sculpt, and to write on the walls of your own caves — and who invite us to take a peak. I see your art, and I see you. I think that’s what you, me, and all creators are hoping for.
Just take this away; these two principle motivators impact all of your decisions. Scan your history to determine which has prevailed to this point. Motivated by hope, I equipped you with a fresh awareness to help you determine which will prevail as you go forward. It is my earnest hope that you will be motivated by hope more than by fear.