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The Bones of Motivation, Part II - The Motive Center
January 22nd, 2005
07:40 pm


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The Bones of Motivation, Part II
Why do people not do what they should do? That's the question I'm tackling, and I'm doing it through one aspect of motivation, the subcategories (subcats), which are the immediate expression of motives at a thought level. They tell a story: explicit need, action to a goal, obstacles to the goal, enablers of action, anticipation of success or failure, and goal accomplishment or failure. (In fact, you can use them to plot a book in a very basic way. In my book I contrast the archetypal romance, epic, and mystery using the subcategories alone.)

The important thing here is not everyone expresses every subcategory, and this reflects the way they think about (motivated) problems. Let's look at some examples.

If someone doesn't express Need, then their motivation is likely to be unfocused, reactive--they're responding to opportunities rather than seeing them in advance or focusing on them.

If someone doesn't have the Instrumental Action subcategories, they may have motives but don't take action.

If someone has lots of Block imagery, they may come up with reasons not to do anything--they may feel helpless and not act.

If someone lacks Block imagery and Anticipation imagery, especially with a lot of Action imagery, they may be a kind of "Ready-Fire-Aim" person--jumping into action without anticipating obstacles. They may be very confident, but hit-and-miss in their actual success, either because they don't see obstacles before they happen, or because they are not good at judging the odds of success. (On the other hand, they may just change direction when they hit an obstacle, abandoning a goal and moving on!) Someone who goes for a lot of get-rich-quick schemes may be showing this pattern: "sounds cool! Let's do it!"

If these are the bones of motivation, as I suggest, it means that if you lack some of them, your motivated movement may be impossible or at least hampered.

My buddy and fellow researcher Ruth Jacobs identified a pattern known as "helpless Power" in her dissertation research, which I think is fascinating. It is someone who has strong Influence/Power motive, so they see how organizations work, they are aware of the power-players, and so forth--but they don't see that they have any power. They see the game, but don't see themselves as a player. One of my favorite manifestations of this was at a client I worked with, where one person had just been promoted to executive level. Shortly thereafter he participated in a major strategic planning project. He was working on new directions, great new ideas, changing the organization, and loving it. But something worried him. He turned to the more experienced executive next to him and said "you know, this is what I've always wanted, this is great, but I've got just one question--will they let us do this?"

His colleague was amused. "You don't get it," he said. "You are 'they.'" There wasn't anyone else--the only person who could stop him--was him!

Ruth was looking at specific imagery, a variation of Power, but I think you could see something similar by someone who has all negative anticipation, all the blocks, and none of the positive imagery--they will see every possible problem, and none of the opportunities. It's inhibiting! You have the energy, but why use it if you feel certain you will fail?

Answer: because maybe you won't. If you really explore the situation, maybe you'll find you've judged the odds poorly. Maybe the cost of failure is very low.

So the question becomes: are you only looking at the negatives and not the positives?

For many things, and certainly for writing, you are they.

Current Music: I Am A Camera

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:January 22nd, 2005 09:58 pm (UTC)
Good anecdote and good tie-in at the end there, Steve! There was a lot of lingo in the first post, but this one makes things a bit clearer. Thanks!
[User Picture]
Date:January 22nd, 2005 10:03 pm (UTC)


Thanks, Mike--I knew there was going to be a lot of jargon, but I tried to translate it as I went without overwhelming an already long post. It's an interesting writing challenge! Maybe I'll tinker with it--what I really need to do is post a graphic I've used before, and I've never gotten around to uploading. Maybe tomorrow...
Date:January 24th, 2005 05:53 pm (UTC)

Hey Steve...

Interesting concept, your Bones of Motivation. I've found that where I am often confounded is in properly or correctly identifying the Need -- which sort of translates into an inability to set or recognize the Goal, doesn't it? -- combined with envisioning a multitude of Blocks (personal or world). Which sounds kind of odd (how can you envision Blocks or obstacles to a goal when you don't have a good vision of what the goal is?), but is in fact a fairly persistent problem.

Anyway, now that I've discovered your LJ (thanks to Mike), you may be plagued by comments from me. But turnabout is fair play -- I've been blogging again (glup.blogspot.com), and comments are enabled there.


Or Froot Loop, if you prefer.

-- Dan
[User Picture]
Date:January 24th, 2005 07:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Hey Steve...

Definitely Cheerios. And yes, you are absolutely correct in your characterization of the Need. It's not necessarily odd--a vague sense of goal is itself a personal block, seems to me. Furthermore, the vaguer the goal, the harder it is to imagine accomplishing it. Some research on goal-setting has found that the very act of setting a goal makes accomplishment more likely--up to 75% more likely. I see this as the reverse: making a goal clear and explicit is also the process of making it real and concrete.

At a few talks, I've asked people "what would you do if I asked you to start writing a 72,000 word book right now? You have one year--go!" Most people (NaNoWrMo participants excepted) react with panic. However:

72,000 words/year = 6,000 words/month = 200 words per day = a couple of good paragraphs or less than one manuscript page! Suddenly it seems more possible, doesn't it?

When Toni was starting out and I suggested she use a word-count on her Mac, she didn't know how long a novel was. I told her "65-75K." From then on she tracked not only how many words she wrote, but how far away the end was--she was mapping out the end-date for generating a book's worth of words! That means she got two positive hits to her motivation when she exceeded goals: exceeding the daily goal, and advancing her completion date.

Anyhow, I'm delighted to have your comments--I need feedback as much as the next guy!--and will go check out your blog in return.

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