Every Single Thing We Do Is Driven by Emotions

How to link your emotions to your actions and find motivation — at work and in life.

Lari Niehl
9 min readAug 24, 2021


Every single thing we do needs to be motivated by something. In this story, I’ll write about what moves us humans — first literally, on a physical level, and then applied to the realm of work. From there, we’ll discover two possible ways to find our very own work and define our very own meaning.

“I am not interested in how people move, but in what moves them.“
— Pina Bausch

I’ve Lost My Instinct and My Brain Can’t Tell Me Where It Is

Do you know this moment: You’re about to go for a run or start working out, and your mind goes: Might as well not do that. What were the reasons again? Why should I get moving? Followed by: Come on. You can do it. Go girl! It’s already Tuesday. Just get this done.This evening you can watch Netflix.

This is a moment in which it would be nice to connect to something very primal: our instinct to move. We should have that somewhere, shouldn’t we? Considering evolution and all? But where did it go?? Why does not moving always feel so much better than moving?

While all living beings generally profit of saving energy, humans have mastered this art to the luxurious degree that we sometimes feel reluctant to even take a flight of stairs or go by foot just 15 minutes. So, the instinct to save energy is there. Check. That’s healthy, first of all. But unfortunately, it seems we have lost sight of its counter player, the instinct to move. It was in charge of investing energy intuitively, without thought, which means we would skip the whole inner conversation before going for a run. We would just run, because we would feel like running. No brain effort, no stress.

But exactly this inner discussion and stress concerning our energy investment proves that we often don’t move instinctively; we try to create “movement, powered by brain”. Have we forgotten what it really is that drives us?


Wik.: The term emotion describes a feeling, a movement of mind and emotional excitement. (…) The word comes from the Latin emovere (eng. to move out, to dig up), which is also contained in the word locomotive.

As a dancer, you’re constantly exposed to this choice of energy investment. In training, you’re expected to invest vast amounts of physical energy for a super abstract goal. If you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense. In fact: The very moment you think about it, you will stand still, or continue to move with inner stress and anxiety. That’s why, you have to practice not to think about it, and instead look for a different impulse.

And that’s where it gets interesting. We do carry the impulse to move in us; it’s just impossible to find while racking our brain. I believe, many of us have lost touch to the most powerful driving force we are born with: our emotions.

Emotions Make People Move

The most creative and expressive dance styles originated from the poorest and most suppressed social groups. The enslaved Africans brought their fields to life with what later developed into Jazz Dance with all its vibrant, colorful sub-styles. These people were engaged in the toughest physical work from sunrise into the night. Why would they decide to add any extra exercise?
They didn’t. They didn’t decide this with their brains. They let their emotions drive them.
Something similar happened when the Hiphop culture emerged from the black community in suburban slums. Those teenagers were pissed, and hurt, terrified and traumatized, and they weren’t putting up with it anymore. Suppressed emotions had bundled up long enough to become unstoppable and extremely powerful.
Some of the music from these cultures is sad, some is quite up-beat, some is super aggressive. Some of the dance focuses on joy and ecstatic states, other styles are attacking, almost violent. It doesn’t even matter so much what the exact emotions were. But they drove people to move. And that caused them to be seen, and that caused change. The emotions did a good job there, don’t you think? They enabled these individuals to be seen — of course, only once those individuals translate them into action.

Okay, but now, what about those who aren’t starving half to death and watching friends and family being killed? Once the psychological pain is reduced, are we damned to be eternal lazy butts? Are we just not movers, because emotions are for people with big problems? Are we just supposed to sit? Or, are we supposed to sit most of the time, until it’s reasonable to “get some exercise”, because that’s what a conscientious person does, and then force ourselves to do a boring workout?

Well, my question is: Do we not have emotions anymore?

Stepped Clutch

In first-world, especially academic society, there is often a missing link between our emotions and our actions. Because emotional actions are meant for people in trouble. We’re told: Now that we have everything we need, we have the luxury (?) to act from the brain, not the gut.

So when three-year-olds get excited about something, they jump six times in a circle, squeaking and flapping their arms up and down. When 16-year-olds experiences this, their body stays still, but maybe they do a hand gesture accompanied by a hysterical giggle. But by 25, most people have learned to either not react at all, or just say something smart. We no longer instinctively react to emotions with movement. And alongside that, we un-train to let our emotions be the origin of our actions. The result is that many of us have a hard time finding the driving force for what they do and instead keep trying to “motivate” themselves with non-stop brain reasoning.

After a while, you’re finding yourself with a huge pile of tasks that would make a lot of sense to do. There’s all the indications for the benefit of carrying them out. But none of these actions give us deep satisfaction and content, to the extent that attending them feels tiring and life-draining. Plus: You don’t have an emotional relationship to them, so you don’t know how to prioritize; also there’s no limit when it comes to collecting more and more of these “shoulds”.

