how emotions drive your motivation

When you want to feel more motivated it helps to know how emotions drive your motivation.

Understanding this more can help move you from the lower needs of survival and staying warm, to the higher self-actualized form of bulletproof motivation.

When you know what’s driving your motivation and how to change it at will, you’ll be able to achieve your goals and stay motivated, even in the most difficult of times.

Every shop owner and new car dealership knows about human psychology because the majority of your decisions are driven by emotion and NOT logic.

Generally, you’re going to buy something not because it is such a great values or even because you need it, or even because you like it especially.

You buy an item because you get excited by the cool packaging. Because you think the materials used look elegant.

Because you imagine how cool or elegant you’ll look.

You buy it because it’s something other people have. You buy it because you’ve had a hard day and you need a treat. And you buy it because you are worried that it will be out of stock if you hesitate.

And finally, you buy something because of how it makes you feel.

I find myself buying things all the time for all the reasons above. I didn’t really “need” that new dress or those shoes – but I like how they look and how I feel wearing them.

Psychologists tell us that our motivation is ruled by our emotions, which you can think of as being a compass for the thing our body thinks we should be doing.

Your Body is Hardwired to Find Food, Stay Warm and Procreate and Be Accepted by a Social Group

The problem? Our body is hard wired to survive in the wild outdoors. As far as evolution is concerned, our main challenges are finding food, staying warm and dry, and procreating. We want

to belong to a strong social group, and we want to be respected by others.

These core emotions can be roughly arranged according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but the point is that our thoughts stem from our emotions. And those emotions typically stem from our physiology and environment.

how emotions drive your motivation

For proof of this, consider what happens when you get irritated when you are hungry.

When you become hungry, this will make you grumpy, irritable, and stressed: and this can often lead to arguments, mistakes, and other problems.

So, what’s actually going on here?

Well first, the lack of food in your system causes your body to release large amounts of cortisol, while serotonin levels drop. That heightened cortisol leaves you jittery and anxious, and it is that hormone that causes your thoughts to become stressed and irritable.

Why? Because in the wild, that hunger would be extremely dangerous, and it would be highly important that you seek out food – even if it meant competing with other people to get it.

You’ll now find yourself worrying about your boss firing you, you’ll think about all the things your partner has done recently to irritate you, and the mess on the side in the kitchen is going to really annoy you.

Your thoughts will now begin to race, and you’ll find yourself struggling to concentrate on anything. You’re looking for danger, you’re looking for problems, and you’re tired.

You think you’re angry because your boss/partner/housemate is an idiot. But you’re actually angry because you’re hungry.

How Your Emotions Affect Motivation and Focus

So, what does this have to do with motivation and discipline? Why does it matter?

The problem is that if you now try to get work done, if you now try to focus, then you are going to find it extremely difficult to do so.

Consciously, you want to work on your project and get work done. But unconsciously you’re just looking for food!

There are countless other examples of this.

What if you’re tired? What if you’re cold?

Or what if you’re stressed about something that you said to a friend last week? In these scenarios, the hormones and neurotransmitters running through your body are going to make it very difficult for you to focus on what you need to focus on.

Motivation is the Ability to Overcome the Emotional Drive to Focus on What You Need To

What happens when you aren’t hungry? When you aren’t scared or stressed? When the temperature and your energy levels are just right?

That’s the point at which you begin to focus on the things that you need to do to be successful: that’s the point where your motivation actually comes through.

Hierarchy of Needs 

  1. Self-Actualization
  2. Esteem
  3. Love and Belonging
  4. Safety Needs
  5. Physiological Needs

This list shows us the order in which our “needs” must be met, where the bottom item (physiological needs) takes absolute priority over all else. After that, you’ll look for shelter.

Ever noticed how you don’t struggle with motivation to get up and go to work in the morning?

That’s because you know that if you DON’T go, then you won’t be able to afford to eat, because you’ll get FIRED.

Pain Often Drives Motivation More Than Pleasure

So, if you don’t get out of bed and go to work because if you don’t you’ll get fired and can’t eat, that creates an emotional response of stress.

Stress is actually what drives you to get up and get out of bed to go to work.

And it works nearly every time, unless you’re so sick that you’re too unwell to go.

Once you’ve finished work, you tend to spend time with your family (love and belonging), or perhaps hanging out with friends/dating, and you tend to look for esteem by buying nice clothes or by trying to advance your career.

Self-Actualization is What to Strive For as Your Motivation Driver 

How Emotions drive your motivation

Self-actualization is the highest on Maslow’s hierarchy and what you want to strive for as your motivation driver. It is not dependent on the lower levels of need for survival or food or whether or not you are accepted in a social group.

This is the feeling of fulfilment that comes from having a goal or a passion.

It is self-improvement. It is “the desire to be the most that one can be.” This is what makes the difference between ‘having’ to achieve and wanting to achieve it.

That’s why this hierarchy must be structured from bottom to top. You can’t function well if you’re starving or no one loves you.

You need to satisfy your most base desires and needs before you can start looking after the soul.

The emotional drive to eat will always be stronger than the emotional drive to diet.

The emotional drive to be warm and safe will always be stronger than the emotional drive to workout.

And the emotional drive to hang out with friends will always be stronger than the emotional drive to go to work.

BUT it also just so happens that the items at the top of the pyramid are also the ones that bring the most lasting contentment and happiness.

And this is why so many of us struggle with our motivation – we struggle to tell our bodies that no, today comfort and hunger take a back seat to the things we really need to get done to be happy.

Bulletproof Motivation

For a more in depth look at motivation and how to manage it to be the best version of yourself, here is a wonderful book called Bulletproof Motivation. It has all the steps you need to get and stay motivated in the most positive ways.

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Pat Wyman is the CEO of,, best selling author and an internationally noted brain and learning coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, including Total Recall Learning™.

She is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

Contact Pat to find out more about the Brain Advantage 2.0 Learning and Career Assessment and customized coaching programs for professionals and students.


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