What Mode Are You Living Life In: Protection or Creation?

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

Share this post

Protection Creation

More and more I am realizing that people operate in one of two modes: protection mode or creation mode.

Which mode are you operating in?

Protection Mode

When someone is operating in protection mode, their primary desires and direction is fueled by a need to self-protect.

Here are some typical protection mode desires:

  • Desire to look good
  • Desire to be right (or at least seen as being right)
  • Desire to avoid problems
  • Desire to get ahead

Pause here: are these bad desires? Well, they are certainly easy to justify. I mean, who wants to look bad, be wrong, have problems, and get passed up? No one, right. But the problem with these desires is that they are self-focused and generally lead to collateral damage to those around them.

Further, their purpose and direction are set to personal success.

From my observations, I believe that “protection mode” is the human default mode.

Creation Mode

When someone is operating in creation mode, their primary desires and direction is fueled by a need to create and advance something for the greater good of others.

Here are some typical creation mode desires:

  • Desire to learn and grow
  • Desire to think optimally
  • Desire to reach goals
  • Desire to help others succeed

Pause here: where are these desires focused? Generally, they are away from one’s self and toward something greater than them.

Their purpose and direction are not toward personal success, but toward making some contribution to the lives of others.

It is my observation that few people operate in creation mode.


Let me give a couple quick examples to make these ideas come to life.


First compare two workers. A protection-mode employee is largely a time-card puncher, there to put in some time, and in return, get a paycheck. They generally do what they are told, and they can even do it at a high level. But, at their core, they are not fully engaged in their job. This mode can generally be seen when the organization makes an ask of them: stay late, reorganize, or take on an added responsibility. In those instances, their protection mode prompts them to get defensive and push back or resist. These employees are either a neutral or negative influence in their workplace

A creation-mode employee sees his or her work as an opportunity to contribute and make a difference. They are genuinely excited about going to work. Rather than seek to do the bare minimum, they seek to excel. When the organization makes an ask of them, they seek to see the wisdom and value in it. These employees are a positive influence within their workplace and toward their organization’s customers.


Second, compare two parents. A protection-mode parent wants his/her life to be easy, comfortable, and problem-free. They generally can be quite controlling as a way to make sure their life is as easy, comfortable, and problem-free as possible. Of course they don’t want their children to fall behind, but at the same time, they generally don’t even think about or put forth concerted effort toward helping their children excel.

A creation-mode parent knows that parenting is not easy, comfortable, or problem-free. Rather than try to make their own life as comfortable as possible, they have a purpose that generally is focused on helping their children reach their potential, but not in a controlling way (when parents control their kids, they are usually doing it for themselves, not their kids). They are intentional about creating an atmosphere where their children can thrive. When difficulties arise, rather than see them as a fire to be put out, they see them as an opportunity to patiently teach.

Why do people get into protection mode?

Why do some (if not most) people operate in protection mode? I think there is three primary reasons:

  1. I think that is the human default mode (it takes being purposeful and intentional to be in creation mode).
  2. Our life experience, our upbringing, or unmet emotional needs has, in one way or another, created a hole within us that causes us to subconsciously prioritize filling that hole, or at least protecting it.
  3. The culture in the environment we operate in incentivizes (e.g., socially, financially) looking good, being right, avoiding problems, and getting ahead. It is a competitive non-psychologically safe environment.

Where This Gets Tricky (and interesting)

Would you say that college students (master’s or undergrad) are more commonly in creation mode or protection mode?

At the surface, it appears that they should be in creation mode. They are in an environment that focuses on learning and growing, and they are creating a better life for themselves, right?

While there are students that approach their education like that, I recently had all of my students take my mindset assessment (3 classes: one MBA, two senior-level). Here are their collective results:

What this tells me, is that most students are not operating as though they are the creators of their future. Rather, they are operating in protection mode, just trying to survive.

Now, that obviously isn’t all students. But, only 7% of students have all four of the positive mindsets. Just think how much more these students are going to get out of their education, since they are operating like a creator of their brighter future.


I believe that operating in creation mode is a choice, and it takes purpose and intention.

What mode are you operating in?

Let me invite you to make the choice to take purpose and intention, and become more of a creator.


If you would like to do this mindset assessment with your employees to see the degree to which they are operating in creation vs protection mode, let’s connect:

For more information about doing a collective mindset assessment with your organization, check this out: Assessing the Collective Mindsets of Your Organization, Department, or Team

Subscribe for the latest posts