The Drive System

This blog post is a follow up to my previous one titled ‘The Compassion Focused Therapy Model’ so please read that first then hop back over here to learn more about the Drive system.

The Drive System is all about acquiring things, focusing on a goal and getting jobs done.  We may experience feelings of motivation, excitement and a pleasurable ‘buzz’ as our brain releases a chemical called dopamine.  This has been essential to human development with those early people who lacked a drive system very soon dying out as they weren’t motivated to seek vital resources such a shelter, food or a mate.

Unfortunately, when we are suffering with depression the Drive System goes into hibernation as we loose all sense of motivation and the things we usually enjoy no longer give us that ‘buzz’.  This is why trying to recover from depression on your own can be so hard, it’s all too easy to get stuck when you haven’t got any drive.

The Drive System can also be diminished by anxiety as the ‘Threat’ system takes over.  All of your time and energy is invested in protection or ‘survival mode’ so there’s nothing left for the other goals we might have.

Research suggests that a sense of progress, a moving towards our life goals, is vital for mental wellbeing.  We’re not just talking about big life goals here but anything which puts us on that track.  Drive for me comes from going to a gym class, reaching goals in work, keeping on top of housework, and studying (I’m an Art History geek!).  

At the same time, it’s important that we don’t become too reliant on the dopamine hit which the Drive System gives us as this is only temporary and we need a variety of experiences to bolster our sense of self-worth.  We all know people who are workaholics, people who put too much pressure on themselves and are constantly stressed.  This needs to be counter-balanced with the Soothing System.

Part of the Drive System is taking the time to acknowledge our achievements.  All too often, we’re focused on the next goal.  It’s like climbing a mountain, instead of focusing on the summit all the time, take a break and enjoy the view – if you don’t look back you won’t realise how far you’ve come.  Perhaps this is one of the problems of our modern society, we’re always being encouraged to look to the future, to achieve this, to buy that and to go there.  Instead, let’s pause and reflect on how your drive system is functioning at the moment …

How often are you in drive mode – is this quite prominent in your day to day life or is it something which you would like to experience more?

What activities put you in drive mode?

What activities could you try to see if they put you in drive mode?

What have you achieved recently?

What bigger life goal would you like to start working towards?

If you enjoyed this then you might like to explore these previous Forrest Rambles: 

Let’s Get Physical!

Digging yourself out of depression

Creativity for Wellbeing

Volunteering and Wellbeing

Recipe for Wellness