There are many different theories about what motivates us. In NLP terms (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) the universal drivers are pain and pleasure. Some people will be motivated by pleasure – they will be drawn towards those things which give them a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Others will be driven by avoiding pain. Decisions will lead them away from those things which distress and hurt them emotionally.

Of course, there are times when everyone will identify decisions based on both but without exception, we will favour one over another. It is important to realize that it is not about one being better or worse they are just different.

There are then a variety of other things which drive and motivate us to be who we are. Choices are made often at an entirely sub-conscious level which has a significant impact on the lifestyle.

I am going to look at the theory supported by Anthony Robbins as I believe it makes a great deal of sense.

He describes six different human needs. According to his theory, everyone will have two dominant needs and will need all of the first four to some extent.

Let’s have a look at each in turn:


The need for certainty is powerful. People who favour this need often show great determination, courage and resolve. They need to know that things will be certain, that they have some sense of control even if it means putting up with things which are less than perfect.


Those who are driven by uncertainty crave adventure and variety. They love change and will often change things which are working well simply to get the buzz it creates. They are curious and often playful and adventurous. You will find explorers and extreme sports people at its most extreme edge.


People who are driven to succeed, attainment and success will be high on their list of personal values. They get a sense of self by doing things for others and being needed. They will push the boundaries to make a difference and to be seen as the one who has made a difference.


Love is the most powerful of the range of connection and the thing which most people long for deep down. Connection of friends, family, work colleagues, acquaintances are all important to those who are driven for connection. Connections to a higher force or to nature are also important to some people who are driven by this need.

The last two needs may be present but not always.

These are:


There are many who wish to grow and develop personally or constantly work on the growth of others. Learning intellectually, physically, emotionally and / or spiritually is all part of growth.


This can be contribution to one’s own development or that of others. It can be at the level of wanting to surprise or spoil the family or that of making an ongoing significant contribution to others through personal contact or charitable works to raise money to help others.

Everyone favours two out of the first four. Interestingly, of those I have worked with, workaholics commonly favour certainty and significance. When I speak to clients they will often use phrases such as “I must succeed, failure is not an option” “I like to be in control”

When you talk further to them about the life they would aspire to they will identify love as being most important to them. Of course, some of them have created loving, stable relationships, yet many others dream of being in such a relationship but have failed to either create or sustain one.

When I examined why that is, I discovered that they have spent a significant amount of energy on underpinning certainty and significance in their lives. This has left little time and energy to find and sustain true love. Moreover, I found that they have concentrated on the area of their lives where they feel most comfortable and that is around achievement and success.

Unpick things even more and I often find that there is a profound belief that they are either unworthy or unable to be loved. They are driven to succeed so that they feel better about themselves and more worthy of being loved by others.

The same people often have great connection with others on a large scale, lots of friends and positive relationships with work colleagues. This means that the pain caused by the potential loss of the love of someone special is to some extent softened. The end result is that they live their lives dreaming of love but not quite uncomfortable enough because of the high levels of connection to make a radical change. Work takes on a disproportionate significance; there is no time or energy left to look for and to support a loving passionate relationship. They have become a workaholic.

Consider your own needs. What drives you?

Are you someone who likes to know what is what, you like to have routine and ‘or feel in control or certain how things stand. Do you put up with things which are negative rather than rock the boat? Do you crave comfort and wish to avoid pain? If you answer yes then you look for certainty.

Are you an adrenalin junky, do you run from commitment, or end relationships which appear to be getting too intense? Do you love new things but quickly lose interest once you have mastered the skills? Are you driven by uncertainty?

Do you want to be noticed? Do you feel the need to succeed to make up for a perceived failure in early life (failed 11+ or a school exam for example)? Do you feel at you best when you are doing things for others? Is significance a need for you?

Do you want to be loved? Are your relationships in life offering love or connection or both? How important are they too you? What do you really want out of connection?



Managers have a responsibility to create the right culture for work-life balance. All too often there is an underlying culture that those who are on site longest are recognized for being somehow better and more productive. Yet being on site does not necessarily equate to producing the best, most productive and creative work. Team members model their behaviours on their bosses. If they work long hours driving themselves beyond what is healthy and desirable they too are likely to suffer stress and the medical conditions which have long been associated with poor work practices.

Everyone will have times when they need to burn the candle at both ends to deliver within tight deadlines or to get a new project underway. That in itself can add to the buzz when working on something which is interesting and worthwhile.

It is when that pressure becomes unrelenting and the norm that it is destructive of health, wellbeing and in the medium to long term of productivity in the workplace.

Each member of staff represents an investment for your organization. The cost of advertising and appointment, of induction and training to ensure that your staff is well equipped to deliver is considerable. Yet all too often that investment is wasted when staff crumbles under the pressure suffering stress and burn out. That investment could be productive for the long term if there was a more reasoned approach to creating a great work life balance.


Recommended Reading

"Believe You Can" by Clive Gott

This self-help book looks at the following important subjects in an amusing and accessible way.

  • Developing and maintaining high self-esteem.
  • Maintaining a positive attitude.
  • Developing unshakable self-confidence.
  • Empowering beliefs and sustaining personal satisfaction

Clive Gott is a Yorkshireman born and bred. His life story includes changing from a grossly overweight firefighter to Ironman tri-athlete.

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