Motivation and thinking

As well as being linked with what we do socially, motivation is also linked with thinking. These are complicated links, but one in particular is worth describing since it forms such a common part of everyday life. Cognitive dissonance occurs when we hold two beliefs that don't match up - this produces in us a strong drive to do something about it. Our thoughts lead to motivation.

I am out drinking with friends and the wine is affecting me. I have my car and want to drive home for convenience, but I know that my driving will be impaired and I might cause an accident. This is cognitive dissonance, a state that is pushing me to do something about it simply in order to reduce the dissonance. What to do? Get a taxi; stop drinking and start eating; drink some coffee and let time pass; tell myself that I am actually a better driver after a few drinks; or go on drinking so much that I forget about the consequences. All of these ways out are solutions that help me to get rid of the dissonance caused by the two conflicting pieces of knowledge or belief. Of course, some are more socially acceptable than others.

The conditions under which cognitive dissonance is most likely to occur are: when you think you have made free choices; the decision is significant and hard to alter; you feel responsible for any outcomes; and, finally, if you have put a lot of work into something, you will value it more. This is why initiation ceremonies work - if I had to go through all this pain and torment, it must be worth it. All such thoughts are not necessarily conscious, of course.

A couple are having a slight altercation; not exactly a row, more a minor skirmish in what they see as the battle of the sexes. It is over one slight area of difficulty in their lives, a not uncommon one. Although Jane is not very fond of her mother, she does have some regard for her and generally holds that 'She is my mother after all, and you only have one mother and you don't want to live with regrets after she has gone, and she's getting on.' Jack does his best to tolerate his mother-in-law but actually cannot stand her presence in the house; he sees her as a moralising nuisance. Jane thinks that it is time that they had her to stay.

Jane and Jack bicker throughout the evening but eventually reach a compromise. They will invite her, but it won't be until next week and they'll make it clear that they have things to do and that she can only stay for a week. Jane writes the letter of invitation, gives it to Jack to post in the morning and they go contentedly to bed, having stuck to their usual principle of never going to bed disgruntled.

Sometime early in the following week, Jane is puzzled that she has not heard from her mother and says to Jack, 'It's strange that we haven't heard from Mum. You did post that letter, didn't you?' 'Yes, of course, I did. She probably just hasn't got round to replying.' But it has pricked Jack's mind. Did he really post the letter? When he tries to think about it, he cannot remember putting it into the postbox. His stomach sinks and he quietly goes to check the pocket of the jacket he was wearing at the time. There is the letter, slightly crumpled. He walks back in to see Jane, clutching the letter and wondering how to explain himself.

Norman is in his fifties and is a fairly successful businessman. He is quite driving and tough-minded but has a kindly side. He tends to treat his employees well and generally is a good, tolerant husband and father, although he is clearly the boss and likes to be thought of in that way.

He and some of his senior managers have been conducting interviews for a relatively high-level appointment in the company. They have spent the afternoon seeing the final three short-listed candidates and in the view of all but Norman, one of them has emerged as the clear front-runner. They have been extolling his virtues to Norman and he can see, to some extent, to what they are saying, but nevertheless feels very uneasy about the applicant. He cannot quite pin down why but goes on to talk about how he might not quite fit into the company and expresses his worries about whether everyone would get on with him well enough.

One of the others starts to describe the applicant's obvious good qualifications and experience and general affability and then says, 'Well, the only thing that I can think of that might stop him from going down well is that he is homosexual. But no one here is bothered by that, are they?' They all agree with him about that and Norman suggests that they sleep on it and make the decision the next day.

On the way home, stopped briefly at the lights, Norman idly looks over at the car beside him and receives a huge smile from the young man who is driving. He smiles back and drives on when the lights change, feeling slightly uneasy and having no idea why.

We do not always know why we do things. This has been known from the time of Freud's (1933) writing. One of Freud's greatest contributions to knowledge was his idea that motivation is frequently unconscious. We sometimes do things and cannot readily explain why and sometimes other people call into question any explanations that we might give.

To understand unconscious motivation, it is necessary to understand something of the unconscious. Freud suggested that the personality is made of three energy systems - the id, the ego and the superego (see Chapter 10). And the unconscious part of the personality is where basic instincts and impulses are stored (the id) and where there are demands made on how we should behave (the superego). Meanwhile, it is the ego that keeps us in touch with reality.

A basic question is: how do we know that there is an unconscious if it is unconscious? The main indications of it are all indirect rather than through straightforward measurement, as might be expected. They are through: free association (saying whatever comes to mind, uninhibitedly, without censorship); analysis of dreams; projective tests (vague materials on which the person puts his or her own interpretation); slips of the tongue (Freudian slips); accidents (Freud believed there aren't any); humour; and hypnosis. This might seem to be an unusual mixture, but will make more sense as the matter of defence mechanisms is considered.

