The inner contradiction that keeps many Rebels stuck

What motivates you?

This is the million-dollar question. Understand your intrinsic motivators and your entire life makes sense.  

Decades of research has proven that emotion drives behavior, not logic. Of our 34,000 human emotions, the ones connected to our 12 core needs form the identity-level root of how we act and make decisions.

While we might experience all of these needs, a small subset of these 12 will have uniquely motivated you over time. I call this your Motivational DNA, and it rarely changes over the course of our lives.

Savvy marketers and politicians have known for ages how to manipulate behavior by understanding emotional wiring (aka psychographic segmentation); it’s high time we all knew it too.

When you understand your own wiring, you get to take control of your own choices instead of being manipulated by those who can statistically predict that a 1% improvement in customers “feeling free” will result in an incremental half-million in revenue (yes, this used to be my job.)  

The Caged-Bird conflict in your Core 4

One of the first things I work on with clients is choosing their “Core 4” –the small handful of needs that have motivated them since childhood. The Core 4 represents what makes you, you… guiding your goals and values, often subconsciously. Common ones for Rebels (the fast-thinking status-quo busters who I serve) include Autonomy, Belonging, Purpose, Expression and Growth.

Half of my clients initially choose both Autonomy (I want to feel free) and Security (I want to feel safe)… which is usually a major clue into why they’re feeling stuck in their lives and work. Like a bird in a cage, these are opposing need states that don’t coexist well without a deeper level of awareness, understanding and intention.

While everyone needs a bit of both – they come with the “being human” package, after all – Autonomy and Security can’t coexist in your Core 4. Why not? As drivers, freedom and safety represent two very different types of identities, with their own unique set of choices and design parameters. When we’re unconsciously motivated by both simultaneously (“Take a risk! No, don’t!”) … well, these crossed wires can be paralyzing.

Rebels versus Guardians: What’s the difference?

Let’s use the Archetypes (or personas) of Rebels and Guardians to highlight the differences between these two segments.

Primary motivatorFeeling free (Autonomy)Feeling safe (Security)
PurposeChallenge the status quo; possibilitiesProtect the status quo; predictability
ValuesIndividuality, uniqueness, innovationConformity, tradition, stability
Appetite for riskHighLow
Comfort with change and ambiguityHighLow
Related ArchetypesExplorer, RevolutionaryCommander, Conservative

In the Autonomy corner, you’ll find the Rebel. Rebels constantly ask why things are the way they are, and relentlessly push to change them if they don’t make sense. We move fast, crave novelty and exploration, and are comfortable with ambiguity and risk. We’re often political liberals, with a strong justice gene. Messages about unfairness really push our buttons and get us up in arms.

In the security corner are the Guardians. They would love to freeze time, protect the status quo, and time-machine back to the 50s when things were a bit more predictable. They move more deliberately, and usually vote conservative.

The emerging field of political neuroscience is exploring the differences in brain wiring between how conservatives (aka Guardians) can have larger amygdalas – the brain center responsible for evaluating threats — which would explain why fear-based messages in the media are so effective with this group (“they’re coming to take your guns and jobs!”)

This clash of opposing Needs shows up in families, societies and organizations. For the latter, I wrote a “case study of misunderstandings” to highlight why it’s so important to understand how leaders and teams are wired in order to break through the gridlock.

So when might you resonate with both Autonomy and Security?

Chances are, if you follow my writings, you’re wired to be a Rebel; you’re a status-quo buster with a natural inclination to explore and take risks. Yet an unmet need for Security has kept you frozen in place. You may have had a rough and unpredictable childhood, or a lifetime of feeling like an outsider has triggered enough micro-traumas to squash your free spirit. You likely retreated to your brain, because the brain feels safely removed from the uncomfortable emotions stored in the body. 

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create safety within yourself by fully inhabiting your body and emotions, embracing all of who you are. As you begin to trust yourself, you’ll see that craving for Security diminish, making room for that dominant part of you that wants to take a risk and fly. What seems scary right now is actually the source of your power.

Does it ever make sense to activate both? Of course, but one of them won’t be motivating your behavior.  For example, I’m a bird who needs a nest. My dominant need is Autonomy; I crave flight, and I design my life and work around the feelings and sensations that come with feeling free. AND… my need for Security shows up in a desire for some predictability and comfort in my life. Unlike some nomads who move to a different country every month, I like to sink in for a while (for the past 6 months, home is Dahab, Egypt.) Security and stability is present, and I consider it, but it doesn’t drive me. 

Knowing where you fall on this autonomy-to-security spectrum is essential to intentionally designing life and work that’s true to who you are.

Is Security holding you back from running your own show?

I often work with corporate refugees who are yearning for more freedom and impact in their lives and work. If you’re itching to build a company or be a solopreneur, but fear is holding you back, you’re not alone. I have one coaching spot open. Let’s talk.

Or, read more about being a caged bird. Sound familiar?

Or, click here to see one of my clients walk through his Touchstone, which includes his Core 4, associated emotions and values, Archetypes and vision.

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