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Core Motivations: A Map of the Self

December 02, 2021 by Amanda Reill

There is no personality test that can capture the essence of who you are as an individual. Humans weren’t meant to be put into boxes — they were meant to grow and flourish in unique ways. However, getting to know who we are through observing our tendencies, whether they come from nature or nurture, can be a transformative tool for personal growth. CTEDU uses the concept of identifying our core motivations as one such tool. Core motivations are based on the personality assessment called the Enneagram. 

What Are Core Motivations?

While there are some variations in the terms used by Enneagram enthusiasts, the system works from nine basic personality types

  1. The Perfectionist: rational, idealistic, self-controlled, and critical
  2. The Helper: caring, interpersonal, possessive, and people-pleasing
  3. The Doer: adaptive, driven, excelling, and image-conscious
  4. The Artist: sensitive, expressive, dramatic, and self-absorbed 
  5. The Thinker: innovative, analytical, intense, and secretive
  6. The Friend: loyal, responsible, anxious, and security-oriented
  7. The Optimist: spontaneous, versatile, fun-loving, and scattered
  8. The Defender: powerful, self-confident, stubborn, and confrontational
  9. The Peacemaker: receptive, easygoing, agreeable, and complacent

Each core motivation is designed to be descriptive of both the strengths and weaknesses of each type. You may notice that one of the types sounds a lot like you, but you’re not sure how you feel about being described by all those adjectives. This dichotomy is where the Enneagram – and core motivations, by extension – gets its power. It gives us a 360-degree view of our natural tendencies to both harm and heal ourselves as well as others.

What makes Core Motivations different from other assessments?

The reality is that most of us aren’t at our best all the time, and the Enneagram helps to explain why. Every type has a healthy version and an unhealthy version. The healthy version is that type’s ideal self, and the unhealthy version is a sort of “shadow self.” That shadow self can reveal to us the source of our anxieties, compulsions, and obstacles. 

Let’s take Type 6–the Friend, also called the Loyalist–as an example. At their best, the Friend is a fiercely faithful companion. Their chief motivating factor is safety, so when they feel safe, they will make everyone around them feel safe, too. But when a Type 6 isn’t at their best, a lack of safety could turn them anxious, sullen, and paranoid. They curl inward to protect themselves, and they often lash out as a result. They’re seeking safety, but when safety is scarce, they make an artificial version of it for themselves, to the detriment of their mental health and relationships. 

It’s not uncommon for first-timers of the Enneagram to discover their type not through their perceived strengths but through the way the personality assessment describes their least healthy behaviors. This self-awareness can sting at first, but sometimes the best way to move forward is to recognize what’s holding you back

Why is it useful to know your Core Motivation? 

From a life coaching perspective, it’s all about setting and meeting the right goals. And a huge part of setting goals and taking steps to meet them is knowing who you are and what you want

That said, it’s all well and good to know who you are and what drives you at your best, but being able to pinpoint the reasons why your compulsions manifest the way they do has extraordinary benefits. If you’re a Type 2, a Helper, and you know that your core motivation is to care for others and make sure they feel loved, then you’ll see why it hurts so badly when you don’t feel appreciated. For a Helper, a lack of appreciation can lead them to bend over backward for others, people-pleasing themselves into exhaustion. So any goals a Helper sets should be framed around this understanding of themselves and mitigating the possibility of not feeling appreciated. 

A Roadmap for Coaches

Helping your client zero in on one or two of these core motivations will help you bring to life some of their greatest strengths and their greatest fears. Here are three ways that you can help your client link their personality type with their goals:

  1. Uniqueness: Your type–and the way it manifests in your life–is unique, so embrace it! There are no “good” or “bad” types, so help your client celebrate themselves for who they are within their motivational style. It can be freeing to know why you are the way you are!
  2. Benefits: Every type has its strengths. Let your client explore these, and make sure you frame the conversation around how these benefits can help your client set and meet their unique goals. Maybe their goals need to be reframed entirely around this new understanding of themselves, and that’s okay! Play with the positives. 
  3. Compulsions: There’s a shadow self lurking in every client’s type, too, and it can be easy for them to shy away from that or treat it like a weapon to hurt themselves. Instead, lead your client in an exploration of where these compulsions have held them back in the past. Hold these compulsions up against their future goals and ask: what tools can you use to mitigate those obstacles so you can follow your goals?


No personality test or psychological analysis can thoroughly explain the entirety of a person’s life and experiences. But a map to motivation, however basic, does exist, and the Core Motivation tool based on the Enneagram is a great place to start. With your help and gentle guidance, your clients should be able to meet their shadow selves face to face, recognize the benefits of their uniqueness, and use both as a much-needed push to pursue their goals and chase the life they’ve always wanted.   

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