Motivation: The Dark Secret

Closeup of a wire rope breaking

We care more about losing something we have than gaining something new.

This is the dark secret that many marketers use to hook people into their products. Like this:

“Act now! Offer expires in 20 minutes!”

“All your friends have already done this!”

“255 gym owners have already committed—only 45 spots left!”

Our brains exist to protect us. When we sense we’re about to lose something—especially money or relationships—we panic. But, as with every superpower, we can use this secret for the power of good instead of evil.


FOMO: The Fear Is Real


Right now, as gyms are forced back into lockdown or clients are dropping off their online programs, we need to use every power we have to keep them engaged and save their lives. That means using the “threat of loss” to keep them going.

On Monday, I shared my story about the “4-second head start”—I didn’t want to waste the jump I had on my old PR on a cycling segment. Maybe you don’t use Strava, but you know what I mean if you’ve ever succumbed to:

  • “Streaks” on Snapchat.
  • “Feeding” your Tamagotchi pets so they don’t “die.”
  • Copying and sending an email forward so you don’t “break the chain” (yes, old-school!).
  • Hitting the Day Strain leaderboard on WHOOP.
  • Watching “Lost.”


You’re scared to break the chain because … something will happen. And it might be something bad. You might lose.

The best way to keep your clients motivated through in-home training or “the dip” or another lockdown? Have them complete simple tasks, check the tasks off a list and post the list on their refrigerators.

When we issued the Virtuosity Challenge a few weeks ago, we kept the programming very simple. We kept the nutrition goals basic. We used very short mindset videos or easily accomplished “management” tasks. The reason? We wanted people to win most of the time.

We skipped the software platforms and gave people a printable spreadsheet. It has green boxes, yellow boxes and red boxes. We want people to tape the spreadsheet to their refrigerators and start checking boxes. We want them to get addicted to checking green boxes. We want them to fear the day when they have to check a red box.


“I’m on a Heater and Can’t Quit Now!”


This fear—of breaking the chain, of losing my gainz, of failing to keep my streak—it’s made me do very hard things.

  • I once got out of bed at 11:55 p.m., dead drunk, to write. I had a 400-day streak going on 750words.com and didn’t want to break it.
  • Another time, I drove to work in a blizzard—the roads were actually closed—because my 6-a.m. class had never been cancelled before. I went off the road and had to be rescued by snowmobile, but I used the last of my cell-phone battery to call in a coach instead of calling for help. So I sat and froze for four hours before anyone realized I was missing.
  • More than once, I left a family party to lift weights because I was scared that all my progress would disappear if I bench-pressed a day late.
  • On the other hand, I’ve never missed my kid’s birthday or the first day of school.


Streaks can be positive or negative. We’re wired to avoid loss more than we’re motivated to seek gain. You can use this to keep people around, but you have to keep it simple. Checklists, printed pages and easy wins are more powerful than complex programming, running a new challenge every month or even hitting PRs.


Other Media in This Series


How to Motivate People
How to Motivate People: The Start
How to Motivate People Through “The Dip”

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