What’s Driving You?



I saw a client the other day who simply couldn’t tell me what she wanted to achieve from her coaching. She could tell me everything she didn’t want with great aplomb:

“I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing now in 5 years time”
“I don’t want to be feeling the way I’m feeling right now”

And so on.

But when I asked her to flip these statements to the positive in order to tell me what she did want, she just couldn’t come up with the answers.

So, what was stopping her?


Emotions are the wellspring of our actions.

They are our motivational drivers – quite literally Energy in Motion (E-motion).

That motion can be towards something or away from it – what we want or what we don’t want – depending on the nature of the emotions we’re experiencing.

Thus they literally control our energy flow.

There are broadly 8 core emotions:

Fear, Anger, Sadness, Shame, Disgust, Surprise, Love/Trust and Joy/Excitement.

Survival Emotions

Interestingly the first 5 of these – Fear, Anger, Sadness, Shame and Disgust – are our survival emotions or avoidant emotions, the emotions that will trigger away from motivation like that experienced by my client.

  • Knowing what you don’t want
  • Leaving a job because you’re unhappy rather than leaving a job because you’ve got a better one to go to
  • Starting a relationship because you don’t want to be alone for the rest of your life rather than because you’ve met your true soulmate

Notice the pattern?

Attachment Emotions

Love/Trust and Joy/Excitement are called attachment emotions. These are positive emotions, the emotions that will result in towards motivation, knowing what you want and having the energy to go out there and get it!

Potentiator Emotions

Surprise is an interesting one as it can go either way. It can result in towards or away from motivation.

Just think about it for a minute.

If you’re surprised by the result you achieve on something or by some positive feedback, for example, it can really fire you up and motivate you to aim even higher. However if you’re suddenly faced with a major change in the organisation you work for which you weren’t prepared for or which hadn’t been well communicated, survival emotions will often kick in.

The Upside of Survival Emotions

Now don’t get me wrong. These emotions have huge value in our lives. They’re our survival emotions. They’re our warning signals that all is not right with the world. They’re designed to protect us. They activate our limbic system triggering the production of adrenalin and cortisol to keep us in a state of high alert and prepared to deal with any dangers we face.

However our system is far more highly attuned to our survival emotions than to the others – unsurprisingly from an evolutionary perspective! Thus they often come into play when our survival isn’t at stake. We see danger where there is none and we retreat into our comfort zones.

The Downside of Survival Emotions

In these instances the survival emotions can make us highly unproductive.

The stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol literally flood our brains and prevent us being able to access our pre-frontal cortex – our executive brain if you like. The part of our brain responsible for planning, rationalising, innovating etc. We therefore become stuck, unable to generate new ideas, unable to see things from a different perspective and unable to move forward in our lives.

Thus when you get a client who can’t tell you what it is they want to achieve, when you hear the immortal phrase “I don’t know” over and over again, you know they’re in survival mode!

What’s Driving You?

So which emotions are driving you or your team right now? If you had to pick three of the eight emotions, which would they be?

Interesting challenge, isn’t it!?

It’s actually pretty easy to tell. Just think about your energy levels and how positive you feel.

Are you/the team energised, positive and motivated or tired, overwhelmed and demotivated?

If it’s the former you’re being driven by the attachment emotions and if it’s the latter by the survival emotions.

Creating A Positive Force

So if you or your team are being driven by survival emotions. If you’re struggling to work out what it is you want – your vision, your goals, your targets etc – let alone find the energy to get you there, what can you do about it?

Well, here are five top tips:

  1. Do more of what you enjoy in life and work
  2. Create an environment of trust by being open, honest and non-judgemental
  3. Share the love! Be positive, praise more, show you care
  4. Change the focus – look for positives eg. what went well rather than what went badly
  5. Bring an element of fun and humour into work

In essence, anything that will engender the attachment emotions and create more love/trust and excitement/joy.

May the Force Be With You!

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