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The Pitfalls of Relying on Threat Based Drive: Finding Balance for Sustainable Success

In today’s fast-paced and competitive world, the drive system is often celebrated as a key factor in achieving success. The relentless pursuit of goals, the constant push for improvement, and the unwavering determination to succeed are all characteristics of the drive system. However, whilst drive and ambition are essential for progress, relying solely on the drive system can lead to a host of pitfalls that may have detrimental effects on our well-being and overall success.

Our drive system gets depleted

Our drive system is a wonderful and important motivational system which provides us with many opportunities. It is an important system which allows us to push forward towards our goals feeling excited and energised. However, when we rely excessively on the drive system without allowing for adequate rest, recovery and self care, it inevitably becomes depleted and exhausted.

This is something I have seen many times in my work with clients. They come to therapy confused as to why now things have suddenly started to crumble around them. For years they have managed to get by, pushing through and coping with life hurdles by just ‘keeping going’- drive drive drive. But then something happens, a trigger or additional demand, and suddenly they find themselves feeling entirely unable to cope. What has happened here is that they have for years relied on their drive system to get through, and eventually this collapses.

When drive has been ruling the show, and this is suddenly no longer able to function, we are left feeling abandoned, scrabbling around for coping strategies which are no longer available to us. It is essential that we don’t rely entirely on drive to cope with life’s challenges. When we do, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the inevitability of exhaustion and burnout.

The motivations of drive

We can often assume that when we are in our drive mindset, we are functioning from a place of enthusiasm and motivation. However, it is really important that we are able to examine this further, as what on the surface may appear to be healthy, productive, drive based behaviours may actually be driven by threat. It is important to ask ourselves, why am I functioning from a drive mindset right now? Am I feeling valued, enthusiastic, excited and motivated by the opportunity in front of me? Or, am I feeling panicked, rushed, pressured and terrified that if I take my foot off the gas, I will stumble and reveal my lack of worth? If the latter is the answer, you are probably functioning from a place of threat based drive.

The dangers of threat based drive

Threat-based drive is characterised by a constant state of stress and anxiety. The fear of failure, the pressure to meet unrealistic expectations, and the relentless pursuit of perfection can take a serious toll on mental and physical health. Moreover, threat-based drive can have a detrimental effect on performance and productivity. Whilst stress can initially boost focus and energy levels, prolonged exposure to high levels of stress can impair cognitive function, creativity, and decision-making abilities. The constant state of fear and pressure can stifle innovation and hinder problem-solving skills, ultimately affecting performance and results.

How to combat threat based drive and find balance

To combat the dangers of threat-based drive, it is essential to cultivate a more balanced and sustainable approach to motivation. Exploring intrinsic motivation, setting realistic goals, and practicing self-compassion are key strategies to shift away from a fear-based motivation. Creating a supportive work environment, promoting work-life balance, and fostering a culture of psychological safety can also help alleviate the negative effects of threat-based drive.

One of the gifts of our wonderful messy minds is our ability to access states of calm and soothe. Exploring opportunities to step out of our drive system, to take our foot off the gas and step into a mindset in which we can feel content is essential if we want to find balance. When we are able to do this, we can step back into drive from a place or purpose and positive intent, rather than fear and threat.


In conclusion, while threat-based drive may provide temporary motivation and results, the long-term consequences on well-being, performance, and relationships are significant. By recognising the dangers of relying on fear and pressure as motivators, and adopting a more holistic and compassionate approach to goal-setting and achievement, individuals can achieve success without sacrificing their health and happiness. It is crucial to prioritise well-being and balance in the pursuit of goals, and to create a supportive and empowering work environment that values the holistic development of individuals at the mercy of fear, anxiety and burnout.

Ultimately, when you live in a state of threat based drive, you are only as good as your last success…or failure.