Examine Your Real Motives

Are your motives aligned with your values and actions?

Are your motives aligned with your values and actions? Do you even know what your underlying motives are?

Motives are the underlying reasons for the actions you take and the words you say. No one can tell you what your motives are. They may try, but you are the only one who can know your real reasons for doing what you do. There are healthy and unhealthy motives.

  • Healthy motive: any motive that uplifts the human condition, in ourselves and others.
  • Unhealthy motive: any motive that degrades the human condition, in ourselves and others.

Consider the difference between a healthy motive, to “one-plus-it”(a team is highly motivated by quality, each person is viewed as being able to contribute, to add value, and delivers more than what is expected) versus an unhealthy motive, to “one-up-it” (each person on a team is vying to highlight his or her own contributions – no matter what one person accomplishes, there is a need to highlight one’s own achievements – to ensure that one is always on top).

If we’re not careful, our motives can end up being unhealthy: driven by fear, anger or sadness in one moment; and in the next, by an unfulfilled need for acceptance, power, or safety. Too often, we go on auto-pilot, allowing our motives to flow out of our daily routines without checking our underlying assumptions or questioning our choices. But, if we examine our motives on a regular basis, we can begin to understand the difference between a motive driven by insecurity or other unmet needs and a motive that aligns with our deepest values and develops the type of character that contributes to effective relationships.

To help you examine your real motives, try these three things:

  • Use The 5 Whys.
  • Choose abundance.
  • Declare your intent.

Use the 5 Why’s

The 5 Whys came to light in the late 1980’s as part of the Toyota Production System for building great automobiles. Part of the system included a just-in-time technique – The 5 Whys. This approach was simple: ask “why” five times to get to the root cause of a problem. In the words of the system’s pioneer, Taiichi Ohno, “Observe the production floor without preconceptions… Ask ‘why’ five times about every matter.”

In borrowing this technique for human relationships, we use it to get to our root intentions, or our driving motives in any situation. While it can take less (or more) than five introspective “why’s” to get to our motives, because those motives may be buried under years of habit and have been running on auto-pilot, it often takes asking why more than once. At first, the answer might feel obvious. But, if you approach the exercise honestly and with humility thinking through it will help you understand your true motive.

It takes a lot of courage, humility, and self-awareness to look at ourselves closely and with honesty. If you don’t see the value of examining your motives and developing your character, your motives may end up serving your ego instead of serving others. And, when this shift happens, you actually perpetuate the feelings of fear, insecurity and unmet needs.

The intention is not to make you feel guilty about your motives or to shame you for attempting to fill your unmet needs. The intention is to help you become more aware of any unhealthy motives so that you can choose to redirect them toward healthier, more abundant motives. When you realize that your motives are driven by something other than to uplift the human condition, in ourselves and others, be patient with the part of you that’s trying to get what it needs. But also recognize, that another part of you can choose a different motive. Once we identify an unhealthy motive, how do we move to a healthier one? Try choosing abundance.

Choose Abundance

Many of us are conditioned to believe there’s a finite amount of everything —there’s only so much reward, credit, recognition, benefits, or even love. And because of that, “the more you get means there’s less for me.” It comes from the following beliefs: “I am threatened by the success of others−especially those closest to me, I treat people with varying degrees of respect, based on position or status, I have a difficult time sharing recognition or credit, and I find my sense of self-worth from being compared to others or from competition.” These beliefs create a scarcity mindset, which produces an underlying motive of fear. With a fearful world view, it’s difficult to shift the focus off of ourselves and take the needs of others into consideration.

An abundance mindset, however, is the primary foundation for establishing ongoing healthy motives. It comes from the following beliefs: “there is plenty out there for everyone, I’m happy for the success of others, I treat everyone with equal respect, I find it easy to share recognition or credit, I have a deep inner sense of personal worth and security.” As you build this authentic, sincere, and positive outlook, it will be a key contributor in influencing for good the people around you.

Declare Intent

Intent is another word for motive. Stephen M. R. Covey, the bestselling author of The Speed of Trust, said, “Declare your intent. Express your agenda and motives. Then be true to your intent.” Declaring your motives is one of the core behaviors that builds trust.

While we judge ourselves largely on our intentions, others judge us by our behavior. Only you know your real motive. But sometimes, if we don’t communicate it early on, we end up putting others in the position of assuming or guessing — like a person changing lanes without signaling. You can easily put others at ease (and avoid a lot of misunderstanding) when you declare your intent as often as you can.

Declaring intent serves several purposes:

  • It provides a safe environment for a relationship to thrive, allowing the other person to respond to what’s really going on, rather than having to guess and get suspicious of what’s happening beneath the surface.
  • It create transparency and stability. If left unspoken, your motive is more likely to shift when a high emotion is present or when a circumstance might tempt you to change directions.
  • It can anchor everyone involved in the motive so that people are operating on the same page. It lets people know what to look for, to recognize, understand and acknowledge.

Without stopping to examine the motives which have largely gone on auto-pilot and have been buried under the routines and unconscious habits of our daily lives — we can’t become intentional about transforming them into healthy ones.

By Todd Davis, FranklinCovey Chief People Officer, and author of The Wall Street Journal bestseller, Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work.

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