Motivational Style by Sign

Working with the energy of the universe is easier than working against it.

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There are a lot of great articles on Medium about how to motivate yourself or others to do any number of things. Our will and what makes us move — what motivates us, is a key thing to know about ourselves. How to motivate others is often a topic of interest as well, and this can seem an even more illusive task, something that is a special skill for the likes of Matt Foley or Tony Robbins.

While I’m all for good suggestions and time honored tricks of super successful people, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring if I may and give a little astrological perspective on the subject of what motivates us. Astrology is an energetic language after all, and this type of perspective takes into account not only what works to motivate people, but how people are motivated differently.

The twelve signs of the zodiac are all combinations of an Element (Fire, Earth, Air or Water) and a Modality or Quality (Cardinal, Fixed, or Mutable). The element is modified by the quality, and each sign represents a way (mode) that a certain energy (element) moves. For example, Aries is Cardinal Fire. It is the kind of fire that begins things, the strike of a match, the spark of life. While it is very easy to imagine each of the elements, Fire for example, there are different kinds of Fire, this subtle but important difference is the effect of the quality. Fixed Fire is Leo — the fire of the Sun, the luminary that also rules the sign. Mutable Fire is Sagittarius, fire by friction, fire that is created by rubbing two sticks together.

While Signs of the same Element (Water Signs for example) often have a lot in common, signs that share a Modality (Cardinal signs let’s say) share similar styles of motivation. It’s important to consider the whole sign when looking for a key to how to motivate, but the Quality alone will be a huge piece of info where motivation is concerned. That’s because the Mode or Quality shows how an energy moves.

Cardinal Signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn) — are motivated externally, by fear or force. Cardinal energy is initiatory; all the cardinal signs begin a new season. Cardinal signs are self-starters and like to follow their own light. They are great first responders and react instinctively and quickly most always, but definitely in emergencies or a crisis. Cardinal signs react reflexively, like the way your knee moves when the doctor hits it with that little hammer. They can procrastinate and defer less important tasks (indefinitely) in favor of immediate concerns.

If you want to get a Cardinal person’s attention — ask for it, when you want it. Tell them it is time sensitive and very important. They do not want to be bothered with bullshit, but will give you their attention or fly into action if it’s truly called for. They sometimes shy away from making plans (that can’t be broken if need be) but are very enthusiastic about beginnings. They are great startups. They can put forth furious bursts of effort and activity, but are prone to burning out and often lack consistency or follow through the way that fixed signs are known for. Prioritization is a good practice for cardinal people. Do the most important things first, and don’t expect that huge list of other shit you also wanted to do to get done. It’s fine.

Fixed Signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius) — are also motivated externally, by incentive or reward. These are the people that write down their goals and wish lists and then make it happen. If they have to work long and hard, doing the same thing day in and out, they will — if they are going to get something out of it. They will work for a future payday but they also like to be encouraged with regular treats. (Leo might be working to be adored by all, but is fueled by praise from loved ones along the way). Fixed signs thrive under routine, and they should absolutely include little bonus spots (and rest periods) for themselves in their plan for the day. Fixed signs can suffer burnout too, but unlike Cardinal people who will find a new project and be on to the next one, Fixed people often don’t know when or how to quit. Their strengths can be their weaknesses and they will often need the energy of Mutability to help them when (even though they hate to admit it) they are in a rut or need to make a change.

Mutable Signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces) — are motivated internally, by attitude. Basically, mutable signs do what they want. I could just leave it at that, but I’ll go on. Mutable signs are not going to be motivated by the reward chart like a fixed sign would be. If a Mutable sign feels like doing something — it does it. For mutable people this is something they can embrace and work on becoming clearer about — recognizing their will. Meditation is a great assistant. A 15-minute mediation session contemplating your will in the moment would be a very helpful motivational exercise for a mutable person. What ever happens after that they can follow that lead. Mutable people are good at going with the flow, making changes that are necessary on the fly and deciding in the moment what to do. You can’t really threaten them or bribe them into action — frustrating for friends and associates, but you can coax them and enlist them in your scheme, if it’s something they want to do anyway. Plans? Only if we are going to talk about them in a hypothetical type of way. That’s something a mutable can get into, but don’t ask them to decide today on something that is two weeks from now — who knows how they will feel that day? And they are right! Mutable signs, go ahead and keep on resisting the peer pressure from the outside motivators — you are wiser than you realize about yourself, and certainly probably wiser than they are.

Next time you think about motivation, think first about the quality of the person you are trying to motivate and adjust your style accordingly, for productivity’s sake if not for improving your human relations. I have observed that many people assume that however they are naturally motivated will work for others in a similar fashion. This is especially true of fixed signs, which are known for their productivity and also their hardheadedness. However, fixed signs will hit a brick wall even harder than their own resolve if they try to motivate a mutable or cardinal person strictly using goal setting, routines, and rewards. That works for them, but makes people who are not strongly fixed hate working with fixed people. It feels stifling and shortsighted for a strongly cardinal/mutable person. You can threaten or scare a cardinal person into action, but good luck if you try that with a Pisces (mutable) or Taurus (fixed). Working in a team setting with multiple types of energy can be highly productive, if there is respect and room for different styles to co-exist. It takes all kinds to make the world go round.