Should we Burn Dirty Fuel?

[Stick with me — I’m not talking about petrol, I promise!]

This post is a kind of response to a video that caught my attention on Youtube – Hank Green is a well-known figure in the YouTube community, and in this video he was sharing his thoughts on motivation, and where we get our energy from.

He had asked his followers to list two thing: 1) one healthy thing that fuels them in their life and work, and 2) one unhealthy thing that fuels them — and the results came back think and fast. For instance, Hank had said that 1) he feels good when he helps people experience joy; but 2) he tends to feel good when he is more successful than people that he dislikes. Looking through the comments and the conversation that sprung up on Twitter, it was clear that people’s healthy motivators were generally around other positive emotions about other people – like love, or loyalty – or, they were a feeling around progress and validation from seeing the things that we have achieved. People’s unhealthy fuels were generally found in negative feelings about other people – they talked about spite, or feeling, or revenge – or, a feeling of being a disappointment.

Hank was talking about how in our life and work, we are constantly “burning” either our healthy fuel or our unhealthy fuel – that is, we are motivated in either a healthy way or an unhealthy way, and he was saying that he thinks it is possible to burn your unhealthy fuel, and produce a good outcome. He was thinking about how it is possible to do good things with unhealthy fuel – but that we need to recognize what we are doing and why we are doing it – and know that we can only do that for a short amount of time.

This whole topic got my brain going, and I was reflecting on my own experience of healthy and unhealthy motivations, and where I have ended up because of those things. And while Hank is right that you can get things done while burning unhealthy fuel, I am pretty sure that at the end of that process, you come out with a different result; and in my experience this result is not as sustainable as the result that would have been produced by healthy fuel.

For example, I know that:

1 – I feel good when I can see that something I am doing is improving the quality of life for someone else. But also;

2 – I feel good when I know that the things that I am doing mean that other people perceive me as being a success.

In my experience, it is absolutely possible to work from the unhealthy motivator – to burn unhealthy fuel.

But does that fuel produce anything other than short-lived, unhealthy results? Does it produce anything that won’t crumble as soon as we are not getting surface-level affirmation? Does it provide enough energy and motivation to keep you going on the days when it isn’t plain sailing? And what damage is it going to do to you in the process?


In other words –

Yes, you can make good things by burning bad fuel. But chances are, the car won’t last as long.

It can be a lot easier to reach for that unhealthy fuel. It can feel like that fuel is going to give you more motivation, and produce faster results. But, in my experience, that fuel hurts your heart a lot more in the process. While it produces quick results, it doesn’t necessarily produce results that are going to change the world, or stick around for the long run.

It is good to recognize what our “healthy fuel”, and “unhealthy fuel” is, and there isn’t any shame or condemnation to be taken by acknowledging that we can have a tendency to reach for the bad fuel. Knowing what our unhealthy fuel is allows us to make the tougher, more intentional decision to reach for the healthy fuel, and to produce good things, out of a good place, for a great purpose.


The Faith Fuel

At the beginning of 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes this: “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes. 1:3)

That is – when we look to God and we use our relationship with Him as the fuel for our life and work, this is seen, and recognized, and celebrated. When our work comes from our faith, we are seen, and the fruit of that will be good and long lasting. When our labour – our service to others, and the things that we find are hard work – is prompted by love, we will find that that fuel gives us the power to keep going. In this, we find that our endurance comes from the hope that we have – and when we intentionally keep reaching for that fuel, there is a promise that we are not doing it on our own.

That is – we can talk ourselves into working harder, into labouring for longer and into enduring – but, if we are relying on our own strength, that fuel is going to burn out. But out of faith, rises love, which produces endurance – this is the fuel that we need to keep going for the long run, and when this is our fuel, He will produce so many beautiful things through us.


I would love to know what you think about this. I would love to know:

1 – What is your healthy fuel?

2 – What is your unhealthy fuel?

3 – Which have you seen produce better results?

Drop us a comment or a message to let us know what you think!

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