Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Thursday, 14 August 2008

What motivates you to grow…?

A colleague of mine once offered a line that’s stuck with me ever since: “In life, most of us turn our fundamental character flaws into careers.”

You may know someone who grew up in a dysfunctional home and later became a social worker, mediator or psychologist (or even a cop) in an effort to bring order and harmony to the world around him or her.

The kid who’s allergic to chlorine becomes a superhuman swimming champion while the painfully shy kid becomes class clown and then an internationally famous comedian and actor.

Or as my talented and insightful friend Andrew once exclaimed: “Sometimes I don’t know why I work in 'change management' – personally, I hate change!!

Similarly, when I train teams and coach individuals on conflict resolution I often ask: “So…is there anyone here who likes conflict?” I can tell you, not many hands go shooting in the air.

That’s the point at which I feel comfortable admitting that I am frankly terrified of conflict – and that’s precisely why I’ve made a career out of learning about human interaction and offering that expertise in my work training and consulting.


The human need to achieve homeostasis is hardwired into our brains, and so we strive to compensate for and correct perceived imbalances in ourselves and our surroundings.

In everyday language we have the metaphor of the swinging pendulum to describe how one extreme often produces a movement in the opposite direction. Newtonian physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In philosophical terms, think yin-yang and the eternal dance of counterbalancing opposites.

This tendency can also have pernicious effects, as the drive to compensate tumbles into pathos. Pacifists become militant, right-to-lifers commit murder, communists become fascists. Men of a certain age buy red sportscars or Hummers and women inflate some body parts while deflating or de-wrinkling others.

So how do you know if you’re on the track to a successful career or just kidding yourself?

Motivation and growth

Clearly the compensatory drive behind the quest for homeostasis is a powerful motivator. And as I’ve described above, it also needs a reality check to keep from becoming absurd and overshooting the mark into extreme compensation.

In a previous post I talked about the concepts of change vs. growth. Since then many people have told me how useful they’ve found that distinction, since there’s no quicker way to get someone’s back up than by telling them, “you really need to change,” while by contrast most people are interested in – indeed quite enthusiastic about – personal growth and development.

What I would therefore suggest as a useful corrective is to ask the question, “Am I heading away from something I don’t want, or toward something that I do want?”

"What do you want...?"

Put another way: answering the fundamental question “What do you want?” is a great way to develop insight and ensure you are on the path to positive growth rather than engaging in a dodgy process of resisting change.

This question encourages a frank assessment based on its four component parts:

What – be specific about exactly what you’re after

Do – think of what you do want as opposed to what you don’t; when you state your outcome in the positive it triggers the brain’s creativity and drive

You – ensure that your goal is something that you actually want, not what you think other people think that you should have/do/be

Want – as opposed to what you’d like, if someday maybe it were possible…this needs to be an act and expression of your will if you are going to successfully harness your willpower and motivation to get what you want

I invite you to take a moment today to think about whence you derive your motivation and whether its based on a desire to survive...or to be fully alive. Raw survival is driven by the fight-flight-freeze response of the emotional or limbic brain, while being true to yourself and creating the life that you actually want means you need to tap into everything that is best in yourself.

It's a challenge not everyone is willing to undertake; if you're going to be truly happy in this life, it's one you need seriously to consider.


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