Do You Know Your Motivational Pattern?
Narrative Psychology, Storytelling, and 27 Themes of Core Motivational Drive
Identifying and understanding your core motivational drive—what truly moves you, daily—is one of the most powerful Anti-Mimetic tactics that I have ever discovered.
There is no doubt that motivational energy can be siphoned and suctioned off in a million different directions, spent up chasing a thousand thin (aka highly mimetic) desires and ideas. But simply knowing what your core motivational drive feels like when you are fully engaged can be the key to realizing when that dissipation is happening.
If you are disengaged, distracted, or increasingly feel unsatisfied no matter what you accomplish, it could mean that your core motivational drive is not being fully tapped into.
Let me explain.
Background and Context
In the late 1950’s, Arthur Miller, Jr. was a disciple of Bernard Haldane, the grandfather of what we might now call “career counseling.” Haldane would often ask people what they find enjoyable about various activities, and he would seek to help them identify their strengths. His work was the forerunner of popular tests you might know today, like StrengthsFinder.
Through his work with Haldane, though, Miller discovered something else—something that would lead him to his life’s work: coming alongside people in their vocational discernment by helping them identify a motivational “design”, or a distinct pattern of results they were driven to achieve no matter what they were doing, from schoolwork to parenting.
He discovered something akin to what James Hillman has called “the soul’s code”, which you could think of like a kind of spiritual DNA.
When Miller Jr. looked closely at the autobiographies of the people he was interviewing, he noticed that there were always clear, enduring patterns of motivation in their stories.
Even if a person shared a dozen achievement stories that were seemingly disparate and unrelated to them, coming from different times and places in their life—a little league baseball game, a management consulting gig, a volunteer activity, solving a marital problem—he began to see patterns in their motivational energy.
Even when people were engaged in what looked on the surface to be totally different activities, their underlying motivational drive was the same.
Miller’s process was fairly simple. Each person would share a story about a time in their life when they believed that they did something well, and which brought them satisfaction.
The story had to be about them taking action to achieve something—not something passive, like watching a life-changing movie (Legends of the Fall was good, but it was not me wrestling the bear). It is in our actions that our character and our motivations are revealed.
The stories could range from executing a family recipe perfectly to writing a good email or even a book. One of my stories is about a project that I did in my 5th grade science class. For whatever reason, it is one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my life—but until recently, I never quite understood why.
I have always known that it was important to me, but I did not understand that it has remained in my memory this long because it was an example of me exercising nearly all of my motivational energy, to the point where I felt fully alive and lost track of time—a state of flow.
Whether the accomplishment is big or small, or impressive by anyone else’s standards, doesn’t matter at all.
80,000 stories/autobiographies later, Miller Jr. and the team of people that carried on his work (including his son, and now his grandson, my friend Josh) identified at least 27 key “motivational patterns” in the stories of the people they shepherded through this process.
Once you see a motivational pattern, you will not be able to unsee it. A pattern has the following characteristics:
The pattern is irresistible
It is insatiable
It is enduring
It is good
It can be ordered toward love—you could think of your motivational pattern as how you are fundamentally motivated to love, or at least the kind of loving acts that are most satisfying to you. (That, of course, does not mean they are the only ones you should perform—but there is something beautiful about creativity in love, and integrating one’s motivational drive and learning to love in ever-more creative ways is something extraordinarily fulfilling.)
The following themes come from Miller’s System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA). Do you recognize yourself in any of them?
I will be sharing my own top three core motivational drives below.
The 27 Motivational Themes
Here are all 27 of the core motivational themes:
Achieve Potential. Identifying and realizing potential is a constant focus of your activities.
Advance. You love the experience of making progress as you accomplish a series of goals.
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