Success or Failure? - 1

Unpacking motivation

We can think of motivation as being blue zone and adaptive – we are success oriented in the things we do.  We can also think of motivation as being red zone and maladaptive – we strive to avoid failure.  Adaptive in this context means that the activity helps us grow healthily.  Maladaptive means that our mental and physical health are prejudiced in some way, for example, through anxiety or stress.

Most of us will have some of each of these forms of motivation.  It is the proportion that determines how healthy or unhealthy we are.


The Quadripolar Model of motivation, developed in the early 1990’s by Martin Covington, currently Professor of the Graduate School in Psychology at UC Berkeley, and holder of the Berkeley Presidential Chair in Undergraduate Education, is based on the premise that protection and promotion of one’s self-worth is the highest priority an individual can strive for that, in turn, drives two key motives: failure avoidance and success orientation.  As noted, these two motives align simply with the red zone and blue zone mind states.

By placing each of these motives on a high-low scale then there are four possible types.  The first we consider is high on success orientation and low on failure avoidance.  These individuals are referred to as ‘success-approach’ or ‘success-oriented’ and are considered the most adaptive.  These correspond to people who operate largely in the blue zone.  Their red zones rarely trigger so they remain at their best most of the time.  They feel competent and self-determining, and are well-connected into their work lives, they are in the right place doing the right things and they are confident that they can become better over time.

At the opposite extreme, we have low on success orientation and high on failure avoidance.  These individuals are referred to as ‘failure-fearing’ or ‘self-protecting’.  They have a strong fear of failure because they do not have confidence in their abilities.  Their efforts at protecting their self-worth (withdrawing effort, creating excuses) come at a cost to performance.  These correspond to people who operate most of the time in the red zone.  They are – usually – competent in doing things they have done before but anything new or different creates a triggering of the red zone and is strongly resisted.

There are two more quadrants in this model which I will look at next time and then look at actual research based on this model to see what groupings appear in practice.

John Corrigan is an expert in helping individuals to bring their whole of mind to their daily life and increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of those around them. This expertise scales from the individual to the team to the organisation. At the core of this work is the practice of encounter.

John Corrigan