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Conflicts of Character: Motives vs. Values - The Motive Center
October 3rd, 2004
03:23 pm


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Conflicts of Character: Motives vs. Values
Motives are emotional drivers, nonconscious in nature, linked to brain biology and neurochemistry. Values are conscious beliefs, developed from experiences, socialization, upbringing, and personal epiphanies. Both can be defined in terms of the "big three" which account for 80-85% of daily thinking time:

Achievement (focus on improvement and innovation), Affiliation (focus on friendly interpersonal relationships), and Power/Influence (focus on influence and impact).

You'd think that a person's values might line up with his or her motives at least partially--but if you do, you'd be wrong!

McClelland, Koestner, and Weinberger proposed that motives and values were whole different levels in a paper some time ago, and a few researchers have since validated their belief--they don't correlate. One meta-analysis (combining multiple research findings) came up with a correlation of, I believe, 0.07--which is basically zero. This means that your motives and values can be completely different, and probably are.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The difference between an adult and an infant is (besides height, weight, body shape, and hormones) the ability to act out of thought and not just impulse and emotion. Let's look at the contrast between motive and values.

For a given task, you might have a high value or a low one attached to it--that means it is important to you or not. Similarly, you might have high motivation attached to it or not, meaning it is fun and enjoyable or not. Since values and motives have no correlation, that means you can have tasks that are:

1. Enjoyable AND Important (Highly motivated AND high in value)
2. Enjoyable BUT Not Important (High motive BUT low value)
3. Not Enjoyable BUT Important (Low motive BUT high value)
4. Not Enjoyable AND Not Important (Low motive AND low value)

This is a gross oversimplification for illustrative purposes, of course--but it is useful.

Something that fits #1 goes to the top of your priority list: it's fun and important--what's not to like? Likewise, #4 drops off the list entirely. Who cares?

The middle two, however, are sources of internal conflict. When you do something you shouldn't do but don't know why, that could well be #2: fun and motivated, but not important and valued. That's the "guilty pleasure" quadrant. Remember motives are not conscious--things you do but don't know why may be coming from your motives. (This is why writers are often incoherent when trying to describe why they write. On one level, they don't know!)

#3 is the "gotta do" quadrant--like taxes, for example, or taking out the garbage. You don't want to, but you should. The stronger the value, the more likely you are to do it, but these are the things people put off.

The relative strength of the motive and value can make for a higher conflict as well--something that is VERY FUN but contrasts with something VERY IMPORTANT can be agonizing. Especially since a mature adult will probably go for the important task, which means the motivational energy gets backed up and frustrated.

Operating out of values can be frustrating; operating out of values can be fun but guilt-provoking.

Sometimes one can channel the other. Philip R. Craig, the mystery writer, told me he thought it was unacceptable to him to manifest his power over any other person. But he is a mystery writer who thinks about the misuse of power, and furthermore is a college professor. When I tell people about his "day job" they usually laugh hysterically at the idea that a college professor does not manifest will over others. But Phil didn't (and doesn't) feel that way. There is a clear values distinction to him between telling people what to do and offering ideas and concepts for influence--or so I infer. Phil's Power motive is channeled into what is to him an acceptable role: writing and teaching. But he won't be a politician or even a manager. That is the positive channel, but what if, for example, Phil came from a family that felt even more strongly about manifesting your will over another? Or saw college professor as unacceptable as well? What would he do? How would he express that emotional energy--because make no mistake, your motives do not go away just because they are not being used...and they might manifest inappropriately.

I keep returning to motives, because they are the source of emotional energy, and thus a source of more power (so to speak) in terms of human conflict. Value versus value is important too, but must be written carefully, or it could conceivably become fairly bloodless. When I see this done well, it is usually because there is a lot of motivational energy invested in the values as well. For example, the brother of the Unabomber helped turn him in. That is on one level a values conflict: do you protect your family, or obey the law and support society? But on another level, it is profoundly emotional. Affiliation versus Influence--or even Affiliation versus Affiliation in the sense of caring about others.

There's a reason why academic discussions of ethics don't have a lot of popular appeal!

