The Contemplation Stage

What am I supposed to be doing with my life?

Some people dedicate themselves to developing a financial pyramid scheme based on selling cleaning products and cosmetics to their friends and relatives. The success of a sports team or political party is vitally important to some individuals; for others it is a particular religious or philosophical perspective that gives meaning to life, and some just want to get laid.

How do you evaluate these motivations? Do some seem more foolish or more base than others? Not everyone would agree on which are the foolish ones. The critical task of the Contemplation Stage is to decide what you want so you can act in accord with your genuine interests and principles. Regrets and excuses are poor consolations for missing out on what you value most.

If your actions are not driven by your Core Motivation, then they will be determined by external sources of motivation, specifically:

  • Conformity - Doing what other people are doing.
  • Obedience - Doing what you are told.
  • Pleasure Seeking - Doing what produces immediate gratification.

Sources of Motivation

As children and young adults we are generally motivated by external agents such as parents, teachers, supervisors, leaders [obedience], peers, the media [conformity], and by our biological drives [pleasure seeking]. The passage from childhood to adulthood often includes periods of following and rebelling against social sources of control.

Note: The motivation to rebel is just as dependent on an external source of control as the motivation to obey. Some people rebel against their own rules, and some people lapse just to show that they are not obedient to the demands of others. In both cases the effective motivation is rebellion against something you did not define, rather than what you define as your interests and principles.

As children we were impressionable; the learning that occurred when “the cement was wet” has produced perspectives that continue to influence our beliefs and motivations. Now that we are adults and responsible for the decisions we make, we must contend with the conditioned beliefs, appraisal biases, and reaction tendencies that would motivate us to act counter to our interests and principles.

High-risk situations occur when there is conflict between the motivation that pulls you toward the incentive [Incentive Motivation] and the motivation to follow your path of greatest advantage [Core Motivation]. In the Freudian metaphor of a horse and rider: The horse [the Id] wants immediate gratification, and the rider [the Ego] wants to follow the path that produces the greatest net payoff. In our, two-mind terminology, the Experiential Processing System is driven by the laws of cause-and-effect to follow the path of least resistance, while the Rational Processing System is guided by its Core Motivation to follow the path of greatest advantage.

Using the Rational Processing System is effortful and only available when you have sufficient cognitive resources to operate it. However, its remarkable powers of inductive and deductive reasoning enable it to think through the consequences of your actions and appraise them mindfully. As a consequence of this intellectual gift, you, unlike most other living creatures, can be driven from within by your long-term interests and abstract principles, and resist the influence of local stressors and temptations that would motivate you to defect.

The source of your Core Motivation

You cannot discover your Core Motivation by obediently accepting what an authority figure tells you, conforming to the beliefs of those around you, or chasing an immediate gratification. Defining your path of greatest advantage is your responsibility. No external agent can show you the way to good long-term outcome, or even tell you what good long-term outcome means in your particular case. A clear appreciation of your Core Motivation emerges from an exploration that no one can do for you or spare you. This section of the course is dedicated to that exploration.

The objective of the Contemplation Stage is to come to an understanding of what you want most so you can choose the most advantageous path when there is conflict. The pages ahead offer a range of thought experiments to encourage you to explore your values and how you want to spend the time and energy available to you. The goal of the Contemplation Stage is not necessarily to achieve a thorough and final understanding of yourself, but to become familiarenough with your values and desires so that you are able to choose the more advantageous path when you experience conflict between motivations pulling you in different directions..

The Contemplation Stage is effortful and time consuming, and a shortcut through it is available. It is your choice — and an important one — to decide whether or not to take the shortcut.


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Should I Take the Shortcut through the Contemplation Stage? > >