A Hybrid Model for Success

When I first got an early-model Prius hybrid back in 2004, I spent a remarkable amount of my driving time with one eye glued to the bit of the dashboard where you could see how much of your energy expenditure was coming from the electric engine and how much was coming from the gas engine. I soon learned that attempting to accelerate too quickly shifted it over into the gas zone, whereas easing up on the pedal a bit let the natural momentum of the car take over and the electric engine came back into play. Over time I got a feel for it, and I took a perverse delight in watching how many more miles to the gallon I was getting than my wife’s gas-only turbocharged SUV.

The only thing I didn’t love about it was that it really didn’t have much “oomph, so after a few years I upgraded to what the dealer called a “performance hybrid” – two electric engines, one gas, high torque, plenty of horsepower, and a car I’m still driving and enjoying nearly 100,000 miles later. The point (and I do have one) is that it occurred to me this week that learning to get the most out of driving a hybrid is a pretty good metaphor for learning to get the most out of yourself on the road to success.

It’s something like this (but not this):

Human beings can accomplish remarkable things running on a blend of two different kinds of fuel:

  • Motivation (i.e. will-power) works like gas in an internal combustion engine. It burns fast and strong but runs out quickly and needs continual renewal. It also can take a toll on the engine itself, which needs regular maintenance to handle the buildup of toxicity from the fuel and the high temperatures required to make it burn. It’s made up of a lot of personal thinking – the sum total of all of your ideas about who you are, what you’re up to, why you’re up to it (i.e. your “motive”), and what you think you need to be doing to get there.


  • Inspiration (let’s call it “spirit-power”) works like the electric engine in a hybrid. It’s a clean, non-toxic energy source which is self-renewing as it goes, so you can run on it for years without ever needing to manually recharge or replace the battery. It’s still made up of thought, but it’s a more impersonal thought that seems to come from a deeper part of the mind. Inspiration comes to you and through you, and as a rule, it isn’t about you – it’s about whatever it is that you’re working on or towards.
Most guides to success focus fairly exclusively on one system with only a token nod towards the other. For example, classic guides to success like Think and Grow Rich or Unlimited Power offer multiple ways to build your willpower and “program your mind for success”. They acknowledge that motivation must be renewed daily by directing your mind toward success, but point out that it can and must be done, emphasizing the point with story after story of plucky entrepreneurs and single moms who persisted past the point where most of us would have given up and achieved a success most of us can only dream of.  A spiritual component to success is important, of course, but more as a values touchstone to stop you from being consumed by greed and material wealth than as an actual fuel for achievement.

On the other hand, inspirational guides to success like The Power of Positive Thinking or The Secret seem to suggest that if all we do is think the right thoughts and feel the right feelings, success will fall into our laps without our needing to engage the will or over-involve ourselves in its creation. The stories of what people actually do to create success are glossed over in the emphasis on what they were thinking and feeling while they did it.

In my own experience, both personally and in coaching high-achievers over the past 26 years or so, these two paths to success are intrinsically linked. No one (that I’ve met or worked with) gets very far without putting in a lot of hours; no one (that I’ve ever met or worked with) sustains their enthusiasm for success over time without some kind of connection to a more universal energy source than the human will.

So let’s go back to our hybrid analogy:

Imagine achieving your goals to be like driving a hybrid car thousands of miles to get to a seemingly distant destination. You start with a full charge of inspiration in your battery and a full reservoir of motivation in your gas tank.

If you pay no attention to which fuel you’re burning when, chances are you’ll use mostly gas, and the further and longer you go, the more often you’ll need to stop to fill back up. All that fuel can start to get expensive, and the wear and tear on the car requires you to spend even more time and energy keeping things maintained and fixing them when they breakdown.

If you try to only run on electricity, it can be difficult to get going, and you can become more obsessed with the desire to keep your energy expenditure clean than to actually get wherever it is to set out to go.

A simple resolution comes the moment you realize that the car is designed to run on both gas AND electricity – motivation AND inspiration; willpower AND spirit, personal AND impersonal thinking. You never have to decide which energy source to use when – the system itself will effortlessly switch between them as needed. Better still, as you get more of a feel for how the system is designed to work, you develop driving habits that help optimize efficiency and effectiveness – minimizing fuel expenditure while maximizing distance traveled.

Whereas you learn how well the car is working by paying attention to the dashboard, you increase your understanding of the human system by paying attention to the feeling in your body. When you’re feeling tight, stressed, wound up, or burned out, chances are you’re running on a lot of personal thinking and not much spirit or inspiration. When you’re feeling a sense of ease and flow, your electric engine is in full force with just enough personal will to keep things moving in the direction of your choosing.

This is an inexact metaphor, and my guess is that if you think about it too much (or know more about cars than I do :-), it will begin to fall apart. But the ideas behind it are simple:

  • Thought is the fuel for all creation and achievement. Personal thinking (motivation) fuels the will; impersonal thinking (inspiration) fuels the spirit.
  • Your feelings will always guide you as to the source and quality of your thinking
  • You don’t need to figure out which thoughts are the right ones or when to use which kind – the human mind is already designed to find a balance for optimal success.

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!!

With all my love,