The missing link shows in our entire behavior, as well as in the work we do. Our actions are supposed to be “powered by brain”, while we try to cut our emotions off from our actions. But that’s like keeping the foot on the clutch, while letting the engine run hot, and then wondering why it’s so exhausting to shove the car forward, with just the bare hand reaching out the bottom of the car door.

The ironic thing is: While we’re trying so hard to be sensible and reasonable, we’re still mainly emotionally driven. In our consumer behavior, social behavior, everything. It’s how we work. But instead of us deliberately using this mechanism to load up on energy to create change, it happens to us in a twisted, unconscious way. The emotions stay in the dark and accidentally lead us to judgments and action while we are fooling ourselves and believe we’re making rational decisions. “Yeah, no I’ve thought about it. And I came to the conclusion, it makes the most sense to buy it.” After all, that’s what grown-ups are supposed to do: Make the most reasonable decision. Think about stuff before acting. Has anyone taught you how to properly feel through stuff before acting?

Because we live in a world of brain powered decisions, we never train to look at what’s going on in our belly; and therefore we often fail to connect with deeper, more nuanced, complex or abstract emotions, that could potentially drive us to do authentic and meaningful things. Instead, we stay locked with “I go to work because I’m scared of being judged”, and then we even put it into a fancy, rational dress, by saying: “I decide to go to work because it’s my responsibility”. (See, twisted.)

What if we were to finally let our emotions do their job and drive our actions? In a smart way of course; we’d want to use our well-trained brain to double check our instincts for things like direction, safety, ethics and viability. But the engine would be “powered by gut”. Here’s a short collection of possible fuels for our work —since we’re speaking of renewable energy sources, they score high on sustainability.


When this emotion is expressed, it can cause empathy in our fellow humans. This can CONNECT human and draw attention to imperfect conditions.


Anger is a powerful force driving people to STOP or DESTROY something.


Enthusiasm and excitement can spark vision and creativity that drive people to CREATE things and GO TOWARDS things.


This emotion makes you want to SHAKE THINGS UP, LET GO of something, CREATE DISTANCE. It can be used to choose things that are very new, very different from the cause of disgust.


This emotion can cause a freeze, fight or flight response depending on the situation and the person. It makes us want to do something to AVOID the thing we are afraid of or KILL IT.


This emotion doesn’t move you much, just makes you want to give up and stop investing energy. After the feeling has left, you might know you don’t want to feel that way, and maybe you’ll want to start SPREADING HOPE and work toward a NEW REALITY.


This emotion drives us to CREATE something or do something that EXPRESSES APPRECIATION.

As you can see below, these were only a couple of examples; we have a rich variety of emotions to choose from when it comes down to finding a fuel to drive us.

The Plutchik Wheel of Emotions

Ways of Reconnecting

So, to recap: Emotions are what drives humans to move, change, basically to invest energy without having to think about it. We have a bunch of complex emotions that could potentially empower us to do various things, but not always do we allow them to.

That being said; how can we rediscover our instinct to move, re-link our work to our mission and finally take the foot off the clutch?
I guess we have two options:

  1. We could keep doing what we’re doing, but each time there’s a motivational slump, or we “really hate it”, we can look for an emotional impulse somewhere that activates our action. Maybe, ironically, even that anger itself could help us attack the given issue.
  2. We could, over time, observe on which topics we carry strong or consistent emotions, and what those emotions want us to do. And then, maybe, one step after another, actually start doing that.

What If

What might the world be like if we said good-bye to “I go to work because it’s my responsibility” and reconnected our actions to our emotions?

“I feel super annoyed by the constant information overload I get. I want to change something about that.”

“I feel helpless and frustrated facing the psychological pain I see in the world. That’s why I‘m in Neurological Research, I’m desperate to find something that causes relief to humans in pain.”

“I work on solutions for physically disabled children to visit normal schools, because I’m angry at the way my brother was isolated.”

“I’m in love with humans, they are all artworks to me, and I want to express, share and cultivate that through my art.”

Would our work be different? Would we work at a different place? At a different pace? Or with more care and love? With a more powerful connection to our personal goals, our feelings and our mission? Would we be considerably less stressed out? Could we find our work deeply purposeful and stop looking for deceptive purpose in things like shopping, judging, controlling, or greedily collecting money and followers?

Would we experience more vision and intelligent creation?

“I am not interested in how people move, but in what moves them.“
— Pina Bausch

Maybe, if humans started thinking less about how they come across and more about what moves them… Their “next move” might be more of a game changer and less of a disheartening flop.
And less of a chore, as well. Investing energy in a job that has no purpose to you feels like an immense effort — so tiring that you can seriously get ill or burnt out. Investing energy in a tiny revolution on an area close to your heart, on the other hand, feels exciting, daring, fresh, challenging, honorable. In fact, you might stop thinking about the exact amount of energy you invest.

Maybe, once you discover what drives you, you can see more precisely where you want to go, and then you can clear everything out of the way.
And just go. No brain effort, no stress.

You’ll just go, because you feel like going.



Lari Niehl

artist, dancer, designer. slightly autistic. i love motorbikes. humans are super beautiful to me. www.lariniehl.com