Contemplation Fork

What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.

 —  Meister Eckhart

The motivational conflict that results from a history of using an incentive: On one side is the motivation to act in accord with your interests and principles, on the other is the motivation to follow the path of least resistance to get an immediate payoff. The conflict will usually resolve in favor of the side that captures your attention.

Even though your interests and principles are more meaningful, the incentive is more salient. While meaning is important in the therapist's office and during abstract conversations, salience has a greater influence on your motivation in real time. Incentive Use becomes a disorder when there is a mismatch between the salience and meaning of a source of motivation.

Consider the plight of Chester who is an excellent teacher, father, and husband. Sadly, Chester is addicted to pornography. He reports that his family and career are much more important to him than the payoff he gets from using pornography. However, because the pornography is more salient he has made a real mess of things and has jeopardized his family and career.

Because effective motivation is typically determined by the most salient stimulus in the local environment, enhancing the salience of your Core Motivation is of critical importance. While the nominal purpose of the Contemplation Stage is to identify your Core Values and Hierarchy of Motives, the real purpose of this personal research is to increase the salience of these more remote but most important sources of motivation.

You have to know what you want to exercise your will

Much of this section, dedicated to the Contemplation Stage, is designed to help you explore, become familiar with, and hence increase the salience of your Core Motivation. The Decision Matrix, which you will meet towards the end of this section, will give you the opportunity to explore the details of Incentive Motivation to enhance your understanding of the true nature of this motivational conflict.

For many, perhaps most people caught in an addictive trap, the Contemplation Stage is of primary importance. Understanding the conflict between your motivation to use the incentive and your motivation to act in accord with your interests and principles cannot be acquired passively. Vague sentiments about your values and the meaning of life are poor substitutes for the clear and salient understanding of what you really want and what you are willing to sacrifice in exchange.

Payoffs for investing your efforts in Contemplation Stage exercises:

  1. Your Core Values [the criteria you use to appraise the options available to you] and your Hierarchy of Motives [rank ordering of your motivations, with the most important on top] are personal. You cannot depend upon an external source to tell you what you should value or want most.
  2. Direct, personal experience researching your Core Motivation and becoming familiar with the experience of its conflict with Incentive Motivation increases the salience of Core Motivation during moments of conflict.

Only when you fully appreciate the nature of your motivational conflict will you be ready to declare your Decision and move on to the Action Stage. Those who move on to the Action Stage before they have fully resolved their conflicts related to incentive use often relapse as soon as the external motivation for change [health scare, legal problems, threat to relationships] becomes less salient. If there is any ambivalence about what you really want our of life and where the addictive incentive ranks among the other motivations you have, then I strongly recommend that you follow the default path through the Contemplation Stage.

Choose the Best Path for You

Part of the preparation for the conflicts that lie ahead is to decide how to invest your efforts. If you recognize that the path of least resistance does not lead to the life you want, but are unclear about what is your path of greatest advantage, a course of personal research is presented in this section.. However, many users of this course are already clear about their Core Motivation and would be better served by investing their time to strengthen the procedural skills and mental faculties required to exercise their will.

If you are already clear about your values, how you prioritize the different motivations that pull you, and believe you would be better served by getting to the Action Stage as rapidly as possible, you can take The Shortcut to the Penultimate Step of the Contemplation Stage. The shortcut skips the exercises, and will help you complete the following preparatory steps quickly:

  1. Declaring your Core Motivation
  2. Completing the Decision Matrix side of the Reminder Card
  3. Beginning the Action Stage with a clear Decision

Whether or not to take the Shortcut is an important decision. On the one hand, some individuals get bogged down in thought and never act. The alternative danger is to rush into action prematurely — that is, before you are clear about your Core Values and Hierarchy of Motives. So, you will have to decide when you have done enough motivational research and move on to action. You may find it helpful to review the segments of this stage to crystallize you understanding of what motivates you.

  • Looking Within is the default starting point and describes some general principles and guidelines for researching your motivation.
  • The Existential Path to Meaning describes some abstract and philosophical ideas that may pertain to your personal research.
  • Contemplation Exercises offer opportunities to personally explore and directly manipulate motivational phenomena.
  • The Penultimate Step to create motivational tools that will be useful during the Action Stage. This is the fast path to action for those who are already clear about their values and desires.

Collaboration with PARTS' Clinical Staff

This material can be used independently or in collaboration with the author and clinical staff of Psychological ARTS. If you choose to work independently, please feel free to modify the exercises and work with them as you see fit. To explore options for online collaboration please email the author, or call our office: (512) 343-8307.



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