Motivation By Feeling Smug

John Watson

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One dictionary defines ‘smug’ as ‘excessively self-satisfied’ or ‘complacent’. Another describes ‘smug’ as ‘irritatingly pleased with oneself’.

Smugness is generally thought of to be a bad thing. It can close your mind to new ideas and alienate everyone around you.

However, smugness is not all bad. I think feeling smug, provided the feeling is kept to oneself, can be an effective motivator.

We easily forget how weak and uninspired we feel when we do not stick to our plans for exercise or diet or anything else.

We also forget how energetic, self-satisfied and even smug we feel when we carry out our plans or at least make an all out effort to achieve them.

However, we can make effective use of both of these negative and positive feelings if we make a point of remembering them vividly and using them to motivate ourselves.

Most self-improvement writers do not recommend dwelling on the unpleasant memories which accompany failure because we tend to become obsessed by them and end up programming our subconscious with thoughts which will attract failure and feelings of incompetence.

But, we all have an ingrained wish to flee pain and embrace pleasure. Dwelling on a vivid memory of the pain of failure can motivate us to take the necessary action that will make such failure unlikely.

Recently, I heard someone mention how he had been ripped off by a cowboy roofer (apologies to genuine cowboys). When he realised he had been conned, he felt ‘horrible’. But he also expressed the benefit of remembering this feeling:

"I will never be conned again. "

I, too, have been conned massively once and, in a less devastating manner, twice. The feeling of being a complete idiot is not a pleasant one, although it is one I have experienced quite frequently! But I don't think I will be conned in the same ways again.

A few days ago, two of my neighbours drove through France on the way to Spain. Their car broke down en route and they hired another one. While they were sunning themselves on the beach in Spain, their hired car, containing their clothes, passports and money, was stolen.

They were left on the beach with nothing but their swimsuits and beach towels. The feelings they experienced will probably stay with them for life but will also help them avoid a similar situation in the future!

The memory of feeling good or smug after you have done your best or have achieved your goal is also worth remembering. It will motivate you to repeat the performance.

On October 7th 2006, Scotland beat France (the finalists in the World Soccer Championship of 2006) 1-0 in the qualifying rounds for the European Cup of 2008. I was surprised by the comments of one Scottish player who said:

"I was not pleased by the win so much as the fact that we did our best and everyone played for each other. "

Winning is not necessary for feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Doing your best is enough. Helping others is enough. Of course, winning is an extra bonus. The memory of a glorious victory in the past will encourage even more effort in the future.

The memory of feeling self-satisfied can be used on a daily basis to help us to stop procrastinating and get on with whatever we should be doing.

I remember how much better I feel if I do not eat anything until I have achieved some goal like writing this article or, at least, getting half way through it.

I also remember how sluggish and uninspired I feel if I do start eating something before I have made satisfactory progress.

This may sound like strange behaviour but even King Arthur insisted that his knights achieved some good deed before they sat down to the evening banquet.

The memory of both feeling good and feeling a failure can help us all get more done than we would normally expect to accomplish.

I feel smug when I conquer my laziness and tiredness and go for a walk as planned. I also remember the niggling dissatisfaction which can plague me for an entire day when I do not make the effort to get out into the fresh air and walk.

Another way to use your memory to motivate yourself to take action and do something is to remember the benefits of taking that action even if an immediate feeling of well being does not follow your first attempts.

The benefits of walking, for example, are enormous even if you just feel tired and ache after your first few walks. For some, the benefits will be obvious immediately. For others, the rewards will show up later.

Remember the following benefits the next time you are hesitating about going for a walk:

Walking burns calories and helps you lose weight

Walking requires no special equipment. Just go out and walk. You would be well advised to put on some walking boots but don't let that put you off!

Walking can help lower blood pressure and prevent heart problems

Brisk walking will give you the benefits of other exercises, such as jogging and cycling, but with less risk of injuries.

Walking at night can help you sleep well

Walking increases the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream

Walking improves your mental performance and your general attitude

Walking helps to boost your immune system

Walking slows the aging process. My granddad loved to walk and was an active gardener, walker and family man well into his old age

Walking makes prayer and meditation easy

Walking allows you to make friends with other regular walkers

Walking gives you the pleasure of meeting a large variety of dogs

Walking allows you to feel smug for the rest of the day!

Just as advertisers can motivate us to buy by listing the benefits of a product and by helping us to imagine these benefits vividly, we can motivate ourselves to take action by imagining the benefits of taking such action.

Advertisers also tell us how miserable we will feel for the rest of our lives if we do not buy their product. We do not need to go that far but we can remind ourselves that we may well feel miserable for the rest of the day if we do not take action of some kind.

The dictionary definitions of the word ‘smug’ suggest that smugness is totally undesirable. However, if feeling smug helps motivate me to take the actions I need to take in order to achieve my goals, I can live with that! I much prefer ‘smug’ to ‘miserable'! You may feel the same way.

If you do feel the same way, don't be guilty about feeling smug. Enjoy the feeling but keep it to yourself and use it, in secret, to motivate your best efforts.

John Watson is an award winning teacher and 5th degree blackbelt martial arts instructor. He has written several ebooks on motivation and success topics. One of these can be found at

You can also find motivational ebooks by authors like Stuart Goldsmith. Check out

Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety in your ezine or on your site but please include the resource box above


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