Motivation: Are You Running on Clean Fuel or Dirty Fuel?

For decades, managers have been using “one size fits all” methods to motivate their teams. In his new book The Motivation Code, my colleagues and I have distilled over fifty years of research into what truly drives us. We explain that there are twenty-seven unique motivational themes in which individuals are driven to experience engagement and deep fulfillment in life and work. Once you understand your unique Motivation Code, it will forever change the way you approach your work. 
This excerpt from the book explains the “why” behind our work and our hope for its contribution to human flourishing.

In our universe, energy is conserved, meaning that when you burn something, you release that potential energy into the world, where it can be harnessed. For millennia, humans have burned wood, brush, and eventually fossil fuels to keep themselves warm, cook food, and even hurtle through time and space in rockets going hundreds of miles per hour.

However, not all the fuels we use are clean. Some of them burn dirty. They leave by-products. When we burn coal or wood, they leave soot and ash. And when we burn fossil fuels, they release gases into the atmosphere that can cause harmful side effects to life on earth.

In the same way, I believe we need to be mindful of the fuels we burn to motivate our work.

Dirty Fuel

All too often, these fuels burn dirty.

Anger, seizing ownership, proving your worth at all costs, putting others down, and extracting what you can: these are “against” fuels, meaning they fundamentally oppose someone or something else. They fuel us to right some personal wrong from the past instead of focusing on creating possibility. They cause us to hold grudges.

Yes, they may produce the energy needed to get through our work, and maybe even to achieve our goals, but they leave behind residue on those with whom we interact, and on ourselves: bitterness.

And when bitterness takes root, it makes engagement, creativity, and generosity very challenging. We begin to see other people as the enemy rather than assuming the best of them. Bitterness bounds possibility, because the only options available to us are those that direct our creativity against our enemies.

When we are working against something, we will never fully feel gratified, even when we have success.

  • We might need to continuously tell the story of how we bested someone else.
  • We might need to remind ourselves over and over that we didn’t get the last word.
  • We might need to stir up our anger toward others as we tackle new projects.

Instead of focusing on the positive impact we want to make on the world, we become obsessed with vanquishing those we feel have wronged us.

“Save every rejection letter and use it as fuel!”
“Channel your anger into your work!”
“Show them who they’re messing with!”

I hear this kind of well-intended advice handed out frequently, especially to young aspiring artists and entrepreneurs.

Like most advice, it seems profound on the surface, and actually works for some people—for a while. However, I believe this kind of dirty fuel is poorly conceived. Striving to prove others wrong will work temporarily. But once we’ve done that, what do we have? What motivates our work when we’re stuck on one side of an argument? With that mindset, we will always need another enemy to stay motivated.

The truth is, our fight to prove others wrong is born out of a fear that they might be right, that maybe we aren’t actually good enough, that we aren’t worthy of being on this stage, in this room, or on this team. When we strive to gain acceptance from someone who has rejected us, the reality is that the acceptance we crave is our own.

In the end, no level of achievement can ever quell the internal whispering of:

“You’re not good enough.”
“It’s never going to be good enough for them.”

“You don’t belong here.”

That’s why we need to choose clean fuels to motivate our work.

Clean Fuel

The Motivation Code is the cleanest fuel I’ve discovered.

Because it’s unique to each of us, it’s the best way we can make our personal contributions to the world while also feeling alive, engaged, and fully present. Operating within what naturally drives us allows us to work toward the outcomes we most crave.

  • Who are you working for, not against?
  • What change are you creating every single time you choose to sit down and do the work?
  • What outcomes motivate you so much that you’re willing—if necessary—to suffer for them?

This is the purest form of true motivation.

The most profound work you will ever do will be accomplished only when you are burning clean fuel.

I believe this happens when you operate squarely and consistently within your Motivation Code. The world needs you to be fully alive, fully engaged, and fully yourself.

And as you move forward in hope and possibility, uniquely driven to contribute to this world, your impact will resound.

Take the MCODE Assessment to tap into the power of your unique motivation here.

Five Reasons Why Your Manager Should Care about Motivation:

1. It improves retention and increases job satisfaction.

2. Operating within Motivation Code increases the degree of discretionary energy team members spend on work.

3. Awareness of others’ motivations will improve collaboration and decrease unnecessary conflict.

4. Better alignment of tasks and natural motivations means deeper organizational engagement.

5. When people feel understood, they feel more psychologically safe within the team.