► Defence mechanisms

One definition of defence mechanisms is that that they are learned responses to stressful situations that are not based on a realistic evaluation of the circumstances. Stress and uncertainty lead to anxiety and the straightforward way to deal with this is to face the source of the anxiety and either do some problemsolving or, if this is not possible, then to engage in some emotion regulation (see Chapter 17). However, this is sometimes too difficult, especially if the situation arises early in life, so we build barriers or defences against the anxiety, treating the symptom rather than the cause. Such defences are short-term solutions that are adaptive in that they take the pain away but they do not provide long-term solutions.

The defence mechanisms tend to occur in combinations rather than singly, but they can be grouped into a number of major types, most of which were originally mentioned by Freud. These categories depend either on the degree of their potential harm to the individual or, as will be seen, on the degree of their social acceptability. As the defence mechanisms are described below, it would be useful to consider examples of each of them that you might have observed in yourself or in other people. You will have seen them all at some time or another.

1 Compensation is a very common defence mechanism and tends to be socially acceptable in that it is a way of simply making up some deficiency in life. A schoolboy might, for example, make up for poor sporting skills by developing a ready wit. Somebody who cannot find a job that matches their abilities might develop other interests that help to fulfil their potential. Clearly, these examples are defensive but they are only of benefit to the individual. Compensation becomes problematic when it goes to the extreme. Compensating for disadvantages by lying, cheating or stealing, for example, benefits nobody. Compensating for a physical disability by developing a caustic tongue eventually makes matters worse.

2 Sublimation is similar to compensation but is believed to result from a frustrated sex drive. So, a person who cannot for whatever reason gain sexual fulfilment might push that latent energy into some creative intellectual activity such as writing. Again, this might very well be highly adaptive and socially acceptable but it is a defence against the anxiety that develops because of the sexual frustration and, of course, does nothing to solve that problem.

3 Rationalisation is something most of us engage in at times. We explain things away, apparently quite rationally but without taking account of the underlying motivations. I'll eat this extra helping; being overweight never did anybody any harm. I might as well continue smoking; you've got to go some time in some way. I'll take the car today; it might rain. In these cases the 'real' motivation is, respectively, I really like the taste even though I am not hungry; I am addicted to smoking and need the next cigarette; I really feel quite lazy today. To admit these underlying motivations would be to allow anxiety in. The rationalisation is a protection from this.

4 Identification is again something that we all do frequently. For example, we identify with characters in films, on the television, in books, on the stage, and so on. We also identify with those who are significant to us, such as parents or mentors. This is a perfectly normal part of growing up and living. However, it can become a defence mechanism if it is too extreme; for example, if a mother tries to live her life through her daughter, encouraging her daughter to do things for her (the mother's) sake rather than the daughter's. Or, for example, if a young man can only live an anxiety-free life by dressing like a Hell's Angel.

5 Projection is a matter of pushing onto other people wishes, desires, thoughts or beliefs that are our own, but which it would cause too much anxiety to admit to. For example, the latent homosexual might see homosexuality wherever he looks and cast it in a negative light. Or, at an even simpler level, a very anxious person might see all those around her as being highly anxious.

6 Egocentrism is the increasing of one's own significance way beyond what is appropriate. Of course, most of us do this in a minor way from time to time, but when it is done in the extreme and in the service of anxiety-reduction, it becomes a defence mechanism. It can be seen as the extreme form of attention-seeking ('Look, Mum, no hands') and, of course, usually has the opposite effect to that intended - it puts people off.

7 Regression is a dropping back into a form of behaviour more appropriate to an earlier stage of development, even childhood. A person might go to bed rather than face the world, or break down in tears rather than admit to something. Interestingly, the regression might also be to a less advanced or more primitive form of motivation. For example, a woman might over-eat instead of facing her social problems or a man might start regularly drinking alcohol in order to dull the anxieties generated at home.

8 Dissociation, as the name suggests, is the splitting of various aspects of a person's life. If two behaviours or two motives are in conflict but expressed or held by the one person, this produces great uncertainty/anxiety. Dissociation allows them to be held simultaneously. For example, a man might be the mildest of husbands and fathers but believe the only way to be at work is ruthless. The anxiety that this obvious contradiction might generate can be warded off by dissociation.

9 Repression is an unconsciously motivated forgetting. Again, this is something that we all do to some extent. However, in the extreme it can stop the person from realising that there is even a problem that has to be dealt with - the entire problem is repressed. This is clearly maladaptive. It is one thing to forget to post a letter inviting your mother-in-law to visit, it is another to forget to pay the mortgage when the bank is threatening to foreclose.

