Metaprogrammes – Achieve goals and Avoid Pitfalls

We all operate from a set of values.  What one individual values as important may be very different to another.  Our values reveal themselves as patterns in what we say, how we say it and what we do. These intrinsic values (or drivers) are often referred to as metaprogrammes.


Understanding what motivates ourselves and others (and adapting our behaviour accordingly) is often the key to achieving goals – it certainly removes a significant element of chance!

As many as 60 individual metaprogrammes have been identified influencing how we are motivated and how we work.  I am focussing here on 3 key motivational meta-programs which can make a big difference to success in achieving goals.

But first the “Health Warning” – Metaprogrammes are neither good nor bad.  Flexibility is the key to success.  Recognising your own preferences will enable you to understand how best to motivate yourself, and why you have no difficulty in achieving some goals, and find others a challenge.  Likewise, understanding how others operate helps to improve relationships at home and at work.


If you have a Towards Programme, you tend to move towards pleasure. You set goals easily and frequently create new goals for yourself. If you have an Away Programme, you focus on moving away from pain and avoiding risk. You make sure everything is safe before moving forwards.Towards and Away From

Towards Programme

  • Spotting it – Interested in what you will achieve, gain, get, have etc.  Inclusion
  • Advantages – forward-thinking, goal-oriented, positive energy and drive.
  • Disadvantages – may get entangled by too many new initiatives at once; may be perceived as ‘gung-ho’; has a tendency to leave things unfinished.
  • Motivating others – Use words like – attain, obtain, have, get, include, achieve, enable you to, benefits, advantages, here’s what you would accomplish…
  • Motivating yourself – Focus on what the pay-off or reward is for putting in the effort to achieve the goal.  Consider creating a vision board.

Away From Programme

  • Spotting it – A tendency to focus on situations to be avoided, gotten rid of, exclusion of unwanted situations & things.  Focus on problems
  • Advantages – very good at assessing risks and recognizing what to avoid.
  • Disadvantages – can appear overly cautious with a tendency to focus on the downside; may appear negative and unwilling to try new experiences; makes choices based on avoidance rather than a desire for something new.
  • Motivating others – Use words like – won’t have to, solve, prevent, avoid, fix, prevent, not have to deal with, get rid of, it’s not perfect, let’s find out what’s wrong, there’ll be no problems
  • Motivating yourself – Give yourself a deadline! Be clear about the downside of not achieving the goal.



If you have an Options Programme, you like to have choices in your life. If you have a Procedures Programme, you like to have rituals and routines to follow in order to be effective.

Options Programme

  • Spotting it – Answer “why” questions with a list of criteria, talk about opportunities and possibilities and look to expand options and choice.
  • Advantages – explores many options and provides people with choices; happy to test and break rules.
  • Disadvantages – may procrastinate and avoid making decisions until forced to do so by circumstances; very good at reinventing the wheel.
  • Motivating others – Use words like – opportunity, choice, break the rules just for you, another better way, unlimited possibilities, an alternative, that’s one way, here are the options, there’s got to be a way, the sky’s the limit
  • Motivating yourself – Concentrate on the greater freedom or new choices achieving this goal will get for you.

Procedures Programme

  • Spotting it – Answer “why” questions with “how”, focus on the facts and steps that have been or need to be taken, sequential.
  • Advantages – very efficient; good with rule-based administration; will stick to agreed notes.
  • Disadvantages – the procedure may become more important than the job to be done; at worst bureaucratic and blocking.
  • Motivating others – Use words like: the right way, speak in procedures: first…then…after which…the last step, tried and tested, reliable, just follow the procedure, proven methodology
  • Motivating yourself – Set your goal and then identify the steps you need to take to achieve the goal, break the steps into smaller steps and create a plan you can follow.  If you need to generate more options for yourself, create a procedure for this!


If you have a Detail Programme, you will be concerned about the specifics of a situation. Your conversations are likely to be long and will cover all the details. While focusing on the details you sometimes forget the overall purpose. If you have a Global Programme, you look at situations from the bigger picture and speak in general terms avoiding detail. You move conversations onto different topics in preference to discussing details.

Detail Programme:

  • Spotting it – Speak in sequences, step-by-step, lots of modifiers, adverbs, adjectives.  Only seem to be aware of the step before and the one after the one they are on.  Not much perception of the overview.
  • Advantages – very comfortable working with details and excellent at spotting small mistakes; copes very well with large documents and small print.
  • Disadvantages – can get bogged down in detail and work away happily, even though the purpose may have changed; may be perceived as pedantic or fastidious.
  • Motivating others – Use words like – exactly, precisely, specifically, details, use sequences.
  • Motivating yourself – Set your aim and then create small, bite-size goals.  Remember to check-in regularly to make sure you are still on the right track towards achieving your ultimate aim.

Global Programme:

  • Spotting it – May present things in random order, overview, summaries, concepts, abstracts, simple sentences, few modifiers or details
  • Advantages – make a good strategist or concept creator; can generate big ideas.
  • Disadvantages – may appear to have the head in the clouds; may feel uncomfortable holding a detailed conversation; frustration with details may result in too many ideas and little execution.
  • Motivating others– Use words like – the big picture, the main idea, essentially, the important thing is, in general, concepts.  Leave out details.
  • Motivating yourself – Start with the end in mind, be clear about what the ultimate goal is, make it compelling and irresistible, be clear about what is the goal beyond the goal.  Remind yourself of this higher vision or purpose at regular intervals.

Find out more about Metaprogrammes

To find out more about metaprogrammes and their application in management, leadership and recruitment contact MBS Coaching ( [email protected]).

To find out more about metaprogrammes – read the excellent “Words that Change Minds” by Shelle Rose Charvet.

If you would like an even better understanding of your own (or your team’s) metaprogrammes so that you can truly understand what motivates you, ask for more information about the iWam profiling tool.


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