Why Allowing Yourself to Feel Horrible Might Change Your Life

October 9, 2013

Every diet works.

Any diet, if you actually do it, will help you lose weight. So why do some people go on diets that work and others fail miserably? Seems as though it’s a question of motivation. The people that succeed want it, and the people that don’t, don’t.

So where does this motivation come from? Does it come from having a purpose? What drives us? Why do some people seem to have it and some people seem totally devoid of it?

The Gift of Remorse

Larry Winget, star of the reality show Big Spender is famous for his no-nonsense, intervention style of personal development. On his show, he visits people who are in huge amounts of credit card debt, and he helps them get out. In his book You’re Broke Because You Want To Be, Larry talks about the biggest turning point in the lives of the people he works with.

I confront people with their financial problems. Some of them cry. I like it when people cry. In fact, I love it when people cry. Not because I’m a bully who enjoys watching tears run down someone’s face but because it shows me that they have finally attached some emotion to their mistakes. They are feeling the pain of their decisions. When that happens, they have a shot at changing.

According to Larry, the key factor in turning your life around is looking yourself in the mirror, feeling the reality of your situation and experiencing remorse. When Larry brings people face to face with the life that they have created, and lets them know the only person they have to blame is themselves, it’s uncomfortable, painful and ruthless, yet there is a glimmer of hope that begins to emerge when people see their actual situation. The pain and anger starts to wake them up and where there was once apathy, now there is motivation and drive. Through their tear-soaked faces, an aliveness is now present that can serve as the inspiration they have been desperately missing.

What Does Not Motivate Us

Having a purpose in life is like having maps for a road trip. Your purpose will tell you where to go, but it won’t inspire you to get out of bed to do it. Although it may seem like it does, having a purpose does not motivate us. You are also not motivated by your ability or skill. Your ability or skill is like a brand new car. It gives you potential, but your road trip cannot happen with a car and maps alone. You need gas, and lots of it.

Most people get stuck here. Everyone has an idea of what they want to do in life, and most people have a fair amount of skills, at least enough to start. There are people with tons of skills, degrees, specialties and abilities, yet their life is stagnant.

These people may also have a purpose in life, and they may be crystal clear on what they would love to do, what they are truly passionate about, yet they aren’t having the kind of success they want. Maybe this is you. How then, do we find the motivation? How do we get the gas for our car? Maybe we’ve been looking in the wrong place.

The Myth of Altruism

Everyday, successful people are asked why they started the projects they did and how they achieved such a high level of success. Answers to this question range from, “I love helping people” to “I wanted to see this change in the world” to “I felt a strong calling”. Throughout all the answers, the theme is generally altruism. We believe and are told that people are motivated by helping others. I personally would love to believe this is true, but I haven’t found it to be the case.

The reasons we choose projects is influenced by our love of helping people, but the reasons we follow through with and get inspired to put in the work necessary to succeed is different. Altruistic ideals won’t put gas in our car, so what will? As I read about more and more successful people, I realized there were always several moments that shaped their lives, and they were usually not moments they wanted to talk about.

From Zero to Hero

Sam Beckford, author of The Small Business Millionaire and 100 Ways to Create Wealth talks about the inspiration he got to succeed, but it’s not what most people would expect. It happened in a supermarket when he was paying for groceries with his wife. He handed the cashier his debit card and it didn’t go through. She tried a second time and the card didn’t work again. The cashier then offered to try a third time saying, “There must be a problem with the card.” Sam replied, “Yeah, I know the problem—there’s no money in the account.” He left the store empty handed and recalled “It was the most embarrassing, humiliating thing.” He vowed that day, “This is never going to happen again. I’m sick of being broke. I’m sick of being poor.”

That day in the supermarket, he let himself feel the emotions fully, he got upset, pissed off and felt the anger coursing through his veins. The result of that was becoming a millionaire small business owner who now teaches others to become successful. What changed? His motivation. What most people don’t realize is that without this event or an event like it, Sam Beckford would not be successful. We don’t fully get the importance of this motivation. We continue to think that our goodwill and love of mankind will give us the energy to put in the years of hard work it takes to succeed at anything big.

Consider a time in your life when you have felt driven to succeed. A few examples in my life were in high school and when I was in the Navy. As a high school student I was under pressure to get into a good college, and I was scared of how I would look if I didn’t get into a good school. It drove me to work extremely hard, put in long nights and dedicate myself to getting good grades. When I was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy in January of my senior year, my motivation dropped off, but it wasn’t surprising, I had gotten into a school that I could be proud of.

At the Naval Academy my only motivation to study was to get good enough grades to graduate. I graduated with a 2.5 GPA.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t have done better, it was simply I didn’t have a powerful why like I did in high school. Fast forward a few years and I’m an officer in the Navy. I’m not excited about spending a career in the Navy and I want my freedom more than anything. I didn’t want to be the kind of person who was stuck in a job working for someone else until I died. I had been playing and singing music in bars and I decided I wanted to build a career in music. I needed to be free and I was desperate. I had a powerful reason and I felt it.

I spent 4 years working my ass off while I was still in the Navy so I could be a great musician and have the kind of success that would allow me to do it full time after I left the Navy. I remember how alive I felt, and it was as if I was fighting for my life, just like high school. What was this all about? How can we harness this motivation consciously instead of by accident?

