Approach Motivation vs Avoidance Motivation

What drives you? Enjoying what you do and looking forward to doing more of it or just getting by every day and avoiding problems. Let’s dive into understanding the difference between approach motivation vs avoidance motivation.

Would you rather tell your boss about the new ideas you have about that product or just nod in agreement with everything she says so that you could avoid upsetting and ruffling feathers at your workplace?

Sounds familiar?

As far as you are achieving your goals, should your source of motivation matter You are getting your desired results, right?

Maybe not. In the long run, constantly living in fear may have detrimental effects.

In this article, you will learn about the difference between approach and avoidance motivation with some examples that can help you understand the concepts better.

Avoidance is Instinctive

At the root of most human desires is a need to avoid shame, pain, or mockery. This is why grass to grace stories are more celebrated in our society and even adapted to books or movies. Negativity tends to leave a long-lasting impression on the human mind, and it is natural to want to avoid it.

Therefore, it is not surprising to discover that when you set your goals, you will most likely make decisions that lead to the avoidance of shame or guilt instead of pleasure.

For instance, you want to make more money to avoid being looked down on by peers or try out a new fashion trend so that you wouldn’t look odd around your fashion-conscious friends. This avoidance is also the bane of peer pressure.

Since you completing your tasks day to day, chances are you have never thought about your typical motivation type, found out what is it that drives you, and evaluated what it may be costing you.

To better understand, let’s explore what approach motivation vs avoidance motivation entails.

Approach Motivation and Avoidance Motivation

Elliot et al. 1996 define approach motivation as the energization of behavior or the direction of behavior toward positive stimuli, while Avoidance motivation is the energization of behavior or movement of behavior away from adverse outcomes.

Approach motivation indicates the tendency to move toward experiences that make you feel good, while Avoidance motivation involves moving away from negative experiences to achieve a goal.

The stimuli could be internal or external, tangible or intangible. These could be experiences, validation, reward, risk, punishment, etc.

Though achieving your goals through avoidance may seem effective because the thought of losing something may motivate you more than gaining, in the long run, it could be stressful and less effective.

Approach motivation gives you a feeling of satisfaction and energizes you to achieve more.

Examples of Approach and Avoidance

Here are some side-by-side examples of approach motivation vs avoidant motivation with the same goal in mind.


  • “I will study to score high grades in my exams”    
  • “Exercising three times a week to become physically fit”
  • “Acquire skills for work, and be productive”                       
  • “Getting to a party on time as a matter of principle”


  • “Studying to avoid failing my exams.”
  • “I will exercise three times a week, so I don’t get fat.”
  • “I will go to work so I don’t end up homeless.”
  • “Avoiding being late to the party for being judged.”

Though the goal is the same, the approach is different. One focuses on the positive, while the other is focuses on avoiding the negative outcome.

Differences Between Approach Motivation vs Avoidance Motivation

  • Approach motivation uses positive stimuli or the absence to bring about the actualization of your goals while Avoidance motivation involves using negative stimuli to achieve your goals.   
  • The avoidance approach is designed for survival even when there is no imminent danger.

The downside of this is that if overused, you could become limited and miss out on opportunities that enhance self-development, exploration, and growth. In contrast, the approach method is designed to help you thrive.

So which should you adopt?

Which One is Better: Approach and Avoidance?

The fear of failure can be a reason to do something, but it doesn’t necessarily create desire in you. The type of desire makes you want to stay up at night and pour yourself into it. Let’s look at two scenarios:

A young girl was assaulted around her neighborhood and decided to learn self-defense as a way to protect herself. Her sole aim is to protect herself and avoid harm.

A shift in this mentality would be that she decided to learn self-defense and also teach other vulnerable people how to protect themselves. An Approach mentality comes with a sense of purpose and service.

This will give her a positive motivation to get up daily and do what she does as opposed to constantly ruminating on the possibility of being jumped down the alley.

Constant negativity could cause anxiety, nervousness, and depression.

Adopting an avoidance type of motivation causes procrastination compared to using an approach motivation style.

But that doesn’t mean that avoidance motivation should be completely disregarded. Humans have evolved this far by knowing when to fight, run or stay.

Therefore, it is imperative for you to have a healthier type of motivation to adopt and the best way for you to go about achieving your goals.

Adopting approach motivation

approach motivation vs avoidance motivation

We have already discussed the negative effects of avoidance motivation. Now, it is essential for us to train our minds to apply the healthier approach on ourselves. A positively driven motivation is a great way to achieve your goals.

It would help if you believed you have what it takes to overcome a challenge and be excited about it.

Also, see this as an opportunity to serve others.

Key Takeaway

People who envisioned the impact of their ground breaking discoveries and ideas on humanity were the ones who actualized it. They were less likely to give up because their source of motivation was more approach-oriented.

As an individual, you should strive to have a healthy source of motivation. It is crucial to have a balance between approach motivation vs avoidance motivation and know when to apply them.

Constantly focusing on negativity as your energy source can trigger stress hormones that have detrimental effects on your body.

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