10 Negativism has straightforward roots in childhood, referring to incorrigible opposition. To constantly say 'No, I won't' can put an adult in a terrible position in that it becomes impossible to escape without considerable loss of face. This possibility in itself will generate anxiety and lead to even more defensive, perhaps negativistic, behaviour.

11 Fantasy is the final defence mechanism that in its milder forms we are surely all used to in a daily (if not hourly) sense. Day-dreaming is an escape from reality. If it becomes extreme and habitual, if a person is only off in a make-believe world rather than facing the anxieties of daily life and its problems, then it becomes a defence mechanism.

Defence mechanisms then involve the expression of unconscious motivation. We all engage in them in their milder forms and their roots in childhood are easy to see. But in the extreme they are defensive reactions to facing up to the uncertainties and anxieties that arise in everyday life. They allow an escape from reality and so provide a short-term solution to problems. In the long run and in the extreme they are mostly maladaptive and harmful. Some defence mechanisms, however, might be described as more mature than others, such as sublimation or humour (this can easily be a defence against anxiety as well as those already described). Such defences might be unconsciously motivated but they are much less harmful to the individual than some of the others, such as dissociation or repression might be. It is, perhaps, important to remember, however, that because defence mechanisms are unconsciously motivated, they are not a matter of choice.

► Motives in order: how to become self-actualised

It should be clear by now that what makes people do things, keep on doing them and eventually stop doing them is a large topic. The list of human motives could be seen as endless, especially taking into account the possibilities of unconscious motivation. So the question becomes: is there a way of putting all of this in a reasonably coherent order, at least to describe it if not in an attempt at explanation?

By far the most important and influential way of ordering motivational life was put forward by Abram Maslow (1954, 1971). His hierarchical view of motivation has permeated thinking throughout many areas of psychology, including the applied world of industrial/organisational psychology, and has had influences beyond psychology, in education, for example.

To say that motives are arranged hierarchically means that needs/drive/ motives at lower levels have to be satisfied before those at higher levels can be addressed (Figure 5.1). For example, if we are hungry, then we will not be much bothered about self-esteem. If we do not have a roof over our heads, then we will not be much concerned with whether or not everyone likes us.

The basic needs are clearly physiological (as discussed in the previous chapter), then come those based on safety and security, love and a sense of belonging, followed by self-esteem. Then, via the fulfilment of cognitive and aesthetic needs, the final level is the need for self-actualisation. At the lower end of the hierarchy, basic motivation depends on deficiency (in whatever we have to have for survival). As the hierarchy is climbed, so there becomes an increasing dependence on psychological growth rather than merely dealing with deficiencies.

Psychological health also comes into the reckoning in this hierarchy. Although deficiency needs dominate (and for some people in some parts of the world, they remain paramount), a person is not psychologically healthy until some of the growth needs are being fulfilled. It is simply rare for this to happen without deficiencies first being met. There are exceptions, however. The image of the artist or writer who continues to work although penniless comes to mind. Also, there is the aesthete who starves in the wilderness while pondering beauty or the saint who might lead a physically deprived life in the service of others.

Figure 5.1 Maslow's hierarchy of needs in which needs low in the hierarchy must be satisfied before those that are higher.

The most compelling aspect of Maslow's hierarchy of motives is the idea of self-actualisation. This is concerned with the fulfilment or realisation of self-potential. This does not mean high achievement, power, success or status. It is both simpler and more complex than that. It concerns our ability to fulfil whatever potential might be within us, whether it is to play a musical instrument, run a marathon (or a mile), write a well-constructed sentence, or even do the washing-up as well as we could do it.

Imagine a woman in her thirties, married with two young children. It is Sunday in summer. Her husband is playing in the garden with the children and she can hear their laughter. She is sitting, relaxing with a cup of coffee, quietly looking forward to the remainder of the day. Suddenly, it seems to her as if everything is right with the world, everything seems to be in front of her with great clarity. She is lost in the present and could not feel better.

Or think of a 17-year-old lad who is driving his first car. He has scrimped and saved for it and his parents have matched his money so that he could buy it. It is old but sleek and he is immensely proud of it. He is going to drive it round to show his girl-friend and take her for a drive. He snaps the car into third gear to take a corner and does so smoothly and with no discernible awkwardness. He breathes a huge sigh of contentment.

Or picture a teacher in front of her class. The children have been difficult and the topic in which she has been trying to interest them is also difficult. There comes a moment when she sees how it might be achieved, how their attention might be captured. She asks someone a question, receives the answer she wants, asks another and can feel the atmosphere in the class begin to change. Twenty minutes later the lesson is over, everyone is surprised by the ringing of the bell and, as the children file out, she leans back contentedly at a job she knows has been well done.

These are all descriptions of what Maslow called peak experiences, moments when everything seems to be absolutely as it should be. The world is right and one's place within it is exactly as it should be. Such moments characterise people who have become or who are becoming self-actualised.

