Knowing Yourself

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.


 —  Aristotle

Oscar Wilde noted that the only difference between a whim and a solemn vow is that the whim lasts a little longer. Most people do not appreciate the complexities of exercising will and so attribute their failures to weakness, evilness, or general defectiveness. To add insult to injury, the conflict that produced the capitulation was often not that great.

It means one thing to violate your commitment because the desire to do so was overwhelming. However, if you violate your commitment in the absence of such an overwhelming desire it suggests that there was little motivation to resist the temptation at the moment of the first lapse. Most relapses are in this category.

In contrast to how much people want to prevail during other conflicts  — e.g., games, legal battles, arguments over who is right  — some people give in without much fight in the conflict between their Core Motivation to act in accord with their interests, principles, and commitments, and the motivation to get the immediate payoff of using the incentive [Incentive Motivation]. One explanation for this puzzling capitulation in the absence of strong conflict is that Core Motivation was not salient during the moment of decision.

To act in accord with your interests and principles, you must be aware of them at the critical moments of decision. This, and the following pages are dedicated to researching your Core Values and how they effect you motivation at any given moment. This research will help you appreciate the true nature of motivational conflict, and what stakes are riding on the outcome.


Values are the criteria you use to appraise the desirability of the options available to you  — the most important of these evaluative criteria are your Core Values.

"Core” is the important word. It refers to that which is central, innermost, or vital. Among all the criteria by which you appraise goals and the choices available to you, some stand out as the core of what you believe, and who you want to be. Importantly, these values remain constant regardless of local conditions. Unlike the state-dependent motivation of the biological creature you inhabit, the motivation to act in accord with your values applies everywhere, at all times.

Your rank ordering of what you want when you are in your right mind is your Ideal Hierarchy of Motives. Your greatest desire, what you want more than anything else is listed first, followed by the second most important motivation, and then the third.

Your Actual Hierarchy of Motives may differ from your ideal. If I wanted to discover the most effective motivation, I would not ask you. You would probably offer your Ideal Hierarchy as your answer. Instead, I would observe your behavior, and deduce how you rank different motivations by observing how you chose to spend your time, what you sacrificed to get what, what you did when you were free to do anything you wanted, etc.

There is an important distinction between nominal and effective motives. Core Motivation can be a powerful or a trivial driver of action, depending upon your state of mind. Outcome depends upon how effective your Core Motivation is during moments of conflict. Increasing the salience of your Core Motivation so that it is the effective driver of your actions during high-risk situations is the intended byproduct of the work you do in the Contemplation Stage.

Distinction between values and motives: A subtle, but noteworthy, difference: Values refer to appraisal criteria whereas motives refer to a psychological force that attracts or repels you from an incentive. Of the two, Core Values are more basic in that most people use their core values to rank order their motives to develop their hierarchy. Moreover, because values are abstract they are more resistant to state-dependent distortions.

The Values Clarification Worksheet

To follow your path of greatest advantage you have to know what you want and how you appraise the choices available to you. Perhaps you acted counter to your interests in the past, because you did not fully appreciate what they were, or they were not sufficiently salient to influence your choices during moments of great stress or temptation. The Values Clarification Exercises on this page are designed to help you explore your values and motivations.

Values as Appraisal Criteria

Values and Motives are similar: For example, I want to be honest [motivation], so I appraise my actions in terms of honesty [values]. However, in practice they are not perfectly matched: For example, I appraise industriousness highly, but I'd rather get high than work hard. Exploring how you appraise your actual motivation can shed some light on what is important to your Core.

Below is a list of criteria by which you may evaluate others or yourself. For example you may disparage a person because he is dishonest or thinking highly of a person because she is moral or commands respect. [Note, this list is certainly not exhaustive, please add others that are important to you].

Sample List of Values

  • Honesty - Consistently seeking and speaking the truth
  • Morality - To do what is morally right.
  • Spiritual - Acting in accord with spiritual or religious principles
  • Respect - To be respected by self, and others,
  • Compassion - Showing care and kindness for others
  • Courage - Standing up for your convictions with determination
  • Fairness - Good and bad outcomes distributed without favoritism or prejudice
  • Industriousness - Putting forth efforts to achieve what is important to you
  • Connectedness - Having useful and warm social connections
  • Adventure - Willingness to participate in activities that involve risk
  • Service - Doing good deeds that benefit others
  • Aesthetic - Living beautifully [Using aesthetic appraisal criteria]
  • Hedonic - Striving for pleasure or relief
  • Obedience - Motivation to do as you are told
  • Conforming - Motivation to fit in with external standards, or be part of a group

To research the motives that have been effective in driving your actions in the past, consider how you have spent your time and attention.

