Motivation Direction - Toward Pleasure and Away From Pain

Motivation Direction – Toward Pleasure and Away From Pain

The motivation direction Meta Program determines the type of consequences that are likely to move us to action. It is an important aspect of how we motivate ourselves. Are you motivated by what you want (pleasure) or by what you want to avoid (pain)? This particular program profoundly affects many aspects of our lives.

At some level, if the reward (or potential pleasure) is big enough or the consequences (or potential pain) are bad enough everyone will move toward or away from.

Of course, one person’s pain can be another’s pleasure and vice versa. My worst day would consist of bungee jumping, wet water rafting in an icy river, followed by a night of camping in damp muddy clothes. Some might find this exhilarating.

Goal Setting Motivation Theory – Toward Motivation Direction

People who move toward what they want focus on the possibilities and visions of the future.

Theory X Away From Motivation

People who move away from what they don’t want are motivated by problems to solve. Threats of negative consequences and deadlines energize them.


The most useful orientation is to be able to do both. See possibilities while dealing with problems while still small and manageable is a powerful pattern.

Theory X and theory Y

There is a current debate in management about whether employees are best motivated by bonuses and rewards (theory Y) or by threats of punishment (theory X). We know this as “Are people motivated by the carrot or the stick?” This meta-program shows that it depends on the employee.

If you try to motivate a toward employee with threats of punishment she will become resentful and resistant. On the other hand trying to motivate an away from employee with bonuses is usually wasted. They are more concerned with things like job security.

Finding someone’s motivation direction

What do you want in (life, a job or a house)?
…The person will tell you either what they want or what they don’t want.

For example, “I want a house overlooking the ocean with huge open rooms and cool breezes.” “I want a house that doesn’t feel cramped or hot and is in an area with no pollution”. This could describe the same house.

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