Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Death as a Motivating Factor

While reading through Chapter 2, I came across the term "unconscious motivation." Now, when I think of motivation, I usually think of things like buckling down to study for an upcoming test, so that I can get good grades in college, or taking as many business classes as possible in my free time so that I can own my own business in a few years, or waking up at six in the morning to work out at the gym. So, when I read unconscious motivation, I decided to look more into what exactly this means because, hey, I need all the help that I can get with motivating myself to work out at the crack of dawn and study instead of sleep.
However, when I googled the term, I came across a really interesting journal
article all about how mortality can be an unconscious or conscious motivating factor in one's life. The authors of this article basically say that people need self-esteem and faith in order to provide protection against a "deeply rooted fear" of death, which is an essential and ingrained characteristic of humans. These two needs motivate all forms of behavior.
There are two different types of defenses, proximal and distal. Proximal defense is when people are consciously aware of death lurking around the corner for them, so they find different ways to push it to the unconscious. This includes thinking one is indestructible or invincible, or exaggerating one's own health, and making the promises of eating healthier, working out more, quitting smoking, etcetera. Proximal defense addresses the problem not of death, but of being aware of death, and is characterized by a person denying his or her own vulnerability, or purposely removing the thought of death from his or her consciousness.
Distal defense is the category in which people who strongly believe in the cultural worldview fall under. Basically, adults understand that death is inevitable, but if they live up to all of the standards of their world view, their self-esteem is increased and there is a certain sense of safety from this. Striving to be a valuable member to a meaningful universe is what helps these believers cope with thoughts of death and dying. The article claims that thoughts of death are "on the fringes of consciousness...This implies that the pursuit of self-esteem and faith in the cultural worldview are driven by unconscious death-related thoughts."
In conclusion, I guess I am not sure if I should feel optimistic, or pessimistic after reading this article. It does not make me feel great to think that death is a motivating factor for me, and the avoidance thereof is what pushes me to do the things that I do, and make the decisions that I make. On the other hand, the authors of the article do claim that their reasoning for bringing these defenses to light is to help people find meaning in life and in themselves, and who wouldn't want that? Bottom line, however, I still need to find something to help motivate me to work-out and study productively.


  1. It sounds like you are very motivated. Nothing wrong with always striving for more but, give yourself more credit.