Unconscious Motivations

In this week's psychological discussion, we will be breaking down the first layer of the unconscious, the idea of unconscious motivations, and how they affect three major aspects of life.
December 3, 2020


In last week's discussion, we talked about the basic structure of reality, and I also introduced the idea that there is an unconscious side of reality. We talked about how processes are going on behind the scenes in your life that affect your conscious thoughts, moods, and behaviors. I then addressed some of the ways that the unconscious manifests itself in everybody's lives and some of the ways it interferes with where you consciously want to go. I wanted to start there because that is the foundation for the rest of the topics we will be discussing. 

This week, we will be breaking down the first layer of the unconscious, the idea of unconscious motivations. The first thing to understand about the unconscious and life, in general, is that all behavior is motivated; it is all purposeful. You cannot act unless you have an underlying motivation. Every action that you live out, every thought that you have, and every word that you say has a motivation behind it; it has a purpose. 

What is essential to understand is that motivations can either be conscious or unconscious. It's vital to know that because to get to the places you want to go, you have to know where your actions are leading you to. You have to be aware of the idea that there are unconscious motivations that can contradict where you consciously want to go in life.

I think it's pretty self-evident from people's general lack of self-control that something in the unconscious is typically motivated in the opposite direction of where you consciously want to go. Just knowing that should humble you because now you know that there is more going on in your life than you think and that there is a lot more that needs to get under control. It's not as simple as just wanting something and getting there. There are always unconscious motivations that contradict what you're consciously trying to do.

The phenomenon of unconscious motivations is very apparent, particularly with people in a sufferable position in life, a place in life that they do not want to be. To some degree, everybody wants to be better and achieve more, and the question is, why don't you get straight there? In most cases, it's because there are unconscious motivations that contradict what you're consciously trying to do.

Unconscious motivations are also very apparent in irrational or problematic behavior. For example, in a relationship, you never consciously want to fight, but for some reason, the fight inevitably happens, and it's because not all of you doesn't want to fight. There are always parts of you that want something other than what you consciously want. 

So, I want you to think about the things you do in your life that are contradictory. Try to think of examples in your life where your conscious motivations are left unfulfilled, indicating an active unconscious motivation in your life.

The Origin of Unconscious Motivations

Now I am going to reveal where unconscious motivations come from. There are two primary places. First, they come from impulses. Impulses are any behavior that lacks any morality, the ways we act that we know are wrong. It's the side of ourselves that we do not want the rest of society to see and should strive to keep under control. It is our animalistic side. It is our aggressive side; it is our impulsive side. Carl Jung has referred to this side of us as the shadow, the side of us that we want to keep hidden away from society because of its impulsive and naturally destructive nature.

The second and most complex origin of unconscious motivations come from unconscious desires. When you are a child growing up, you believe that the world is everything, you take everything at face value, and everything as absolute truth. Of course, you can learn plenty of beneficial behavior in your childhood and carry that on into adulthood. But, problems arise if your childhood isn't perfect and trust me, no one's is. In those inevitable imperfect childhood circumstances, you begin to internalize behavior patterns that have a big chance of becoming problematic in adulthood. 

For a quick and general example, say when you're growing up, your parents didn't pay enough attention to you. Because you're a child and unable to understand what they're going through or what the real reason for the lack of attention might be, you automatically assume that something is wrong with yourself. Consequently, in this example, you start to believe that you are not good enough. 

You then begin to internalize that pattern of behavior; you start to believe that you are not good enough, and as a consequence, you begin to lose your natural confidence in life. What begins to happen is that the pattern of behavior you learned in childhood gets carried on into adulthood. As a result, you now have an unconscious desire to continue that pattern of behavior. 

As we talked about in last week's topic, your positive emotion comes from moving closer to your goals. It gets tricky because your unconscious has goals, too, and you will still experience 'positive emotion' even when fulfilling a goal that is problematic for your conscious side of reality.

For example, when you're older, a lack of confidence has no conscious benefit. However, because that is all you know, that is what you're used to, and that's what you've unconsciously internalized as your primary pattern of behavior, you still experience 'positive emotion' when you act in ways that reinforce that idea. 

That is an essence we're unconscious motivations come from: partly from impulses and the shadow aspect of your personality, and also from your desires, the learned and internalized patterns of your childhoods behavior.

There are endless variations of internalized behavior that could arise due to an inferior childhood environment, but what you need to know is that those internalized patterns of behavior are at the core of unconscious motivations. Thus they account for why behavior can seem contradictory. Not only do your impulses lead you to make decisions that contradict your conscious ambitions, but also your internalized patterns of behavior contradict how you consciously want to act. 

The question for you is if you are in a place in life that you don't like, it is more often than not that you have internalized patterns of behavior that are not optimal for adulthood. Thus contradictions and problems in your life arise as a consequence of where you're consciously trying to go and where your unconscious desires want you to go. 

