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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Matthews

What's your flavour of motivation?

One of the best coaching questions I have ever been asked is, “Are you currently motivated away from or towards things?”. This deceptively simple question has so much respect for individual nuance with a healthy balance of challenge.

My answer to the question was a slightly embarrassed “away from” thinking and feeling that I was getting it wrong and failing at something… life? However, the openness and acceptance with which my answer was received started to disprove my gremlins. This released a bunch of mental, physical, and emotional capacity for me to better engage with my work at hand.

There is a large amount of wisdom out there regarding motivation, everything from anecdotes to neuroscience. Topics arrange from extrinsic vs intrinsic, amygdala vs prefrontal cortex, along with potency and sustainability. With all this valuable insight into motivation, it can be easy for gremlins to get into the system and start sowing seeds of doubt and the need to get motivation “right”.

I realise now that I was conflating being motivated away from something with being extrinsically motivated, calling on Daniel Pink’s work in writing “Drive”, which it seems is not necessarily the case. Extrinsic motivation is not wrong by any means but is characterised as relatively fickle with a high cost in the long run. I now see that extrinsic vs intrinsic and away vs towards are separate continuums that are undoubtedly linked in some ways. Seeing them separated begins to invite new insight.

I have an emerging hunch inspired by Dr Tara Swart’s work on developing metacognition to interrupt an amygdala reaction, creating a gap that invites the mediating, presencing, and forward-moving parts of our brain. My hunch is that there is a phase of being healthily motivated away from something while we are in the newly created gap that is shifting the reactionary extrinsic motivator into a responsive intrinsic motivator. Over time and developing awareness within this gap, an opportunity arises to evolve our repertoire of motivation to include being motivated toward things in our own personal flavour. This starts to look like a spectrum of motivation, and knowing yourself better informs what you need for each increment of the spectrum in engaging in your respective projects.

So what?

As I mentioned, experiencing this shift enabled me to let go of some complex limiting beliefs and invited more of my ability and capacity to be present and engaged. It is not to say that the goal is to be 100% on the Intrinsic and Towards end of the spectrum, but rather to increase your ability to maintain your presence at any point along the spectrum. This is a hope that I have for myself and others to experience more in life.


Without a definitive answer, my encouragement is to start becoming curious about what flavour of motivation you are working with at any given time, plotting it on the spectrum and sensing what is at play. Here are some prompts:

  • Are you motivated towards or away?

  • Is your motivation for yourself or someone/something else? If both, what is the ratio?

  • What “shoulds” are you holding onto at this time?

  • What is out of your control that you can put down?

  • What is in your control to invite you more into this project/task?

  • What is in your influence to encourage your presence?

It strikes me that it would be valuable to track your variety of motivation styles from one task to the next to understand your life's broad landscape of motivation. From this, you can discern patterns and preferences to challenge and support you in future endeavours.

Motivation is one of the myriad functions that make us human, and understanding ourselves better enables us to live more into our best personal flavour of life.

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