Motivation Direction

Theory X Away From Motivation

Theory X is the idea that people are motivated to avoid punishment. Our brains work as anti problem devices. The Amygdala in our brain uses fear to get us to pay attention to anything new, scary or out of place. Some research suggests that mild anxiety is our default operating system.

Our brains also operate using feed-forward. Our dopamine fueled reward pathways move us toward pleasure seeking. It reinforces us for learning, for unexpected gains and exploring where a gain might be available.

One of these processes will dominate at any one time. NLP calls an avoiding punishment orientation away from motivation direction. It calls a goal setting orientation Toward motivation. It

As a preference, we tend toward using toward or away from more often. Like all Meta programs, this is contextual. We might be more goal oriented at work and more problem oriented at home or vice versa.

Away from Motivation

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

This is a classic firefighting stance, which is excellent for troubleshooting and problem solving. The focus is on safety, security and protection and on what should be avoided or gotten rid of.

They reframe creative outcomes as problems that need solving, and targets as deadlines. So while a toward person might think of painting a picture, the away from thinks of how to deal with the blank canvas.


They often lose sight of their priorities in order to focus on whatever crisis is current. Small problems and negative situations distract them. This makes sending positive goals and managing priorities difficult.

The biggest problem with this pattern is running out of motivation when they fix the problem. They may make a lot of money for instance and then lose interest until money becomes a problem again. This is because the pattern only runs and therefore the person only moves while there is a problem. When satisfied they can be apathetic, or just inactive.

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