Amazon’s self-help categories are filled with books by so-called experts who tell you that what you really need to correct this or that deficiency is to change. You need to become motivated by these things, they tell you.
Before you spend years trying to follow this wretched advice, here’s a hard learned lesson and I’m giving it to you for free:
You are not going to change your personality very easily.
The only way to radically change your personality is to undergo what psychologists call the Conversion Experience. It’s not limited to St. Paul of the Christian Bible on the road to Damascus or to religious zealots. Even the Communists had them, going from non-believers or lackluster followers to hard-core activists who were willing to die for Communism (and did).
This transforms your personality, totally and thoroughly.
But let’s be honest: almost no one undergoes one of these instantaneous personality realignments. That’s why it’s such a great story.
The rest of us can benefit from understanding our intrinsic motivations, determined by our personalities, and instead of trying to change ourselves, work on using our own motivations to accomplish our goals.
For example, following other people’s advice is a fool’s game most of the time, and always when it involves them trying to motivate you. They will attempt to motivate you. They will at best get you to feel guilty.
Guilt motivation only works in the very short term. It does not keep you going.
I cannot motivate you except by determining what already motivates you and then reframing what I want you to do in those terms. So, if someone comes up and tells you that you need to work hard so that you can support your family, you may not care. You will feel that you should care enough about your family that it should motivate you. But lots of people just aren’t motivated by their families. They aren’t caring people. Trying to guilt them will only motivate them enough to not starve but not enough to fight.
Guilt motivation cannot transform you so a kick in the ass of anyone who tries it on you. Including political organizations and the Red Cross.
You are motivated by what motivates you.
Which sounds pretty zen and I admit it’s one of those tautology thingies (if that’s the word I want). What motivates someone is what, for the most part, is going to motivate them.
Motivations is determined by your personality.
Your personality, in turn, may be mostly determined by genetics.
For example, children whose biological parents were law-abiding were not significantly more likely to commit crimes if they were adopted into crime-committing families. Likewise, adopted children whose biological parents were criminals were much more likely to commit crimes when they were raised in law-abiding families. Twin studies also show these type of genetic relationships. Your tendency towards certain behaviours seems to be predominantly set at birth.) That’s not determinism: it’s saying that your personality is wired so that certain things motivate you.
But you can reframe most problems so that your personality will work for you.
My first interpretation of a Human Patterns personality profile shows this. It was for a woman also in my certification class and we’d never met before sitting down to do each others results interpretation. It was blind — we were testing ourselves — and I looked at her results, all of which screamed “touchy-feely” and told her to avoid working with numbers at all costs.
At which she laughed long and loud. Because she was an accountant. A successful one.
We talked about how she viewed her job. “Well,” she said, “I help scientists put together their grant proposals. Those poor people have no idea how to work with money! I’m helping them get that work done. They just are so lost! So I can care for them by making sure that their numbers are right.”
This is honest truth. I couldn’t have made this stuff up.
She cares for them through accounting. She had reframed her job as something that helped her accomplish something that motivated her: helping and caring for others.
You can’t change what motivates you. It seems to be intrinsic, built into you. You can use different motivators, which can be helpful if you are motivated by physical risk but also by being there for your kids.
But what really works well is motivating yourself by reframing the work into something that motivates you. It’s a question of interpretation.
How you interpret the events around you determines your reality.
So stop trying to change yourself and let yourself be who you are!
Image credit: “Rose hip on trellis” by Leon Brooks, 2013. Public domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.