John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Human Motivation

Human motivation and how to understand it.

We all do things or say things that perturb and puzzle others. That don’t make logical sense or seem appropriate for the situation.

Why do we do it? I have a 6- pronged approach to make sense of such situations and would like to share it with you.

1) Ask “What is the pay off for the behavior?” You will often discover there is a history or story behind seemingly silly behavior that helps explain otherwise unusual behavior. Under the right circumstances, many unusual behaviors can still have a “pay off” for people.

2) Dopamine spurt. It’s remarkable how many of our behaviors are unknowingly locked into dopamine “reward system.” Running, sports, anger fits, romance, good grades, and so on–including a number of less savory behaviors are reinforced daily by our desire to get a quick hit of the brain chemical dopamine.

3) Parents. This explanation is a time-honored standby for unpleasant behavior. Tracing it back to some parental deficiency that is still having an awkward impact today. This must be used sparingly to remain credible.

4) Birth order. Sibling birth order can explain some traits and temperaments and has a good deal of solid science to back it up.

5) Philosophical-spiritual. When someone behaves badly simply understand it as the person acting the way he or she needs to at the moment as part of a larger positive process. Statements like “He’s doing the best he can with the tools he has” are often heard to describe this assessment tool.

6) Not caring. This is fast becoming my favorite strategy when trying to understand another person’s inappropriate behavior. It’s more declarative than diagnostic but works very efficiently. When someone behaves badly instead of starting down a long mental path to understand the behavior, stop. Instead, simply say to yourself “That was a really inappropriate behavior and i don’t need to understand why he did that.”

Over time many who use this last technique are able to use the shorthand, “I can’t believe he did that. What an asshole.”


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