This post originally appeared on the blog in April 2020. Following an encore presentation of the webinar, we’re republishing the summary with added Q&A from the latest broadcast.
Each of us takes a unique approach to the world; we have things that drive us, energize us, and attract us, and things that drain us or even repel us. In this moment, while we are all navigating an unfamiliar and challenging set of circumstances, these motivations feel especially relevant. Understanding our motivations is also a broader, lifelong topic, however. The motivational predispositions we possess inform the way we experience the world – and they are with us through good times and bad.
Developing a deeper awareness of our motivational drivers can help us with the essential and difficult work of self-regulation: making conscious choices to manage our emotional impulses and respond more objectively (and productively) to life’s challenges.
This was the subject of last week’s webinar, Motivation and Self-Regulation: How Self-Awareness and Observation can Increase our Inner Resilience, delivered by Andrew Rand and David Ringwood, two of MRG’s leading experts in the Individual Directions Inventory™, an assessment tool that helps us illuminate and study motivation. The full presentation is available on-demand here, but you can read the highlights below, as well as Q&A with the experts.
Understanding Motivational Predispositions
What are we talking about when we discuss our motivations – or our “deep drivers”?
A few things to keep in mind:
- Motivational factors originate from the formative years and evolve slowly over time. Many of us can recognize our behavior, but not necessarily our motivations.
- Often we’ll be surprised by our motivations. It’s hard to have an objective view of yourself.
- People will underestimate their most extreme motivations. This is likely because they’ve come to normalize them (“Doesn’t everybody feel like this?”).
- Motivation can conflict with itself. That can create mixed feelings, and emotional confusion.
The motivational predispositions that stem from these drivers are the tendencies we have to react to stimuli in certain ways. Why do I think the way I think, or feel the way I feel? Depending on an individual’s level of introspection, and how much work they have done to increase self-awareness, they will have a different understanding of these motivations and their impact.
How do these motivational predispositions manifest?
Are they good or bad? The short answer: both.
Imagine a few examples:
You are motivated by providing comfort & support.
- The upside: you are likely protective, helpful, and sensitive to others’ needs.
- The downside: you probably find it hard to say “no.”
You are motivated by getting recognition & respect:
- The upside: you are likely to be socially adept, and aware of your impact on others.
- The downside: you may feel forced into things by others, or not able to make decisions for yourself.
These predispositions are not behaviors in themselves, but they certainly influence our behaviors – and these can create self-reinforcing patterns.
For example, for an individual who is strongly motivated by giving to others may experience the following pattern:
Cycles of Reaction
Drivers aren’t all bad or problematic. They can help us discover what we enjoy, and where we derive satisfaction. But these self-reinforcing patterns do present some risks. Being cognizant of our motivational dispositions and their downsides can help us mitigate these risks, simply by taking the time to recognize them, pause, think, and reflect.
So what steps can we take to harness self-awareness to help us regulate our emotional responses?
Step 1: What am I most sensitive to?
Self-awareness is at the heart of self-regulation. Developing self-awareness is a lifelong process; the Individual Directions Inventory™ is MRG’s tool to support self-awareness by helping to reveal deep motivational patterns. (If you’re unfamiliar with the assessment, learn more here or contact us with questions.)
Whether you use a tool or self-observation, you are trying to understand your biggest triggers (for example, criticism, uncertainty, exclusion, etc.). When you react, you are trying to reflect on how much of your response is based on the facts alone, and how much is based on what we feel or believe about these facts.
Step 2: How do I react?
Observe what happens when you react to these triggers. You may even want to keep a journal. When do these responses happen the most? How does your body respond? What are your emotional and psychological responses? What does your self-talk sound like?
Step 3: What helps alleviate these effects?
Establish the effective strategies to help you break the emotional cycle.
These could include:
- Having a conversation with yourself one week from now. What would you say to your future self about what’s happened, and about your reaction?
- Taking a pause: try to think rationally about your response. If you’re finding that difficult to do, consider distracting yourself with another task, and returning to the situation after you’ve stepped away and can think more clearly.
- Look for evidence: think about similar reactions you have had in the past, and be sure that those lessons inform your current reaction. Is your response evidence-based?
This work is a life-long process. But if you are making progress, you will start to see some positive indicators: a more objective ability to engage in self-observation; a more empowered internal narrative; the ability to win back perspective even after an initially emotional response; and a stronger commitment to yourself.
You can’t serve from an empty vessel. Doing the work to understand your own motivations may seem self-interested. But harnessing this knowledge to empower greater self-regulation doesn’t just benefit you; it benefits those around you, as you can support and respond to them with greater clarity of mind.
Questions & Answers
Q: As our clients become more experienced with various self-assessments and their own feedback, do they become less able to answer these assessments without bias? Has MRG done research on that?
A: What a great question! It makes sense that assessment experience could somehow influence how one approaches future assessments. As people become “expert participants” they can purposefully or inadvertently answer questions in a way that sheds a positive light on them. Even those with little assessment experience can try to outsmart the inventory. MRG has not researched the specific question of questionnaire expertise. However, we have put a lot of thought and work into making sure that our assessments are not easy to manipulate. MRG’s assessments are designed to increase self-awareness rather than to evaluate, and it is important that each assessment gets to the truth of the individual.
Here are some of the ways that MRG assessments minimize bias and manipulation:
- Items are not transparently linked to the constructs being measured.
- Items are written in neutral language that is not easily associated with positive or negative qualities.
- MRG’s semi-ipsative questionnaire design asks participants to differentiate between options and rank them by how well they describe the individual. This is different from many Likert-type assessments where participants can endorse every single item as a good descriptor of themselves or others.
Of course, humans often exhibit bias without even realizing it, and no assessment is 100% free from manipulation. However, the assessment features described above are designed to reduce this possibility as much as possible. You can read more about the MRG questionnaire design and how it helps get to the truth of the individual here.
Q: Are there some recommended resources as further follow up to this great talk?
A: Self-regulation is a practice, so it is worthwhile to explore different tactics and methodologies to find what works for you. There are many, but this collection of information from Positive Psychology provides a great starting point.
(Are you part of the MRG network? Log into the MRG Knowledge Base once to access other webinars and more than twenty Best Practice Reports, along with the full MRG research library.)
Also, if there’s anything we at MRG can do to help support you or advise you as you transition to more online coaching, training, and facilitation in the coming weeks, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re all working through this together (even if we’re apart!).