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:October 6th, 2004 04:57 pm (UTC)
I thought this might amuse you -- I'm currently reading through the latest few posts on your LJ because I'm procrastinating about getting on with a fairly extensive rewriting of a couple of chapters of something. You make a good #2. :-)

I was also thinking about the idea of motives. I usually, although not always, write faster when I'm writing *for* someone -- preferably a very small group or just one specific person, whose tastes and likely reactions and so on are always in the back of my mind while I'm working. Sometimes stories are sparked by conversations with other people. I have even less trouble coming up with ideas and getting on with the writing if I'm actually writing *with* someone else. I love the to-and-fro of ideas and inspiration from collaborative writing.

Contrasted with this is my total phobia of deadlines, which means I shy away from any things (like participating in story challenges) which impose a dealine on me. Deadlines, for me, are the most demotivating thing in the world -- I procrastinate, I get cranky, I draw a total blank on ideas, and I hate the ideas I do come up with.

However, it doesn't bother me at all to be co-writing and know that my co-writer is waiting for me to produce the next piece of writing -- in fact, it really motivates me. Also, the one challenge a year I do participate in is a 'Secret Santa' one where every participant writes a story as a gift for another participant, which might explain why I can manage that one, even though it's still stressful.

And now I shall go off and get on with #3.
[User Picture]
Date:October 6th, 2004 06:51 pm (UTC)

Deadlines, audiences, etc.

I am indeed amused! Perhaps you can justify this as helping you define what you have to do now...

I think you've categorized these just right. At some points in motivational psych we've looked at what you might call push vs. pull thinking--are you mobilized by fear/avoidance, or by anticipation/pleasure?

Sounds like writing for someone is, for you, energizing rather than anxiety-provoking; something that pulls you in. Sounds like deadlines, on the other hand, are more of a push--an obligation that you resist. (There's also a phenomenon of reaction--when you feel pushed, sometimes you push back!)

The Secret Santa is an interesting paradox though--because it is obviously time-delimited, right? So there's an implicit deadline, but since it is for someone specific, does it not count? Or is just that the fun outweighs the pressure? There are possibilities here for moving something from #3 to #1!
[User Picture]
Date:October 7th, 2004 02:10 am (UTC)

Re: Deadlines, audiences, etc.

The Secret Santa is an interesting paradox though--because it is obviously time-delimited, right?

It's *very* time-delimited, and very high-pressure as fandom writing goes.

For most fanfic story challenges, it doesn't matter *too* much if the story isn't done quite on time, or even if it isn't done at all. With that SESA, the organisers are very insistent on stories being finished, because if they aren't then someone won't get their gift story. So there are actual penalties -- people who flake out are banned from taking part the next year. (To give you an idea, in 2002 the SESA in question had ~170 participants and only 4 people didn't turn their story in on time.)

I guess, actually, I was stressed about writing it, in an absolute sense, although that was partly because of the person I was assigned as a recipient -- a great writer herself, who wanted a pairing I don't usually write, *and* who is one of the organisers of the SESA (although at least I did have a clear idea of what she liked). But I wanted to take part enough that I did it anyway, because it's such a cool fandom event. I also wrote my story *well* before the deadline, which helped keep the stress level low.

Another thing which stresses me about challenges, on reflection, is that normally it doesn't bother me to write a story (even quite a long one) and then abandon it if it doesn't work out, or I don't like the finished product. But for a challenge I have to produce *something*. For the SESA, that stress was reduced a little because I already had an almost-completed story I'd written previously, which would have been okay, but not perfect, to submit. Having that backup there made writing the story I did eventually submit a lot less stressful, because I knew I'd have something okay to submit even if the new story didn't work out.

Ha. It's fun to think about this stuff. :-)
[User Picture]
Date:October 9th, 2004 07:24 pm (UTC)

Re: Deadlines, audiences, etc.

Sounds like a balance of opposing forces, in some ways--writing for a great writer and SESA founder is stressful, but on the other hand how cool is that? Writing before the deadline is a good point, too--Some people need a head of steam to build up (pushing yourself up the Yerkes-Dodson bell curve) and a deadline does that, but under these circumstances obviously you don't need a close deadline! You have to finish something, but you had an almost-completed story as backup to reduce stress. (Contingency plans are always a good idea. My wife Toni started out setting backup goals along with her goals--600 words four times a week or 2400 words for the whole week, in case we had a few bad days!)

Can you see the balancing act going on here?

Yep, it's fun for me too...
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