Only when you become aware of your personality's unconscious side and your unconscious motivations will you be able to make conscious decisions and move in a direction that you consciously want to go. 

We will be talking about determining and resolving your unconscious desires and internalized patterns of behavior in later topics. But for this week, it is just about introducing the idea of unconscious motivations.

Also, I am aware that a common problem is that people don't know where to be aiming in the first place consciously. So, rest assured, in later topics, we will discuss what proper aims are, what constitutes a good ambition, and where you should be aiming in your life. But for now, when I apply these psychological concepts to different aspects of life, I'm going to provide a preliminary aim in each aspect to illustrate its effects.


Now I'm going to show you how unconscious motivations can affect two major aspects of life: work and relationships. 

For relationships, I assume that everybody wants a healthy relationship. Everybody wants to be able to communicate with their spouse and friends. Everybody wants their spouse and friends to be strong pillars of support in their lives. And so the question is: how can unconscious motivations affect relationships? 

If somebody has an unconscious desire, it immediately gets transferred into the relationship. All of those, let's say irrational or problematic internalized patterns of behavior, will start to come out and affect the relationship. To illustrate this point, I will use the example I gave earlier of the person who received inferior attention in childhood and thus is naturally unconfident because they believe that they are good enough. 

That lack of confidence and desire to feel like they are not good enough will manifest and affect the relationship dynamics in many ways. When it comes to making decisions, making choices, being firm in opinions, and providing guidance, that person will fall short, and problems will arise between the two in the relationship. Again, there are many different variations and of those internalized patterns of behavior that are particular to whatever you experienced in childhood, whatever you've internalized as your primary pattern behavior. But that is just a quick example of how unconscious motivations and, more specifically, unconscious desires affect and interfere with developing healthy relationships. 

It takes a lot of self-awareness to identify and become aware of any internalized patterns of behavior that are flawed or problematic. But the quickest way to become aware of any internalized patterns of behavior is to think about the purpose or underlying motivation of your actions. The next time there's a problem in your relationship, you need to look at your actions from an objective standpoint and ask yourself, what is the underlying motivation behind my actions? What do they communicate to others? You can then contrast those motivations with what you consciously want in the relationship and determine if there are unconscious motivations that contradict your conscious motivations, causing you to act in ways that are problematic for you.

I also believe that this process is a generally useful tool in life as well; to become aware of your motivations and think about what your actions are communicating to other people and yourself. You'll begin to find that some, if not most, of your actions are aiming in the opposite direction of where you consciously want to go. That is the beginning of figuring out what those internalized pattern behaviors are and starting to determine how those unconscious desires affect your life. 

I will be addressing the idea of internalized patterns of behavior in a later discussion, but for now, I'm just demonstrating how unconscious motivations can interfere with relationships. 


The next question is, how do unconscious motivations affect work? I think impulses get in the way of ambitions around work. I am assuming that most people want to be successful in their lives, and usually, it's because of a lazy impulse that keeps you from getting to your work goals. Of course, there could be an unconscious desire - like the desire to feel weak or two to look as if you're not successful - but I think in most cases when it comes to the aspect of work, impulses interfere with what you consciously want.

I have found that in my life, I have noticed that when I get the lazy impulses not to work and take the route of instant gratification, the momentary pleasure is quickly superseded with feeling worse about myself. Although your unconscious gets what it wants at the moment, you're still moving in the opposite direction of where you consciously want to go. Thus, after the momentary pleasure is gone, you are left with the negative emotions of failing to achieve your conscious ambitions. 

What occurs is a negative feedback loop. You get that instant gratification, but you're then left with the feeling of emptiness because you're not pursuing something that has meaning for your conscious self. I've noticed ten times out of ten, when I do a test on myself and choose to delay gratification, I always end up feeling a lot better than the alternative. 

When you're thinking about how unconscious motivations can affect different aspects of life, I believe it is essential to ask yourself: what do you consciously want in any given scenario? Then, analyze your behavior and figure out what your behavior is communicating to others and yourself.

You will quickly find that many contradictions occur which will start to make you aware of what some of those internalized patterns behavior are, and how they end up negatively affecting your life.

Meaning & Flow

Now we're going to talk about how unconscious motivations affect the overall feeling of meaning you have in your life. For this aspect of life, both impulses and desires can interfere.

Meaning derives from being wholly engaged in the world, by experiencing that state of flow. I think everybody can relate to this, and everybody can remember a time when you've been doing something and completely lost your sense of time, you are completely engaged with what you're doing, and you feel like you completely disappear in the task. That is a state of flow, and that is where the feeling of meaning comes from. 

To experience that sensation of flow and engagement, you have to be in the right place at the right time. That means you have to have one foot in the known and one foot in the unknown. That requires a perfect balance of the two, where you're confronting unknown territory and pushing your current physical and mental capacities, but also maintaining enough safety, and enough known territory around you, to retain your sanity. That is that perfect balance of the two, and that is where flow and meaning derive from.

