What moves you to avoid this kind of food and seek that kind? What moves you to get out of bed to exercise when it involves unpleasant sensations? What moves you to pay attention to just one thing in the midst of many attractive distractions?

The definition of ‘motivation’ is something like this:

Motivation is the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

We can have a motivation that comes from slow and careful cognitive reasoning, and we can have motivation that comes from deep subconscious beliefs and programs (urges) that quickly arise without being examined or chosen.

Every thing we do – and I mean EVERY THING – has motivations inside that caused it, whether we know what those motivations are or not. And, if we’ve done something that we first didn’t think about and then are questioned about our motive later, the mind will come up with some explanation which will seem true to us, but that does not necessarily mean it is the true cause. The mind has a peculiar interest to search for an explanation that fits the personal narrative, not the one that is factually correct. It just needs to feel true, not actually be true.

And, I suspect that most actions rarely have a singular or simple motivation, although one particular motivation might be dominant over several others. There are usually a few involved. Talking about only one of them is not telling the whole story.

Judging our own motivations accurately is tricky business. (Judging someone else’s is even worse.)

But if we want to deliberately alter our own behavior or reinforce it we have to do the difficult work of examining the factually true causes – from animal-like survival or trauma-trained reactions to deep convictions about our purpose in life. We need to look for the mix of motivations. The causes can be rooted in our most basic survival needs or anywhere up the hierarchy of human needs.

We can be motivated by positive incentives – if I do this, it will bring me positive sensations or feelings. We can be motivated by negative incentives – if I avoid doing this, it will avoid bringing me unpleasant sensations or feelings.

The closer those incentives come to touching us personally and immediately, the more powerful they will be.

When those beliefs about positive or negative incentives are buried deep in the brain and body – by genetic or cultural or traumatic programming – then we don’t have to think about it. We don’t need ‘will power’ to make ourselves seek the pleasant or avoid the unpleasant. We are just powerfully moved to do or to not do.

Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

But when we have opposing beliefs – when the deep urge conflicts with the consciously held conviction – then we feel the tension, we feel the conflict inside. This is when we might need to exercise that so called ‘will power’ to either make us act or refrain from action. At these times it is convenient if we’ve already gone through the work of examining motives to understand the nature of each side of that conflict. Or, this is a good time to start examining.

Emotions are a part of this.

From my understanding of neuro-biology/psychology I might define emotions this way:

An emotion is a particular arrangement of chemicals and sensations in the body that have primed that body to take action in a certain direction. We feel the emotion because once a belief in the body has been touched by our situation the whole body alters its state – it has released chemicals and changed internal systems – in preparation to respond to the situation it believes it is facing.

Emotions are a flood of energy in the body. We don’t stop floods. We respond (or react) to them. It’s convenient when that flood of emotion supports the unity we feel between the deep urge and the conscious conviction about what we should do. We can just ride the flood of energy as we carry out the action.

But when that flood comes and is aligned with a deep urge that is at conflict with a conscious conviction, then we’ve got a real challenge on our hands. How do we resist the flood? If we can’t stop it coming, how do we stand against it, or how do we ride the wave without letting it carry us to a disastrous destination? It takes enormous energy to resist the flow of energy naturally released inside our own body.

We feel small floods and big floods. We feel emotion about food. We feel emotion about exercise. We feel emotion about relationships. We feel emotion about money.

We face challenges every week, every day, in big and small ways. We handle some of those situations in ways we are proud of and some of them in ways we are disappointed about. Some situations are smooth to ride through and others are rough.

It helps to know that we have at least a couple parts to our being inside and these parts may sometimes or often hold opposing beliefs or urges about which way we should go in a challenging situation. Taking time to study these parts, to get to know our personally unique character – a life-long endeavor actually – is invaluable on the quest to life a better life. Acquiring a non-judgmental way of describing the nature of these parts and the conflicts in motivation and emotion we experience inside is another invaluable tool.

Pursuing longevity is not easy. Entropy is the relentless opponent of life, and works on us at every level of being. But we can hold up much better when we learn to read our motivations and emotions and work to unify those within our body and mind. To live the life in the satisfying way we hope for requires that kind of internal unity.


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