This quote from the Life Hacker website sparked my interest:
It goes on to describe what I would sometimes refer to as muscle memory and the ability to perform practised activities better than foreign activities. For example if someone throws you a ball 1000 times, you'll be more likely to catch a ball when someone throws one to you by surprise, the same goes for mental learning.The unfortunate superpower of the negative is that it has a stronger impact than the positive. In fact, negative impact of setbacks in your work is three times as powerful in affecting motivation than positive progress. It’s just easier to remember the bad stuff that’s happened to you during the day than the good.So why is it that our brains have a such a negativity bias? The reason is quite simple: They are actually wired to pay more attention to negative experiences. It’s a self-protective characteristic. We’re scanning for threats from when we used to be hunters and gatherers. But such vigilance for negative information can cause a narrowing, downward spiral and a negative feedback loop that doesn’t reflect reality.Fortunately, we aren’t doomed by our natural disposition towards negativity. What’s amazing is that we have the ability to break out of that negative feedback loop and we can actually rewire our brains to think positively.
This is all well and good, but in the quote above it suggests that we are "scanning for threats from when we used to be hunters and gatherers", I don't think we are going to be able to unlearn this instinct that's followed us through countless generations within our lifetime. Luckily I don't believe the power of negative motivation has been inherited from our previous generations, but rather from our own previous experiences.
I read an article a while back that took this to a higher level and explained how fear of failure or rather the punishment from failure was more of a motivator to succeed than the reward of success. This is true, but the success will leave a sense of dread with you if you've had the slave drivers whip behind you the whole time, whereas if you've been encouraged in a positive way to succeed, the success will be a much nicer memory. Likewise, if you were encouraged in a positive way and failed, you've probably got someone behind you that will help you learn why you failed so you can benefit for the future rather than kill your confidence and undoubtedly ensure that you fail jumping the same hurdles in the future.