I know, for example, when I'm plating a dish in my restaurant, I am familiar enough with the dish that I'm comfortable, but I'm also actively pushing my current artistic capacity, and I experience that state of flow as a result. Furthermore, when I'm doing these discussions on psychology, I do have my notes, so I'm comfortable enough, but I'm also trying to speak freely, engage my mind and push my mental limits of what I know. 

Of course, if you have an unconscious motivation, you can stumble upon this state of flow, and I'm sure everybody has, but it is only for a brief moment. To increase the overall feeling of meaning in your life, to be more engaged with your life, it requires your conscious control. If you know that it requires that perfect state of balance, it requires one part of your to be in the unknown and another part of you to be in the known, and that requires a conscious effort to find that place. It requires a conscious effort to challenge your capabilities, find a place with enough safety, but also a place where you're mentally and physically challenged, where you're pushing the limits of your knowledge and body.

Thus, that requires you to be transparent to yourself. To increase the overall meaning in your life, you have to become aware of any unconscious motivations because they can reduce the chance of consciously getting to that perfect balance of chaos and order. 

For example, say you live only by your unconscious impulses. A lot of pleasure would surround you. You'd be eating the foods you want, you'd be completely lazy, and although that might sound enjoyable now, those actions contain no meaning. Those impulses would only bring you too much safety, and there wouldn't be any challenges for you, anything for you to work at. As human beings, we are built to content with the world. We're not built to be sedentary, have all the pleasures in the world at our fingertips. We're built to contend with the difficulty of the world. Thus, if you only live by those impulses, you have nothing to engage with, you have no responsibilities. Therefore, you will have no meaning in your life.

In contrast, if you live strictly by your unconscious desires, you would keep running into surprising problems, and you would keep ending up in scenarios that you don't want to be in. That would be too much chaos, too much unknown territory, and not enough structure and security. So, in either case, if your impulses or unconscious desires are not under control, you end up in two different scenarios in life that will negatively affect the feeling of meaning in your life. 

Thus, having conscious control over those unconscious motivations helps you get to the places that increase the overall feeling of meaning in your life, allowing you to contend with different aspects of life that truly engage you and make you feel alive. In essence, unconscious motivations will make it very difficult to find that state of flow and engage with the tasks that provide your life with meaning. Unconscious actions are only concerned with instant gratification, not the overall level of meaning your life has.

We will be talking more about flow and that balance of chaos and order in later discussions. For this discussion, I'm just trying to illustrate how unconscious motivations can interfere with the overall feeling of meaning in your life. So 

For this part, I want you to think about a time in your life where you've experienced that state of flow, where you've been completely engaged with life, and then I want you to think about why you don't get there more often. I think you'll find pretty quickly that it's typically impulsive decisions, and if you're aware enough, it's those unconscious desires that keep you away from getting to the places in your life that provide that feeling of flow and meaning. 

Summary & Lesson

Now, I'm going to summarize everything that we've talked about and give you the general lesson of this week's topic. We first discussed how all behavior is motivated. I also introduced the idea that those motivations can be unconscious, which explains why behavior can be contradictory, how our actions can lead us to places that we don't consciously want to be in. We then discussed where those unconscious motivations come from, from both impulses and desires. I then showed you how those unconscious motivations could interfere with three major aspects of life; work, relationships, and the general level of meaning you have in your life.

It takes a lot of courage even to determine and become aware of your unconscious motivations. Then it takes even more courage to resolve them, a process that I'm going to discuss in later topics. But for now, this week's topic demonstrates the importance of being transparent and how that goal of being transparent is the essential goal for living a better life. 

To be transparent means to be aware of all the different aspects of you and your personality, precisely the unconscious element. If you are aware and in control of that unconscious side of reality, you are now a full autonomous individual. You will then have full control of yourself and your motivations, and you will be able to get to the places you consciously want to go in life. Consequently, you can achieve your work ambitions, make your relationships stronger, improve your health, increase the level of meaning you have in your life, and enhance your life's overall quality and become an example for the people around you. 

Another lesson of this week's topic is to show you how your conscious side of reality is only a small side of reality, that there's a lot more going on behind the scenes in your life than you think, furthermore, that you have a lot less control than you think. You are at the head of a complex machine that is more complicated than you can ever imagine, and that to gain more meaning in your life and live a better life, you have to gain control of that machine.

That's the purpose of these psychological discussions, to begin to break down that machine, layer by layer, showing you the different elements that it comprises, and how by understanding these fundamental concepts, you can take control of your life and live the life that you want to live. But for now, I hope you have a little bit more awareness, are a little bit more informed, and possess a little bit more humility about how complex you are.

This is only the second psychological discussion topic that I have covered. In the first discussion, I introduced the idea of the unconscious, and this week, I broke down the concept of unconscious motivations. I haven't even scratched the surface of everything that I'm going to cover. I am incredibly excited to develop these ideas further and provide the fundamental concepts that allow you to take responsibility for your life and live the life you want to live.