Self-actualisation depends on a number of so-called meta-needs; these are needs that occur at a higher order than most and would presumably only be found in humans. They include: truth, goodness, beauty, wholeness, transcend ence, aliveness, uniqueness, perfection, completion, justice, order, simplicity, comprehensiveness, effortfUlness, playfulness, self-sufficiency and meaningful-ness. The idea is that as long as all our lesser needs have been met, then we will try to fulfil these and any similar needs on the way to becoming self-actualised.

Maslow's idea of self-actualisation is very compelling and appears to be something that could be sought, particularly if it leads to the highly enjoyable peak experiences. Maslow argued, though, that only as few as 1 per cent of the population become self-actualised. This seems to be unlikely if it is such a built-in aspect of motivation that it prompts good psychological health. Surely a greater proportion of us than 1 per cent become self-actualised, even if only from time to time.

In spite of his 1 per cent idea, Maslow did also list some ways in which self-actualisation might be achieved. These are in the form of strategies that one might use in life. They each involve making a basic decision about how to conduct oneself.

1 To consider life to be made up of a series of choices that can move one in the direction of growth.

2 To be non-conformist.

3 To construct an environment in which peak experiences are more likely to occur. It is worth noting that peak experiences seem to be akin to 'flow', which occurs when one's skills equate with the demands of a task. If this is so, then finding such tasks would help to set up such conditions.

4 To give up any defences; this would presumably include those that are unconsciously motivated.

5 To be honest, especially with oneself.

6 To find oneself, which surely links with being honest.

7 To throw oneself whole-heartedly into any experience.

8 To do the best one can towards being whatever one wants to be.

These eight rules might also be said to lead towards developing a creative outlook on life, or even, to some extent, on developing a Buddhist perspective (see Chapter ii). The evidence for the idea of self-actualisation is not strong but the concept is convincing in the everyday sense. Ideas such as psychological growth and health might be a little vague but this does not mean that they are not compelling. Maslow's ideas were among the forerunners of what in recent years has come to be called positive psychology. This is a humanistic, whole-person approach based on an optimistic view of what it is possible to become and to achieve in life.

Much of the more advanced form of motivation is based on curiosity and sensation-seeking. It is built into us to be curious and to seek meaning in the world. We differ with respect to how much we do this, how much we seek sensations (and take risks) and how well we can tolerate boredom.

Flow occurs when the challenges of a situation or task exactly balance with our capabilities to meet them. It happens when a challenge is optimal and results in us being lost in the moment.

Most creatures play and human beings play a great deal. The motivation in play is built in or intrinsic, as though the activity is being engaged in for its own sake. The motivation for work is extrinsic, although the ideal occurs when someone earns money for doing something that he or she enjoys as though it were play, that is, it is intrinsically motivated.

We all share, to some extent, a mixture of broader social motives, such as for success, friendship or dominance (or status).

Cognitive dissonance occurs when we hold to beliefs about ourselves that are inconsistent. This produces a strong force to change simply in order to reduce the dissonance.

Much of our motivational life is unconscious; we do not always know why we do what we do. The idea of unconscious motivation is used to help account for the development of defence mechanisms that we learn early in life to protect us from uncertainties and anxiety. They only provide immediate and incomplete solutions to problems, even though they might be long-lasting.

The most influential way of giving a complete account of motivation comes from Maslow's hierarchy of motives, based partly on deficiencies and partly on psychological growth. The hierarchy culminates in self-actualisation, which develops in the service of various meta-needs and is characterised by peak experiences, states which are somewhat similar to flow.

► Questions and possibilities

Make a list of whatever activities you find highly interesting and another of those you find very boring. Is there a difference in their intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

How would you develop any of your daily activities at home or at work in order to increase the likelihood of experiencing flow time? Would you concentrate on altering the task or altering your personal skills?

What are your major social needs or motives? Are they the same as those of your friends and family? Do your social needs differ at home and at work?

Think of people that you know who work hard. Why do they do it? What about people you believe to be lazy? Why are they lazy? What is laziness? Why do you sometimes work hard and sometimes not?

■ Collect some examples of cognitive dissonance that you have seen around you. How do those involved reduce the dissonance?

What defence mechanisms have you experienced? Find examples of the various defence mechanisms in the people you know.

In general terms, how important do you think unconscious motivation is? How can we ever know about it?

Think of anyone you know that you would describe as self-actualised. What are they like? What is it about them that prompts you to think that they are

<j self-actualised? Are you now or have you ever been self-actualised?

What do you think of Maslow's ideas about how to increase the likelihood of becoming self-actualised? Could you put them into practice, if you don't already? Do you think that they would work?

Have you ever had peak experiences? If you have, then think about the circumstances that led to them and consider whether or not you could make them happen again.

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