Here’s a motivational strategy you probably won’t find in many self-improvement or productivity books… create a rival enemy and make it your mission to out-do them.
I was reminded of this motivational strategy when I recently saw Adele in concert. She told the story of how her biggest blockbuster song – Someone Like You – was written in a fury of rage, sorrow and revenge after splitting up with her boyfriend. She explained that her thinking at the time was that ‘songwriting was something he couldn’t do, so she’d write the best damn song she could!’ And of course, of all the songs she’s written, it was that song that propelled her career into what it is today.
Success can be the best Revenge
Why does this work? I’m guessing it’s because we literally tap into some of our strongest emotions and use them to propel us forward.
I know myself that there’s literally nothing that can motivate me more than someone telling me (or even insinuating) that I can’t do something! With that kind of message, my natural response is ‘I’ll show them!’
Unfortunately (or fortunately probably!), most people are too polite to give me this kind of motivation; so one technique I’ve discovered is to create a rival enemy.
How to Create a Rival Enemy
So who’s your rival enemy? Sometimes there’s an obvious choice in your life, but if not, you can still find one. Do you have:
- a competitor you admire?
- a naysayer that you’d like to stick it to?
- an aspirational colleague or friend that you find yourself feeling competitive towards?
- or, of course, an ex-partner or ex-friend that you’d love to rub their nose in it?
Try to identify someone that you can easily compare yourself to. This usually means they should not be too far ahead of you in whatever you’re doing, but roughly equal or only slightly ahead of you on your journey.
Use Your Rival Enemy for Extra Motivation
Once you’ve got a rival enemy in mind, you can use them help you dig deeper than ever when the going gets tough. You can try imagining what they’d do in the same situations you’re facing to help you problem-solve and decide on new approaches.
Or, you can imagine their surprise, shock, or admiration when they find out about your (upcoming!) accomplishments.
When I was climbing Mt Everest and feeling disheartened, tired or lacking in self-belief, I used a version of this tool. I’d imagine a party on my successful return where I’d invite all my friends and family to celebrate. In this case, I did not have an enemy, but I had imagined that many people doubted I had the ability to get to the top (including me), and somehow this gave me an extra source of motivation.
Isn’t this Comparisonitis?
Are you shaking your head because you’ve heard that comparisonitis* is counter-productive and something we shouldn’t do?
Lots of experts do say this – but how does that fit with the extraordinary results some people get by pitting themselves against ‘an enemy’? Think of sports people or some iconic business figures as more examples.
Back in school, I remember mentally pitting myself against two specific colleagues in my final year. When I didn’t feel like studying or I was finding something difficult, I’d imagine how proud I would be if I could “beat” those people! Did it impact me in the slightest if they got high grades? No, but the thought of comparing our results sure made me work harder!
Harness your Ugly Emotions for Results
Is it emotionally healthy to dream up rival enemies? Probably not, but for some people, this works better than any other form of motivation.
Certainly, it’s unhealthy to always be externally motivated by the imagined reactions of other people. And, we all need to keep in mind that most of our comparisons are not even real. (For instance, on social media, we’re usually comparing our average day to someone else’s highlight day.)
But for some of us, there’s a definite place for using our natural emotions of jealousy and pride as a force to drive us forward and have us do things that we might not otherwise.
So the next time you’re struggling to take the next step forward, conjure up an image of your rival enemy and use it to propel you forward. Let us know if you’ve ever used this strategy and how it worked for you.
*In case you haven’t come across it yet, comparisonitis refers to a compulsion to compare yourself and your accomplishments to someone else.