Do You Know Your Inner Motivation?

Strangely, we don’t always know our inner motivation for the choices we make. We just do what makes sense or feels right. It is also very easy to judge another person’s choices.

Why on earth is Suzanne driving that antique Jaguar that always breaks down? Why doesn’t she get a car that works?

A practical person could easily judge this impractical choice and declare it madness without understanding Suzanne’s inner motivation. Suzanne herself might not be entirely clear why she drives a car that doesn’t often work, not realizing that she values beauty over functionality. She loves that car because it is gorgeous.

There are six core motivators: money/practicality; power/influence; beauty/harmony; service; knowledge/truth; and principles/system for living. Most people have two strong motivators, two that are situational or sometimes important depending on the circumstances, and two that they are indifferent about. Do you know which two drive your choices?

Let’s look deeper (this is excerpted from my book, Coach Yourself to a New Career).


Often, the inner motivation for the practical person is making money. So, they will work hard to reach their financial goals. They usually ask, “How is this useful?” when facing a choice. If they don’t see the use, then they might not be interested. In relationships, they might expect a favor to be returned. They seek a return on their investment of time or money.


You seek influence or control over others. The power/influence person will work hard to be the leader, manager or supervisor and like to have influence or control over others. You may be motivated to work hard to satisfy the desire for power. Further, you might become involved in politics or seek positions of power or influence, whether that is to head a company, lead a team or preside over the PTA.


If beauty and harmony motivate you, you may find that you feel discouraged or demotivated if you live or work in a place that isn’t beautiful. You make an effort to create beautiful surroundings and tend to see the beauty in all things. You are motivated to become the best person you can be and value personal growth and development. Your life itself might be a work of art although you don’t necessarily have to be an artist or creative to value beauty and harmony.

Service to Others

If you’d give the shirt off your back to help another, then you are motivated by service. You are naturally selfless and give or support others even if it is a sacrifice. You may consider others who aren’t as selfless to be cold or self-serving. If your primary goal in life is to help or serve others, then service is your motivating value (think Mother Teresa).

System for Living/Principles

You have a structured or defined system for living and are highly principled, believing that your principles are higher than life itself. For some people, this system for living is a religious belief which serves as their code for living. Or you might be an environmentalist, a yogi or a vegan and this informs the choices you make about how to live. People who are highly principled tend to believe that the world would be a better place if everyone followed their system and may dedicate their lives to spreading the world. (Gandhi is a perfect example of a highly principled person who was willing to die for his beliefs.)


Here, the inner motivation is to discover the truth, learn and gain knowledge. You happily spend time with your nose in a book or taking courses because of your natural curiosity and desire to know. In order to feel satisfied at work, you’ll need a job that challenges your intellect and will lose interest in work if there is nothing new to learn. (Einstein is a famous example of someone who dedicated his life to the quest for the truth.) Researchers, academics, professors and journalists may have knowledge or the quest for the truth as a motivator.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to tell what someone values. One client, Rachel, always wears the latest fashions and is beautifully dressed. On the surface, you’d guess that she has a value for beauty and she would agree. But once we tested her, it turned out that her hidden motivators were power and money. She dressed for success because she knew that the right clothes would project the right image, enabling her to succeed in sales in New York City. And she found her clothes at a discount in sample sales and never paid full price. She is well-suited (pun intended!) for her career in sales and works hard to reach her goals to get her bonus.

Take a few minutes to consider the six motivators. Can you find your top two?

It is often helpful to know why we value one thing over another and why people do the seemingly crazy things they do.

It is often a hidden inner motivation that leads to arguments in a marriage. Let’s say that you value knowledge and want to sign up for a class on Ancient Greek Art. Your partner says, “What on earth are you spending money on that course for?” You have a value for knowledge bumping head on with a value for money or practicality. This could lead to an argument and frustration because no one is really right or wrong. You can’t say that one value is higher or more valuable than another. They are all important.

This gets really interesting when our own motivating values conflict. What if you value beauty and money? You might find it hard to spend money on decorating your house. Or, you might get your beautiful furniture at auction for a fraction of the retail price and satisfy both motivators. My ideal car would be a Jaguar with a Chevy engine—beauty and robust functionality combined –and even better if it were electric and eco-friendly so that my husband would like it, too!

Want to learn more? Then you probably value Truth and Knowledge and would enjoy reading, Coach Yourself to a New Career or taking the online assessments in the Career Change Kit.

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