Reset Your Thermostat

In our house, the thermostat controls the temperature. If it gets too hot, the air conditioner comes on; too cold and the heater kicks on. All of this activity is designed to keep our house in the comfort zone. The upper limit is like a "ceiling; the lower, like a "floor."

A similar device operates in our minds. If you're hungry, you eat until your hunger is satisfied. When you're thirsty, you drink. When you're sick, your body seeks to return to health. Most people seem to have a "floor" and a "ceiling" for most key elements of their lives, but they can be set too low or too high.

Battered women often wait until they think they are going to die (the floor) before they take action to leave an abusive spouse. Other people sabotage their happiness when life gets too good. Why do some celebrities get to the top and then self destruct? Why do the ones who struggle often fair better over time? Why does sudden success make some people snap and others bloom? I think the answer lies in our internal thermostats.

Consider wealth. If you don't have enough money (close to or below the floor), you do whatever it takes to make money and restore the comfort zone. If you make too much money (near or above the ceiling), you may stop working so hard and fall back into the comfort zone. The trick is to raise your floor, like a house on adjustable stilts and raise the ceilings like the vault of a church. Too many people live life like hunchbacks because the gap between their floor and ceiling isn't tall enough.

When I started with the phone company in 1973, I was making $11,000 a year. I thought $50,000 would be great, but $100,000 seemed out of reach. By the time I got to $50,000 over a decade later, inflation and taxes had eaten much of the increase. I had to reset my threshold - my moneystat. And you can too. The thing I discovered was that I'm not as motivated by the ceiling (wealth) as I am by the floor (being poor or in debt). One of the most successful real estate agents I know is motivated to succeed because he doesn't want to end up like his parents, living on meager social security checks.

Achievers are motivated to move toward their ceiling. But when they get close to the ceiling, they start to get uncomfortable and back off. This is the time to "raise the bar" or raise the ceiling; to set a new goal that will raise their motivation.

Problem solvers, on the other hand, are motivated to move away from the floor. When they get into the comfort zone, it's time to "raise the floor" to raise their motivation.

Checking Your Settings
To understand your thermostat for any area of your life, and let's use wealth as a common starting point:
1. Remember a time when you were near the floor (whatever you consider "not enough money"). What did you see, hear, or feel that let you know you were in the danger zone?
2. Now remember a time when you were in the comfort zone. What did you see, hear, or feel that let you know you were in the comfort zone?
3. Now remember a time when you were near your "ceiling." What did you see, hear, or feel that let you know you were once again near the upper "danger" zone?

As I explore my thermostat, I see a measuring stick standing in front of me. It is sort of like the supports they use for high jumpers. It has money markings on it. My current comfort zone is about eye level and the stick ends about a foot above my head. At floor level, the measurement reads "zero." If you think about this metaphorically, it means that there isn't much room to go up, but lots of room to go down.

Changing Your Thermostat
My example was more visual, but people who have a sound-based thermostat might hear "Get busy! We're getting low on cash" when they get too close to the floor and "relax" when they get too close to the ceiling. Kinesthetic thermostats might make you feel increasingly anxious as you get near the floor (or ceiling). The fear at the bottom might be about losing your house or your life; the fear at the top might be about losing your family or friends, but either way fear will kick you back toward the comfort zone.

Just like your home's thermostat, you can adjust the set points. In my case, I moved the marking for the current comfort zone down to floor and changed the scale so that the top of the stick now reads ten times my current comfort zone. And then I extended the stick until I could see a point 100 times my current comfort zone perhaps ten feet above me. (Maybe I need to shift from high jumper to pole vaulter?) I felt my anxiety shift from being too close to the old ceiling to being too close to my new floor. I felt an immediate shift in my sense of what's possible. I began to get fresh ideas about how to grow my business.

So, if you're more visual, how can you change the "scale" of your "thermostat?" If you're more auditory, it helps to write out your new floor and ceiling. If you're more kinesthetic, how can you change the "weight" of your wallet? What's too light? What's too heavy?

In 1996, I set a goal to increase my income by 10-fold in 5 years (I called it my 10 in 5 strategy). In 2001, I met the goal and decided to go for another 10-in-5 improvement by 2006. And I didn't have to work 10 times as hard; I just followed my passion and found ever expanding ways to reach more customers with my products and services.

I'd recommend setting the ceiling to be 10 times your current comfort zone. It may seem like too high, but it's easy for the mind to grasp. If 10-fold seems like too much, set the ceiling as high as seems possible, but not unreachable.

When you've successfully changed your thermostat, you should feel the shift. It doesn't matter if you're motivated to move away from the floor or towards the ceiling, you should feel more compelled.

One of the things I've noticed is that life has a way of eroding your thermostat's "set points." You can start to settle for lower floors and lower ceilings. Relationships and jobs can chip away at your sense of self-worth. You can settle for less, but it creates a pattern that will cost you big time over your life. So re-set your thermostat and deal with the temporary discomforts. It will raise the quality of your life.

The more I explore, the more I find that the only limits we face are the ones we create in our own minds. The secret is to understand those limits and adjust them like the thermostat or eliminate them completely.

Want to discover your own "motivation profile?" Order Motivate Everyone! Compare your results with your spouse, kids, or coworkers to determine where you are most likely in alignment and where you conflict.

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