Involving the Ego

As I looked at these examples of everyone from Sam Beckford to Larry Winget to my own life experience, I noticed that what really motivated us all came from one theme, and it was the last thing I expected to find. All the examples of people becoming insanely driven to succeed all came from a moment where they desperately needed to change their circumstances to feel whole and complete. All the reasons had to do with self-esteem. This is completely nuts, I thought. What it looked like was the biggest motivating factor in people’s lives was the last thing we would expect.

Our ego…

It’s our emotional bodies that drive us to make the real, lasting changes in our lives. That means that the primary driving force (gas in the car) behind creating the life we want is our ego; our emotional, non-spiritual, shallow, inner-child self. It kick-starts everything.

It started to make sense. I looked at more examples in my life. I thought back to high school again. I remembered feeling terrible about the fact that I couldn’t attract girls, and it tortured me to feel left out. One day during my sophomore year in high school (a particularly hard year on my self-esteem), I was walking behind two really cute girls and they were giggling about a guy. I overheard them gossiping about how one of the guys in our school could play and sing the song “Lighting Crashes” on the guitar. I saw how gaga they were over him and I said to myself, “I want women to react that way to me”. I took a vow. I went home and practiced, and practiced, and practiced, and practiced. Pretty soon I was playing and singing for class functions and sure enough, I got goggly eyes from all the girls in the class. I was hooked, because my emotions were activated.

Today I’m a musician who has played more than a thousand gigs in more than half the states in the U.S. and I’ve achieved a high level of mastery at singing and playing the guitar. I’ve been very motivated. So where exactly did it come from? The drive to put in the work came from me wanting to feel good about myself, wanting to be included. It was directly related to my ego, and I was able to access it because I let myself feel the pain of not being liked, not being included.

Tough Love & Transformation

I’ve been stuck too. After I left the Navy, I lost my drive for a music career and started building credit card debt. I spent three years under achieving and wanting to sleep in more than I wanted to achieve my goals. I tried everything. I tried having accountability partners, I tried “don’t break the chain”, I tried sleeping on the ground and getting rid of my TV, but there just wasn’t a fire in me. I went further and further into debt. I got married, and started to see the effects this was having on my wife. My life was good, but the truth was I didn’t feel inspired, and it was killing me. I had a coaching practice that was just doing enough to survive and I wasted time on everything but building wealth. I had all the abilities in the world, a strong and inspiring purpose statement, yet I wasn’t motivated. My car had no gas.

On a trip to Paris, my wife shared with me the impact of being married to a man who struggles to make money. She shared how seeing me make promises for the future then not keep them was heartbreaking. She shared that she couldn’t dream big for our future, because she didn’t want to be disappointed if I didn’t follow through. I felt the thud. That was the sound of me hitting bottom. I cried, got angry, and cried some more. All of a sudden a beautiful thing happened. I woke up. I felt a warmth of inspiration coming from my body and the next morning I was up at dawn, I made my first pot of coffee and I was in a completely different space.

Recently I had a conversation with an entrepreneur looking to start a new business. He was finding himself not following through with tasks and generally unmotivated. I helped him see his life as it is, not as he wanted it to be. He talked about how embarrassed he was of failing in the past and how tired he is of not being his word, not having the life he wanted. I just encouraged him to feel that. This is your life, I told him. I watched as all the anger, all the frustration and all the sadness that had been repressed all these years came bubbling up to the surface. I watched as a mild-mannered man in his thirties became full of remorse. He spent twenty minutes in nothing but the cold, hard reality of the fact that his life is not what he wanted. All of a sudden the man with no motivation suddenly shifted. The crying stopped, and with a single glance, he looked at me, said with a stern confidence, “I know what I need to do”, I nodded, we hugged and he got up and left. I got an email the next day from him about how he hasn’t felt this alive in years, and his whole life is on fire. He let himself feel, and out of that, magic happened.

Leaving Fantasyland

The reason people allow themselves to wallow in the life they didn’t intend is simply because they are living in an illusion that things will be different in the future. The truth is when we think things will be different in the future, we are drugged up on hope and not being with the present moment. The only way to wake up and become inspired is to smash the illusion against the rocks. One way I see this is by reminding myself that my future is today, every day, for the rest of my life. That wakes me up.

Pain is a gift. When we avoid, suppress or mitigate the pain, we find ourselves uninspired and frustrated. How are you distracting yourself from your current situation? Can you see the illusion you live in? It’s not real, and you may be served by a little dose of reality. If you stopped letting yourself off the hook and started being with what’s true for you now, you may find that underneath the frustration lies the gift of motivation you’ve been seeking.

From Numb to Alive

You won’t put in the time it takes to achieve anything in life without motivation, and motivation comes from your emotional body. Your emotions, and your passion hold the key to unlocking the inspiration needed to build that new business, master that skill, or grow your personal wealth. You might have to get angry. You might have to get pissed off. You might have to look in the mirror and feel the pain of remorse for not living a life you love, not living a life that inspires you. You have to let yourself feel.

Wake up. Get angry. Break your chains. Light a fire. Burn down complacency.

Rise from the ashes.


Get new thought-provoking essays that question the status-quo
(and question questioning the status-quo).