Researching Your Motives


It is not free from what, but free for what

 —  Nietzsche

Oscar Wilde noted that the only difference between a whim and a solemn vow is that the whim lasts a little longer. Most people do not appreciate the complexities of exercising will and so attribute their failures to their weakness. To add insult to injury, the conflict that produced the capitulation was often not that great.

It means one thing to violate your commitment because the desire to do so was overwhelming. However, if you violate your commitment in the absence of such an overwhelming desire it suggests that there was little motivation to resist the temptation at the moment of the first lapse. Most relapses are in this category.

In contrast to how much people want to prevail during other conflicts  — e.g., games, legal battles, arguments over who is right  — most people give in without much of a fight in the conflict between their Core Motivation and the desire to get the immediate payoff of using the incentive [Incentive Motivation]. One explanation for this puzzling capitulation is that Core Motivation was not salient during the moment of decision.

People in pain are strongly motivated to solve their problem.  For example, substance abusers, who are notorious for their vulnerability to the Problem of Immediate Gratification [the PIG], enroll in expensive, short-term treatment programs, rather than doing what it takes to develop the skills they will need to prevent relapse. The PIG is responsible for addicts choosing a small immediate reward over a much larger but delayed reward; it also causes them to choose intense, short-term strategies over less intense but longer-term strategies that are more effective in preventing relapse.

Even though the pain of the disorder is the primary motivation for change, good outcome requires that you go beyond short-term symptom relief and follow your path of greatest advantage. After all, the purpose of your life is not to escape a neurotic trap.  If you were not stuck in this neurotic trap you would be free to . . . .?    

To act in accord with your interests and principles, you must be aware of them at the critical moments of decision. This, and the following pages are dedicated to researching your Core Values and how they effect you motivation at any given moment so that you come to appreciate the true nature of motivational conflict, and what stakes are riding on the outcome.


Values are the criteria you use to appraise the desirability of the options available to you  — the most important of these evaluative criteria are your Core Values.

"Core” is the important word. It refers to that which is central, innermost, or vital. Among all the criteria by which you appraise goals and the choices available to you, some stand out as the core of what you believe, and who you want to be. Importantly, these values remain constant regardless of local conditions. Unlike the state-dependent motivation of the biological creature you inhabit, the motivation to act in accord with your values applies everywhere, at all times.

Your rank ordering of what you want when you are in your right mind is your Ideal Hierarchy of Motives. Your greatest desire, what you want more than anything else is listed first, followed by the second most important motivation, and then the third.

Your Actual Hierarchy of Motives may differ from your ideal. If I wanted to discover the most effective motivation, I would not ask you. You would probably offer your Ideal Hierarchy as your answer. Instead, I would observe your behavior, and deduce how you rank different motivations by observing how you chose to spend your time, what you sacrificed to get what, what you did when you were free to do anything you wanted, etc.

There is an important distinction between nominal and effective motives. Core Motivation can be a powerful or a trivial driver of action, depending upon your state of mind. Outcome depends upon how effective your Core Motivation is during moments of conflict. Increasing the salience of your Core Motivation so that it is the effective driver of your actions during high-risk situations is the intended byproduct of the work you do in the Contemplation Stage.

Distinction between values and motives: A subtle, but noteworthy, difference: Values refer to appraisal criteria whereas motives refer to a psychological force that attracts or repels you from an incentive. Of the two, Core Values are more basic in that most people use their core values to rank order their motives to develop their hierarchy. Moreover, because values are abstract they are more resistant to state-dependent distortions.



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