skill 2: the study of Motion

Movement is for objects what  action  is for humans”

When leading, ourselves or others (from people in our teams, peers or our leaders) our aim is to influence motion (remember Newton’s laws?): In order to influence Motion (the actions of Humans) we need to understand the physics of it.

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When we look at human movement, what a person does, we need to clarify a few things.

Every action a person does, has a beginning, a path and an end of action. That means that when we look at human motion, for leadership purposes, we need to pay attention to all three stages: The beginning of movement, the movement, the stopping of movement.



When there is a task to do, the task has its own characteristics. It has a deadline and process, it has expected speed and results.

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The fact that a task has some specifications, does not mean that those specifications will be met by each person. So when we talk about Motion a person needs to ACT on a task. This means that a person needs to:

Start moving at a specific moment in time, in a specific way doing a specific part of the task:

After starting to move the person needs to keep moving and move in a specific way:

... and, at a specific moment the person needs to slow down and eventually stop moving:

What is important to remember about all this:


There is a difference between  a task 

and the  action on that task .


A task is something to do (with a list of specifications about what that doing needs to look like). A task is a prescription.


When a person ACTS on a task, their movement will have all the characteristics of that specific person in the specific moment when the task is ACTED on. That means that it is really important who acts on the task, when that someone acts on that task and what is the context in which that person acts on that task in that moment. It matters to know THE PERSON who will act on that task, when they will ACT on the task and in what context will they ACT on the task:

The task is like the instruction manual of your phone. The fact that the instruction manual specifies a way of setting up and using your phone does not imply the YOU will use the phone according to those prescribed ways. Some of us don’t even read the instructions, let alone follow them. :)


Acting on a task by a specific someone

is about the  whole experience  of acting on it:


it is about starting, keeping at it (in a specific way), and eventually stopping. This is particularly relevant in leadership as opposed to management. When we manage we clarify the specifications, when we lead we need to make sure that the person following those specifications actually follows them.

If we don’t remember this we will assume that there is a causal relationship between “knowing what to do” and actually “doing it”. Oh, what a life would that be, everyone would apply what they learn in time management trainings.

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of acting

on to do's

When someone acts on a “to do”-  a list of challenges appear:


People procrastinating, postponing the “start  moving”



People moving in other directions not on the task


People interrupting work by multitasking or by altogether abandoning a task to do another action


People missing deadlines  due to not stopping work on a task.


People doing the opposite of what the task is (this might be rare on technical tasks but more frequent on  soft tasks)


Ghost tasks (doing the minimum or pretending to do the task)


Procrastinating until they are close to the deadline


Doing escape behaviors (not task switching but doing actions that are escaping the needed task - social media, socializing, staring out the window, overthinking, catastrophizing, ruminating, excessive  planning)


Burning out - dragging yourself to do something

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All these are challenges that come mostly because we forget that:

There is a difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it.


When we lead we influence the starting of motion, the keeping of motion (momentum) and the stopping of motion.

Let’s remember the laws of motion a bit, as they apply to humans:


Humans keep moving if a force acts on them.


Usually there is not just one force,

there are multiple forces acting on a Human.

The direction and speed at which someone moves will be

determined by all the forces added up.


If two forces act on a Human in opposite direction and

they are of equal value the Human will either  stop (they cancel each other out)

or will break the human (one type of burnout)

or the human will move in the direction of the force with the bigger value (still risk of burnout).


This means that when we look at a task and a person’s action on a task we need to remember the three challenges: the starting of motion (BEGINNING on a task), keeping the motion (STAYING with the task) and stopping of motion (CLOSING the task so we meet the deadline or make ourselves available for a new task).



Leadership means influencing movement, or action on tasks.

Management is about clarifying what the movement/tasks are.


Both are needed in organizations.

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what  makes 

 people  move?

People move, that is, they act on a task, if they WANT TO. Simple! Right?



How a person does one of them? ... out of all the things a person can do, out of all the available and possible TO DO’s a person has (from themselves or others)


There are two options:


  • they are anesthetized and someone else moves them, like a puppet.




  • they chose to do something (consciously or unconsciously).

People chose to do something, out of all the options when they want to do something,

and that something has the biggest level of want out of all the options that people want:

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levels of  want 


A person, in a moment, in a context, analyzes out of all the options available which they want to do:

When they make this analysis they assess if they are against something, if they don’t want to do it or if they want to do that something. They make this decision based on how they feel about that action.


When people decide if they want to do something, first they analyze if that it is even an option. If an action has no meaning for them, or the meaning is negative they will not even put that action on the possibility list. They will be against doing that action.


