I don’t know what it is, but something recently has calmed me down a lot. It may be the fact that it’s so cold and miserable outside that there’s no point in getting all worked up. Or maybe it’s part of getting older.
I think that it has something to do with my new mindset of trying to understand motivation. Not my own, because I think when I’m being honest with myself I know what makes me tick. And when I’m not being honest with myself I prefer the lie over whatever is really happening.
What I’ve been trying to think about a lot lately is what motivates others.
In the past I have spent too much time and energy being irritated by the actions of others, to the point of trying to convince them they are incorrect. This is a fool’s errand.
What I realize now is that the final culmination of any situation is just an outcome. An effect related to a cause. In order to truly understand behaviour and therefore influence others what I needed to think about was the underlying motivation, not the end result.
To back it up a step when I say “motivation” what I’m referring to is the reason for taking meaningful action. It can be big or small, but there is a reason for every decision we make, or choose not to make.
In order to make this shift I first had to get into the mind-frame of thinking of everyone else as a dynamic, complex human being, with the same level of depth of thought that I have. While this is something we all know on an intellectual level, in day to day interaction it’s usually not top of mind.
It may have just been me, but what I found is that my assumptions about people are usually a culmination of our interactions with one another. While this isn’t necessarily incorrect, there are definitely some downsides, especially when you want to change the dynamic of the relationship.
I have a couple of examples that exemplify how this way of thinking has helped me. One of the relationships is extremely brief and superficial, while the other very long and deep.
The briefest of relationships is that of other drivers in traffic. I used to get very frustrated at poor driving, especially when it was people cutting me off to get into the lane that I have been waiting patiently in for some time while they just breezed past the line. The worst.
During one of these instances, while leaning into the horn, I started to think about how the other driver may feel. In my mind there were three different possibilities.
- They didn’t know they had to get into that lane until it was too late.
- They have a legitimate reason to be in a rush (important meeting, family emergency, etc.)
- They are a genuine asshole and/or bad driver.
Then I started thinking about how I’ve done the exact same move for all of the reasons above, at least once. While I don’t do it all the time, it does happen on occasion and maybe I’ve caught the driver on one such occasion.
I let this one action completely define how I thought about this person, while there may be a number of other things at play here. What’s more is it really worth getting worked up over for the 2.5 second delay it had caused me? Likely not.
Regardless, if they really are an asshole and/or bad driver, odds are that will catch up to them some day.
The longer relationship was that with my parents. For a little bit of background, I’ve known my parents my whole life and we have a good relationship. Stable house, always loved and supported, the whole nine yards.
Now at 27, though, it does get annoying on the occasions that I’m still treated like a child. Sometimes it seems like even though I’ve lived away from home and managed not to die for multiple years now, my ability to do some pretty basic human-adult things is brought into question.
While frustrating, I just needed to stop and think about what was motivating this behaviour to make some sense of it.
First, I’ve done a lot of stupid crap in my life. Most of which my parents were left dealing with, which could not have been fun for them. Not being able to fully shake of my many bad decisions that they had to clean up seems fairly reasonable upon further reflection.
The other thing to think about is the alternative is having parents who don’t care about me, which doesn’t seem like a good option. While it is likely to never fully go away, the onus is on me to change their years of conditioning regarding my ability to take care of myself.
So while I think I may have taken the long way around, the motivation behind the actions of others is the key to truly understanding them and therefore influencing them. While it may not always seem it, people are rational and there are deep reasons behind nearly everything that they do. Once those are understood, you will be much further ahead in the relationship.