The Origin of Motivational Literacy ®

People ask about where Motivational Literacy® came from, and that opens a collection of stories that include my life-long curiosity to understand what makes people tick – and how they perform.

Being a small and sickly child, I was in more than my share of punch-ups as a kid. Being a bit brainy, I always pursued the smartest strategy I could find to be more successful.

From Karate school to Aikido school to Skydiving and to Bodyguard school, I studied how people perform under acute stress – and how that can be improved.

Later, I thought to extend performance enhancement beyond the physical or the violent and into the business, health, and wellbeing aspects of life.

I started with Tony Robbins’ material, following that by training with NLP creator Richard Bandler and his partner John LaValle, then hypnosis masters Michael Bennett, Janis Erikson, and several others.

Opening the Clinic

My wife and I opened Transforming Changes Hypnosis clinic in 2001, and continued intensive study, constantly putting both our brains into every case either of us worked on. I couldn’t have had a better partner for that adventure. Together, through both clinical practice and formal study, we began to unravel a number of secrets.

One of our studies was about “state chains” – a concept that’s been around for a while. The idea is that it’s easier to make a small shift of mood than a large one, and that many small shifts, or baby-steps, in the same direction will add up to a big change.

state chain

There’s also the idea that people tend to form habits: If someone had an existing habit of going from one mood to another, we could discover that and use it for a mood-shifting free ride, so to speak.

We planned to map-out client-specific patterns for use in hypnosis coaching. But, we quickly found the answers to our survey questions were incredibly consistent. So, we followed up by gathering a larger sample, surveying a few thousand people. We provided an emotion-word and asked them for the emotion that comes next for them.anger and frustration


For instance, the most common emotion after frustration is … anger.



motivational literacyWe organized the results by writing emotions on note cards and sorting them on the floor of our martial arts school, according to popularity of answer, and used strings to show the connections.

This became our map of the emotional landscape – a spatial reference to emotional states and how they connect and flow into each other. The arrangements and patterns we discovered made perfect sense from a biology perspective – and in the primitive context where our brains developed.

This simple discovery also opened the door to something profound: Navigating the emotional landscape is a bit like the old child’s game “Chutes and Ladders” in that when you land on certain emotional states, it’s natural and easy to slide directly into others. There seems to be a biological bias or a chemical inertia to do so…

Negative Emotion Vortex

One of the most important discoveries we made was about how “negative” emotions show that bias into other ineffective states. Once we are in an unpleasant or unproductive emotion there is a high probability that the next one we enter will also be unpleasant or ineffective.

anger management

For instance, immediately after intense anger the body feels tired or weak. And, many people feel embarrassment. Neither of those things contribute to effective interaction, creativity, or productivity.

anger and blame anger managementDuring our studies, we’ve discovered a number of circular patterns of negative emotions that we now call vortexes. Once a person is doing one of those patterns, there is a strong tendency to repeat them.

Motivational Literacy offers the opportunity to recognize – and the tools to exit such patterns. (There are also positively-charged vortexes – which we cultivate and use.)

For more on this – and specifically the issue of anger management through Motivational Literacy, see my blog post on that subject.

The Path of Fulfillment

Once again, we planned to make specific profiles for evaluating clients and tracking their progress. We interviewed them about their problem areas, tracking their paths in the landscape – and then about their most effective areas of life, tracking those as well.

What we found was striking: Though people had creative pathways for ineffectiveness and aggravation, everyone’s “path of fulfillment” was identical. There were no exceptions. Is this the biological basis for our experience of fulfillment? We think so…

The name Motivational Literacy comes from three things:

  1. We believe a basic understanding of the emotional landscape should be part of every human’s fundamental literacy – for knowing who they are; how they function; and how to get where they want to go – to the fulfilling life they are biologically entitled to living.
  2. The map is easy to navigate through language. The language we use spontaneously discloses our location, while a deliberate use of language can steer our course through the landscape.
  3. That use of language involves using one’s literacy through both reading and writing techniques – activities that enrich one’s life even as they help guide it’s growth.

One of the most wonderful things about Motivational Literacy is the discovery that if a person has ever done something that was fulfilling – that perhaps made them proud – the details of the fulfilling path are already within them. All they need to experience of fulfillment are the tools to navigate that pathway again. And if they have no such experience, they can use the same tools to follow the well-worn pathway established by others.

Motivational Literacy® offers those tools. They are so simple and easy to use that anyone who can read and write can put them to work and change their life.

I’d like to know about how helpful this post is – and how I can contribute to your success with whatever you’re struggling with right now. Participate in the community by leaving a comment below!

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