If doing the action means something relevant for a person, if they  feel  the action would make sense for them in that moment in that context, then they will decide if they want to do the action or not (a value of want above 0). This decision will come based on an analysis of what that action means in that moment and in that context: if it is worth being done for them at that moment and in that context.


Ex: I might not be against cleaning my desk, but does it make sense for me to do it now?


How people make this analysis will be the subject of this chapter, along with how we, as leaders, participate in that analysis so that we influence what people want.



People move if they want to move


A person can have a very long list of actions that they want to do. When that is the case, the person will decide each moment which of those actions has the biggest value of want. That action will occupy the time and consume resources as long as it has the biggest want in that moment.


At moment x, person y, can have this set-up. There would be four actions that have a higher than 0 value of want. From this  list, it appears that at moment x Action 4 will receive the Energy to move on it.

*Follow the intense colour highlight (green)

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At moment x+1, things can change and the value of want for action 4 might change. In this case, the movement on action 4will stop, and the person’s energy will be expanded on …

*Follow the intense colour highlight (green)

… Action 2, because  it has now the biggest value of want.

In the previous case, the value of want just decreased, but it didn’t reach zero. When that happens, it means that Action 4 will no longer be, for the moment, in the list of actions to choose from.

It is now at value 0. It could still be possible to move it to above zero levels.

*Follow the intense colour highlight (yellow)

But something else can happen. An action can turn from a high value of want to a negative value of want, when a person feel they are against doing that action:

*Follow the intense colour highlight (red)

So far, we realized that what makes people move is a subjective feeling of WANT.


That means (so far) that the FORCE that moves people (unless we move them ourselves which is not recommended in leadership) is the force of WANT and the direction it has (towards the “I want” or towards the “I don’t want” or towards the “I am against it”).











What does I don’t want mean? As you noticed, “I don’t want” has a want value of zero. How do you think that is?


“I don’t want” means a neutral valence toward an activity. It is a “I want” but it’s not worth it, it’s worth zero. This is where wish comes in, I would wish to do something but the energy needed for that is too high for the absolute value of want.


Ex: I would bake a cake, but I don’t feel like it.

“I don’t want” is where apathy and boredom happen. “I don’t want” is the equivalent of disengagement. I am not against it, it’s just not worth it, now, in this moment. We generally phrase it like “I don’t really want that”.


As you see, WANT has two values.


An absolute value, which is linked with desire (it is something desirable, not necessarily positive, but we’ll see this later)

and a real value that depends on worth (Is it worth it?).



Want is the difference between desire and costs of energy expanded.


Ex: I would eat a cake, if it falls on my lap.


I am sure that so far you haven’t been impressed. We all know this. People do what they want!

The problems in leadership is that even if we WANT PEOPLE TO WANT to do something, it doesn’t work like that. We can influence what people want but we cannot simply wish their wants to just happen. This is where skillful leadership comes in. Influencing people’s “wants”.

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how do people  want ?

This is one awesome lesson:

There is a really cool segment in a romantic comedy that shows how “Wanting to want” does not work.


“I want you to want to do the dishes” - The breakup

We cannot want people to want things, so we need to understand how this subjective feeling of want appears.

The way people want things is about how they FEEL about those things in that moment in that context.

As you’ve seen, I obsessively used: “the person in the moment in the context”.


The feeling of want is not stable, it depends on the person in the moment in the context. What a person want depends on what they feel about that specific action in that moment in that context. As we know, feelings, are not stable. They shift from the changes in the person in the moment in the context they are.


What someone wants to do in a specific moment is influenced about how a person feels. A person’s E(motion)s, how they feel about that activity. This means that:

we influence what someone wants by influencing how they feel.


This means that:

in leadership we work with E (motion) s.


Let’s remember Newty. He sais:


When objects move it is because a force acted on them. It is the same with people. People move, act on a task, when a force acts on them. What we call motivation is the force that makes people start moving, keep moving or stop moving.


When a force acts on objects (if that force has enough value) it moves the objects. It is the same with people, only in the case of people, that force (which we sometimes call motivation) is the Force of Want. How big is that force depends on HOW strong people feel they WANT to do something.


The force that makes people move, keep moving, or stop moving is emotion.

E(motion) is Energy for Motion.


When people feel an emotion about doing something, that energy inside acts as a force.

  what are E(motion)s?  

If you practiced awareness INSIDE your skin you probably noticed that we almost never feel just one E(motion). We feel multiple emotions about multiple things and sometimes we feel multiple emotions about the same thing.


