Motivation I: Analyzing Personality

As someone who identifies with a chaotic energy and disrespect for imposed authority, it comes as no surprise that I tend to struggle with sustaining motivation over a long period of time towards a specific goal, especially when the actions required to achieve that goal are highly repetitive in nature. I am sure a significant portion of the population has similar problems, so I think it could be potentially helpful to share some of the various methods, which I have employed over the years to trick myself into doing work I wouldn’t normally do. I think it is needless to say that these methods are highly subjective and results may vary… a lot.

Because of the sheer number of different methods I have attempted, I have decided to split them up in a series of easily digestible smaller posts. So let’s start with the first one:

Analyzing Personality

When I first found myself thinking about motivation, or more specifically – the lack of it, the natural line of thought went like this: ‘Well, I get up every morning so there is obviously something that motivates me. What is it?’

How does one go about understanding his strongest motivators?

Well, you could try and have a dialogue with yourself, which is quite hard and requires some brutal honesty, decent psychoanalytical skill and even in that case you might face problems with coming to objective conclusions. Of course, if you’re capable of this – more power to you, you’re better off than a vast majority of people, since almost no one actually understands themselves.

Thankfully, there’s a metric boatload of different personality tests you can do online for free. On the other hand though… well… there’s a metric boatload of different personality tests you can do online for free.

They tend to take somewhere between 10 to 100 minutes to complete and range from Buzzfeed’s trademark “There Are Six Types Of Trash And One Of Them Matches Your Personality” to real psychological tests, backed by a bunch of papers on cognitive psychology and actual scientific research. The specific personality model I am going to be using is The Big Five. Two free online distributors of the test you can use are this or this one. I would urge you to go through one of the tests now if you haven’t already as I will be commenting on the results. Take your time to answer, as the more honest and precise you are, the more useful the results are going to be.

Done? Great!

Now you have a score on the five personality axes. It might, for example, look something like this:

BIG-FIVE-RESULTS

The five factors are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Now let’s go over each one and see how they relate to motivation:

  • Openness – curiosity, creativity and intelligence. High scores on this trait indicate that one of your main motivational forces is the desire to be innovative, to always look for a novel approach and to explore new ideas. One way you can manipulate this trait is to do your best to vary the approaches you take for each task as much as possible. One might, for example, turn walking to a destination into a game, where you try to use a slightly different route each time.
  • Conscientiousness – self-discipline, industriousness, dedication and planning. If you’re scoring high on Conscientiousness, then you shouldn’t have any big motivational problems. People with the trait tend to be dutiful and dedicated to their work, even when it becomes boring and repetitive. Another aspect to the trait is susceptibility to feelings of disgust – such people are often sticklers for cleanliness and have a low tolerance for disorder.
  • Extroversion – sociability, assertiveness and susceptibility to positive emotions. Predominantly extroverted people have a reward system, closely linked to social status and external approval. In order to capitalize on this trait, one can integrate a social reward / punishment into the goals themselves. An interesting way, that this is often done are the multitude of fitness / activity applications, which can be directly set to post results on social media.  This can be a great incentive to keep improving.
  • Agreeableness – compassion, trust, submissiveness and conflict-avoidance. This trait has a high-potential for providing tangible motivation and scores on both extremes of the spectrum are useful:
    People with a high agreeableness score can benefit from focusing on aspects of work, related to helping others and benefiting their community or society as a whole.
    Low-end scorers (ironically) are highly-competitive, argumentative and enjoy creating conflict. It is therefore of enormous utility to actively participate in competitions, seek out and focus on leader-board structures and create a competitive environment even in areas, where one does not already exist. For example – one can surround himself with other disagreeable people and place bets on outcome-dependant activities.
  • Neuroticism – susceptibility to negative emotions – anger, anxiety, depression etc. People with high Neuroticism scores can use their sensitivity to such emotions by framing their work in the context of reducing risk, increasing financial security and reducing their overall chance of “failure” in their respective field. Such people might, for example, be able to artificially inflate the psychological incentive for doing personal accounting work by focusing on the real risks, associated with poorly-managed family finances.

But what to actually do with this information?

I’ve laid out the bare bones structure of the Big Five, provided a brief summary of each type and also pointed out their relations to personal motivation. The examples, however, are only and exactly that – just examples. This is by no means a comprehensive analysis, but I still hope that it is enough to inspire one to further inquire into the subject, as I assure you – it is fascinating and quite-heavily researched.

The way I approach personality as a practical tool is by compiling a list of my basic psychological motivators and then doing my best to present them as justification to my monkey brain for doing repetitive tasks. It often comes quite naturally to frame activities in such ways, but other times can prove quite the challenge.

It is no coincidence that I am choosing this topic as the first in my series, as I plan on continuously referencing this material as the underlying framework of motivation in my presentations of more specific methods and tools.

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