Actual Hierarchy of Motives

The first section of the The Values Clarification Worksheet is labeled, Actual Hierarchy of Motives. You can determine which motives are most important to you by observing how you use your time and energy. Considering the choices you make, the payoffs you chase, and the sacrifices you make to chase them, what do you deduce is most important to you, second most important, and third most important? Is a lot of your time and energy focused on earning money, pleasure seeking, cultivating friendships? List the three highest in order of importance under the heading: Actual Hierarchy of Motives.

To develop an Ideal Hierarchy Motives consider your ideals and what you know about your interests and principles. If you were always in your "right mind," what would be your highest motivation, second, and third?

Ideal Hierarchy of Motives

What objective is most worthy of your time and attention? What omission would you regret the most? Choose three that best represent your interests and principles  — the motivations that you want to guide your actions — and rank order them from the most important to the third most important. Write them out under the heading: Ideal Hierarchy of Motives.

We are now going to use this Ideal Hierarchy to explore the values that led you to rank them this way.

Core Values

To identify your Core Values, consider the criteria you used to rank order the motives on your ideal hierarchy. What does your ranking say about your core values? Can you attribute the Hierarchy of Motives you composed to three or fewer appraisal criteria that reflect what you value as most important?

Please identify them in descending order of importance under the Core Values heading on the The Values Clarification Worksheet .

The Declarations Worksheet

Your experience of the Contemplation Stage can help you develop tools that you will find useful during the Action Stage. The Declarations Worksheet will help you crystallize:

  1. Your Core Motivation [Core Values and Hierarchy of Motives].

  2. Your beliefs pertaining to your relationship with the addictive incentive.

  3. Your Decision.

1. Declaration of Core Motivation

Review your Actual and Ideal Hierarchies carefully. One was created by your Rational Processing System, the other by the cause-and-effect principles that influence the creature you inhabits.

You may use the single box to compose a statement of your Core Motivation. For example: "Fulfilling my responsibilities as a husband and a dad is more important to me than all the payoffs I get from drinking alcohol."

Alternatively you may specify your most important values and motives in the boxes provided.

2. These Are My Beliefs

In this section, write out specific statements that will remind you of your motivation to act in accord with your interests and principles. They can be stated as benefits of doing the right thing or as penalties for doing the wrong thing. [Research suggests that early in the change process, reminding the self of penalties of relapse are most influential. Later, once you start getting some of the payoffs of success, imagery of the benefits of following your path of greatest advantage become more influential].

  • I want to be a positive role model for my children
  • Using the incentive causes pain to my family and myself
  • I will be able to get in touch with my true feelings if I don’t numb out by using the incentive
  • I will never fulfill my hopes and dreams if I go back to using.
  • My physical health will improve if I stay clean
  • If I continue to use I will lose everything
  • Exercising my will to resist temptation strengthens me
  • I want a wife and family more than I want transient payoff of using the incentive.
  • If I continue my addiction I will die without experiencing what I really want.

3. Draft of Your Decision

Decision is the critical moment in the exercises of will. Your Decision declares what you intend to do. For example, "I will be abstinent from cocaine." Once you make your decision, you must follow it without exception. So it is important that you think through and word your decision carefully. You are not quite at the point where you must declare your decision. This draft is an opportunity to brainstorm what decision would be best for you, and to try out different ways of wording it. During the Decision Stage you will make a formal declaration of your Decision.

The Contemplation Stage is complete when you are ready to Decide

The Contemplation Stage lasts as long as it takes you to appreciate your Core Motivation. The Decision Stage marks the boundary between contemplation and action. In fact you have a decision to make now: If you are ready to complete the Contemplation Stage by declaring you Decision —  and accepting the implicit "No Exceptions" clause , please click here; to do more personal research, follow the default path to Contemplation Exercises.


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