Deep down, what motivates you? What do you want from life? By learning who you are, you can make successful choices and possibly flourish. Socrates said it best, "Know thyself!" Know who you are, what makes you tick, and what your values are compared with the important people in your life.
Motivation is key to self-knowledge. My colleagues and I have been studying what makes people tick for decades, and some of our conclusions may surprise you. We reject, for example, the common notion that motivation is about psychological energy. Motivation is not about “pep” or “drive.” Instead, we think motivation is the assertion of values. If you are not motivated, it is because you are unclear about what your values are; you don’t know how to assert them at work, relationships, family, or school; or your life has become a contradiction of your values.
"Young women interested in science and math typically would place a much higher value on curiosity than does the average person. This is who you are -- a curious young lady. To have a happy and successful life, you must embrace the intellectual side of you. If you deny your intellectual nature, you limit your potential to flourish."
We are a species born to assert our values. Maslow made a similar point decades ago when he suggested that we aim to self-actualize, or become all that we can be. We are naturally motivated to assert our values. Self-discovery is the first step, but learning who you are requires a method. One afternoon in my youth I set out to self-discover. I took some philosophy books and sat in the shade of a tree. I sought to self-discover but nothing happened. Nothing bubbled up from inner me. I learned that self-discover requires a method, which my colleagues and I have now developed.
There is a "universal" and an "individual" component to who we are. The universal is shared by all human beings, but the individual makes each person unique. In 1908 Harvard University Professor William McDougall, suggested the idea of a universal goal, meaning a goal that moves each of us. "Every man is so constituted to seek, to strive for, and to desire certain goals which are common to the species, and the attainment of which goals satisfies and allays the urge or craving or desire that moves us. These goals ... are not only common to all men, but also ... [to] their nearer relatives in the animal world; such goals as food; shelter from danger, the company of our fellows; intimacy with the opposite sex, triumph over our opponents, and leadership among our companions."
In the decades following McDougall's work, psychologists put forth numerous "lists" of what are the universal goals of humankind. None of these lists, however, were empirically derived and scientifically validated. My colleagues and I surveyed many thousands of people from diverse backgrounds in life to learn what their goals are. From these data we constructed a list of 16 basic desires, or 16 human needs, that reveal 16 universal goals. The 16 desires are:
Acceptance, the desire for positive self-regard.
Curiosity, the desire for understanding.
Eating, the desire for food.
Family, the desire to raise children and spend time with siblings.
Honor, the desire for upright character.
Idealism the desire for social justice.
Independence, the desire for self-reliance,
Order, the desire for to be organized and clean.
Physical activity, the desire for muscle exercise
Power, the desire for influence or leadership.
Romance, the desire for beauty and sex.
Saving, the desire to collect.
Social contact, the desire for peer companionship.
Status, the desire for respect based on social standing.
Tranquility, the desire to be free of anxiety and pain.
Vengeance, the desire to confront those who offend.
Virtually all human motives are expressions or combinations of these 16.
Everybody embraces all 16 basic desires, but individuals prioritize them differently. One person may concentrate on satisfying the basic desire for curiosity, for example, another may concentrate on romance, and still another may be focused on social life. It all depends on who you are. Individuality is much greater than many previous psychologists have suggested.
All human motives arise from one or more of the 16 basic desires. All breakdown into what you want and how much you want. "How much" reveals your values. Which of the 16 basic desires are most important to you? Which do you value? Young women interested in science and math typically would place a much higher value on curiosity than does the average person. This is who you are -- a curious young lady. To have a happy and successful life, you must embrace the intellectual side of you. If you deny your intellectual nature, you limit your potential to flourish.
We naturally understand people who share our values but tend to misunderstand ("not get it") those who don't. People who are not intellectuals misunderstand people who are, and some even try to change them ("everyday tyranny"). To be happy, you must live the life that expresses your values, not somebody else's. You bond best to partners who share your values. You can't change the values other people hold, and they can't change you, but trying to do so can lead to frustration.
In conclusion, you were born to assert your values, not to fulfill somebody else's idea of who you should be or society's gender roles. To learn who you are, you need a method. By correcting conceptual errors in psychological theories of motivation, and then conducting the necessary scientific research and publishing 17 articles in scientific journals, my colleagues and I have created a method for self-discovery. The method works; it is called the "Reiss Motivation Profile" and has been used successfully with more than 50,000 people worldwide. It teaches people to have confidence in who they are and to understand each other and the real motives driving our behavior and relationships. You can learn more about the 16 basic desires in my book, "Who am I," which is available from Amazon.com.
About the Blogger
Steven Reiss, Ph.D. is a retired tenured Professor of Psychology and former Professor of Psychiatry living in Columbus, Ohio. He was educated at Dartmouth College, where he was a Senior Fellow and completed a double major in philosophy and psycho0logy. He earned his doctorate in psychology at Yale University. He completed a clinical psychology internship at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Professor Reiss taught at The Ohio State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and has received five national awards for research, clinical impact, and national leadership. He has given invited presentations before the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Institutes of Health. In 1971 he married Maggi, and they have two adult children, Michael and Benjamin.