The sum and direction of those E(motion)s determines the direction we’re moving, the acceleration we have, and for how long we can keep the momentum. When that force stops, soon after (when momentum resides) we stop moving.


Emotions are our body’s way of making sense of outside  and inside reality and keeping us alive in that reality. Our feelings are clusters of sensations that mean something for our life. Emotions are interpretations based on past experiences of what those feelings/sensations mean and what action (if any) we need to take.

Emotions are our way of creating energy inside the body and deciding towards what goal to use that energy.


What does that mean? In order for people to move they need to FEEL something. Without that feeling there is no energy inside, without the Energy for Motion there is no motion.



That means that when we lead we work with E(motion), we influence

or even create E(motion)s so we create movement.

If we don’t work with E(motions) all that is left is PUSH and PULL

(also called micromanagement)  and that doesn’t look good

and it definitely doesn’t feel all that fun.

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E (motion) s move humans!

Motivation, Engagement, Drive - all these words are what we use to name what someone feels.


I am motivated when I feel an E(motion) that moves me,

I am engaged when I feel an E(motion) that moves me,

I am driven by E(motion)s. All these are words we use for internal states that move us.

To make it simple, we just call them by their name: E(motion)s.

I have a set of E(motion)s that start my movement, a different set of E(motion)s that keep me in motion, and a different set that stop my motion.

I start moving if I want to start, I keep moving as long as I want to move and I stop moving if I want to stop. This is human nature, not spoiled brat.


“Yeah, but we don’t always do what we want”.


I say “Yes, actually we always do what we want”, we might not like what we want or why we want to do something, but if we do something it is because we want to do it. And here is HOW things get really interesting.


This means that when we lead, when we influence people’s movement/actions we need to influence how they feel. If we co-create an E(motion) that E(motion) will act like a driving force for action. And this is where we need to remember all three stages of movement.


We know that we need to create E(motions) in the beginning to initiate movement, but a lot of the time we forget about the transitory nature of emotions.

This means that as leaders we need to make sure that we keep co-creating and maintaining E(motion)s throughout the task so the person has the force active to maintain movement.

Another thing we need to do as leaders is to make sure that as we approach the end of a task we diminish E(motion)s and create different ones so that the person slows down the motion and eventually stops.


We do this for people at the beginning of a type of movement (juniors in a task), together with people when they already have some experience with that type of movement while teaching them how to do it for themselves and we step back with people with expertise and experience on that type of movement so they can lead themselves here.


e(motion)s are for humans


forces are for objects



E(notion)s are something very personal for each of us, even though we assign the same label verbally, what triggers, what maintains and what stops that emotion is a highly personal business dependent on personal characteristics, history, values, needs and so on. How an emotion feels and how it is expressed is also a highly personal matter. People don’t feel emotions in the same way. More than this, what triggers, maintains and stops an E(motion) changes in time and even from moment to moment. Also, people do not experience an emotion the same way every-time they feel it.


I know, it feels (pun intended) complicated. This is what’s fun about it. You are now like a detective, you have pieces of the puzzle of emotions and throughout the next pages you will be able to place them together and make sense of this. Hang tight and enjoy!

Try to think about E(motion)s like this, they are our body’s way of creating energy for a specific type of motion.


There are four main emotions, purposes of emotions:

To prepare the body for action or for non-action.


To signal a positive or negative impact of something


So the purpose of emotions is to create the energy for moving or to stop movement and to signal that something is positive or negative for us.


We will play with this using the usual wording we have for emotions in the literature, although the latest studies show that we do not have specific emotions that get triggered, emotions are not a set of predetermined states, and are not the same for everybody or across cultures (Lisa Feldman Barrett - How emotions are made). So, we will work with the quadrant offered by Mrs. Barrett where what we feel can be placed in one of the four quadrants or in the middle (neutral). From this perspective we might have four main E(motion)s.


Anger, Fear, Sadness and Joy. Each of them create a specific energy in us so that our body is ready for a specific action that will serve a needed function in that moment. Let’s practice a bit.

I’ll start with  Fear  - Fear is the energy needed to create the motion/action of vigilance and search for information, to create movement (in case of danger).

What do you think the rest of the four E(motion)s do? What actions do they trigger and for what purpose?



So, each of those four E(motion)s, which are just labels we give a to a set of sensations can be thought as: E(motion)s that prepare for movement and E(motion)s that slow or stop movement. Activating and  De-activating E(motion)s.


