Most people assume that pain is the best motivator. 

That’s a pretty bold claim, I know, but it’s sadly often true: the majority of people in the world are most frequently, and most effectively, motivated by pain.

Let me give you an example:

You work in a job that you tolerate. The work is fine, the people are fine, the pay is fine. You keep thinking to yourself that you should dust off your resume and apply to other jobs, maybe with better benefits or an easier commute, or maybe for that elusive boss who will be amazing… but you find yourself, month after month, clocking in to the same place, not really sure why nothing is changing.

And then, one day, the world shuts down because of this thing called coronavirus, and your job shuts down with it. When everything starts reopening, you go back to work (you didn’t spend your unemployment time looking for anything seriously because it was kind of too easy to sit at home and cash those checks, you know?)—and everything has changed. It’s new people, doing different things, and your role is unrecognizable.

You plod along for a few weeks before realizing that you hate your job now, and you can’t stand to keep working there. So what do you do? You do the thing you should have done a year ago, or even three months ago—you start applying to other jobs.

The pain of the circumstances finally motivated you to do something different.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason pain is an effective motivator. Pain is our body’s way of recognizing that something isn’t ok, and figuring out a way to protect itself. It’s that reflex that pulls a hand away from a stove, or jumps a foot off a Lego piece, or tells us that our extremities are freezing and we had better go find some hot cocoa, stat.

But I also get worried when people allow pain to be their only motivator, and let me explain why:

In my 20s, I wanted to try just about every new exercise routine. The fitness world was booming with new workouts to try, and I was here for the (stationary bike) ride.

I cycled and hot yoga’d and cross-fitted and literally ran a marathon, trying all the flavors of fitness. I did Les Mills and Zumba and some random dance class that was such a killer workout I had to sit down the first time.

Actually, with most of them, I had to sit down at the beginning, because my body wasn’t used to that particular type of pain.

I remember so many early yoga classes, dropping into child’s pose and praying the class would end. I remember slowing my cycling to barely anything, hoping the instructor wouldn’t notice while I tried to take a drink and catch my breath. I remember the worst stitches in my sides on runs, reminding myself as I put one foot in front of the other that running is the easiest sport—you just have to push through the pain.

Every single time, I told my body that we weren’t quitting because it was hard, and eventually the burning in my lungs and shaking in my legs settled, and I was able to bend and twist and cycle and lift and run and jump as long as I wanted to.

My body acclimated, adjusted, and grew stronger.


And that’s exactly what bodies are designed to do.

When they first detect the painful stimulus, they react and try to run. If you don’t let them escape, they immediately begin shutting down those nerve receptors, so your brain can’t detect the pain anymore. It’s why you stop noticing your frozen nose on a cold day, or hot items when you touch them all the time. Your body is protecting your brain, and the result is that you can’t feel the pain anymore.


So what does all this have to do with your Giftedness?

Here at Giftedness DC, we’re all about figuring out what intrinsically motivates you. What situation can we drop you in where you’ll come alive, no painful whipping needed?

Let’s imagine another scenario:

You’re on a team of people with a goal of helping a marginalized people group. The team leader is competent, but not stellar, and keeps making decisions that you disagree with—not out of malintent, simply out of lack of experience or wisdom. The leader turns to you and says, “Can you fix this?”

Personally, my heart is currently pumping blood to my tingling fingers, and my eyes are twinkling with ideas. This kind of situation makes me come alive, because it’s meeting all of my intrinsic motivations.

First, my Giftedness pattern includes Meet Needs, which means I love helping people. Marginalized people group? Check. A struggling team in need of saving? Double check. Don’t read “savior complex” into this, read, “this is what her soul was created to do.”

Secondly, I love to Be in Charge and Gain Response. Being handed over the reins to fix a big problem—meeting the internal needs of the organization—is like Christmas morning to me. I’m a natural born, lead-from-the-front leader, and that’s not a dirty thing to be ashamed of! In situations like this, it helps everyone, because I’m good at what I’m good at, and I can own it.

However, if I were to throw Kevin in that situation, he would have a completely different response. His Giftedness mapping includes Realize Role, which means he performs best when he has a strong leader or mentor to follow and model. His other two, Comprehend / Reduce to Expression and Demonstrate Competence mean that he thrives when he can learn deeply about his subject, and then demonstrate his competence in it, likely in a tightly controlled teaching environment.

To throw him into a chaotic environment, with a leader who is unsure, would be a painful experience for him, and we just learned about our response to pain: it causes us to run away, or to shut down so we can’t feel it.


Now let’s turn the tables a little bit here.

You’re the boss in this scenario, and you need to hire someone to fill a role on this team.

Do you want to hire someone who has all of the technical skills, the experience in working with this specific people group, and who interviews so well that you feel like you’re instant best friends…. but her Giftedness pattern means she’s likely to either run away or shut down once she starts?

Or, do you want to hire someone who maybe doesn’t know the exact terminology, or hasn’t worked with these specific people… but her pattern tells you she’s likely to come alive in this situation, take charge of the situation, and steer the struggling ship safely to shore?


Here’s the other thing about motivation: when people are in jobs that play to their motivations, do you think they’re calling you up, asking you for a promotion or a raise every other day? Do you have to stay up at night worried that you’ll lose the most senior member of the team, the one with all the history, because you know she isn’t happy, but you can’t afford to give her yet another pay bump to make her stay?

A work environment where your employees come alive is a work environment where they want to sink their roots and grow. It’s a place where you don’t have to try to keep them around with sparkly, golden handcuffs.

Let’s move away from the idea that pain is the best motivator, and remember that everyone is motivated by different things, and we need all of those people working together to keep our families, communities, and world running smoothly.

If you have more questions, let’s talk! Leave a comment, send a message, or book a complimentary consultation–we’d love to hear more about you, and help decide together if understanding your Giftedness could benefit you or those around you.

Natalie Gottlieb is in charge of keeping the behind the scenes life running smoothly. You’re likely to communicate with her about scheduling and logistics, and she writes most of the blogs. If there’s an issue at any point, Natalie is here to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out! When she’s not helping Kevin or chasing the girls, you can find Natalie working as a nurse in the NICU. Understanding her giftedness pattern (Meet Needs, Gain Response, and Be In Charge) has helped make her a better nurse, a better wife, and a better mom, and she loves getting to help others on their journeys.