The Six Motives Behind Your Work


In “Primed to Perform” by Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, the authors explain there are six motives in the “motive spectrum” when it comes to why you work. And interestingly enough, they deem three of those motives – the direct motives – are more powerful motivators than the other three indirect motives.

Below is a breakdown of each motive:


The motive of play means you do something simply because you enjoy doing it. At the core of the play motive are two words: curiosity and experimentation. Some companies do this exceptionally well. For example, “Primed to Perform” highlighted Zappos and Southwest. Both “encourage their people to treat each customer interaction as play. In each case, the organization encourages its people to indulge their curiosity – to play in the work itself.”


When it comes to the purpose motive, it means you do the work/activity for the outcome that will be produced. Your beliefs and values align with what will result from the work. Look at Apple: its purpose to create products that both inspire and empower is a powerful purpose for  its employees. “You may or may not enjoy the work you do, but you value its impact … Dieters may not enjoy preparing or eating healthy meals, but they deeply value their own health, an outcome of healthy eating,” shared the authors.


This motive is a little trickier – it has to do with a secondary outcome. “You do the work because it will eventually lead to something you believe is important, such as your personal goals,” wrote the authors. “For example, you may work as a paralegal because it will help you get into law school. You may not enjoy the day-to-day work of filing briefs (no play motive), and you may not care about helping the kinds of clients your firm represents (no purpose motive), but you continue to do the job because you want to be a public defender.”

Emotional Pressure

Have you ever accomplished something because you were afraid to disappoint your parents? Emotional pressure is when your work or participation in an activity is motivated out of emotions like guilt or shame. “Emotional pressure can cause fear of public speaking, or writer’s block, when the fear of judgment distracts you from the actual activity,” shared the authors.

Economic Pressure

Reward and punishment comes into play in this motive and can mean such things as a hope for a bonus or the fear of getting fired. And the authors noted this pressure is apparent on all levels of income. “If money is the sole reason you’re participating in an activity, it will typically diminish performance. If you’re participating for other reasons, money won’t cause a problem,” wrote the authors.


Basically, you are just doing the work because you did it yesterday. You no longer remember why you started the work or why you continue to do it. You just accomplish it day in and day out. “As destructive and insidious as it is, inertia is surprisingly common in the workplace,” wrote the authors. “In our research, we’ve found that a large proportion of the employee population feels like they work in their current job for no reason.”


So, Affiliate, can you guess which three motives are the most powerful? Play, purpose and potential. They are the direct influencers of the work and when in motion, can motivate much better than any of the three indirect motives – emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia.

It might be time to ask what motivates you and your Coaches to work at your gym? Are they direct or indirect motivators? “While every great culture has a unique personality, behind each and every one of them is the science of the motive spectrum,” shared the authors. “Using its insights, any culture can be reengineered for the better.”

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at