Also, there are E(motion)s that anticipate a positive thing for the person and E(motion)s that anticipate a negative thing for the person. If we add these two dimensions on a chart, how would you place each of them? I’ll add Fear for reference:


Why do you think I added Fear there? Why is fear an E(motion) that triggers movement and why is fear an E(motion) that anticipates something positive?

Where would you place the others?

This is how I would place them:


I’ll start with Fear:

Fear activates us so that we do something to keep ourselves safe. Here I am talking about all safety, safe from harm, safe from loss. Fear activates us, when we feel fear we are ready 

to move, fear sharpens our senses, we are more attentive and aware, we process a specific kind of information better.

The positive think in fear is that we only feel fear when we anticipate a resolution, a possibility of safety or a possibility of lack of loss. If there isn’t a positive expectation we move towards sadness (see bellow).

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  HOW E(motion)s get created?  


Sadness is a de-activating E(motion). It diminishes energy inside, it stops us from movement. The function of sadness is to stop us so that when we lost something or something negative happened to us, something that we cannot change, we sit still for as long as we need to integrate the information about the loss in our mental models. Sadness keeps us still so that what happened is registered in any mental model that needs that information. We will feel sadness for as long as it’s needed to update the documentation in our mind. Sadness has a negative anticipation, something negative happened and cannot be changed. Sadness keeps us still to also accept that.



Joy is not excitement (you will see later on). Joy is a de-activating emotion just like Sadness. Its purpose is for us to integrate the information of the good thing that happened, the thing we gained in all of our mental models. It has a positive anticipation about it, it tells us to sit still and accept what positive thing we have.

As you notice, Sadness and Joy serve the same function, information integrators, both keep us still.



Anger is an activating emotion. This is a bit tricky. Anger tells us that something negative is happening now and we need to react and correct it. Anger tells us that something negative will happen in the future, usually our movement to correct might have some negative consequences. When we are angry and we act on that anger there will always be a price to pay (not just in negative terms) but also in energy consumption. When we are angry we don’t gain anything, we just correct something.


Anger and fear go together just like sadness and joy. They both activate us to move, but with different ways of moving.


What does this mean for leadership?


 That we need to know and understand these emotions, and maybe change some of the information we were operating on. For example, when we want people to feel joy all the time, joy alone, does not move people. Also, when we succeed with a task or fail with a task, if we don’t allow the time and space for joy and sadness that information cannot be integrated, and we see people not feeling completion on those tasks with all that these implies. So, am I saying that this means the to get people moving we need to get them angry and fearful? Well, almost.

If you did the INSIDE awareness exercise, you probably noticed that it almost never happens that we feel just one emotion. We feel multiple emotions, maybe at different intensities. This means that these pure emotions are never alone in us. Emotions combine and we created labels for the combinations:


Let’s see combinations of two. You see bellow a sound system with four different keys (anger, fear, joy and sadness). You find bellow combination of two keys (e(motion)s), what do you label the E(motion)s?

Combo of 2

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So, what did you come up with?

If you got stuck, try to imagine, how both emotions feel in your body (the sensations) and how would you label that combo of sensations. There is no right or wrong answer, the labels we put on combination’s depend a lot of how our culture, personal history and present models chose to label the sensations.


Let’s now try combinations of three:

Combo of 3

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How about these combinations?

Anger+Fear+Joy _____________________

Anger+Fear+Sadness _________________

Anger+Joy+Sadness __________________

Fear+Joy+Sadness ____________________

And, combination of four:

Combo of 4

How about these combinations?

Anger+Fear+Joy+Sadness _____________

None of the E(motion)s ___________________

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Where would you place these feelings?


Stuck, grateful, strong, relaxed, stressed, focused, upset, envy, drained, accepted, frozen, resentful, enthusiasm, determined …


What do these mean for leadership?



When we lead we need to co-create these E(motion)s, or better said, we need to create activation and de-activation at different moments, we need to create positive anticipation but also negative anticipation. You remember the blue circle from the two axes drawing for the four core emotions? We work with the whole circle.


If you look at the movement graph where do you think you need activation and de-activation and where do you need positive and negative anticipation?

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What do you think happened here in terms of activation or de-activation and positive and negative anticipation?


  • people procrastinating, postponing the “start moving”

  • People moving in other directions not on the task

  • People interrupting work by multitasking or by altogether abandoning a task to do another action

  • People missing deadlines due to not stopping working on a task.

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If you want to go in depth with all of this content I really recommend reading these two books:

Directing the Power of Conscious Feelings - Clinton Callahan

How Emotions are made - Lisa Feldman Barrett

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