The Mystery of Motivation: Why We Do What We Do


  • Helping others is driven by 3 prime motivations: to prove ourselves (Hornevian Assertive style), to connect (Harmonic Collaborative style), and to keep the peace (Harmony Reflective style).
  • But if we rely on others for validation, it can backfire and lead to resentment and frustration.
  • The key to healthy helping is focusing on the joy of giving and mutual growth while respecting boundaries and fostering communication.
  • Like a good orchestra, everyone contributes best when motivated by genuine passion, not external pressures.

 “Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”
― John Steinbeck

In our daily interactions, we often meet individuals who radiate kindness and care, going out of their way to help others. Perhaps you see yourself in this description?

Understanding the psychological drives behind our actions and those of others is most revealing. Let's explore these motivations and how they shape our behaviour.

Three Primordial Motivational Drives

Psychologists have identified three key motivational drives that influence our social interactions:

  1. Hornevian Assertive Drive - a tendency to move against others.
  2. Harmonic Collaborative Drive - a tendency to move toward others.
  3. Harmony Reflective Drive - a tendency to move away from others.

These drives can lead to positive actions, but dissonance occurs when we seek external validation for internal needs. This imbalance can lead to resentment, frustration, and burnout.

The Hornevian Assertive Drive: Taking Charge

Imagine a conductor leading an orchestra with a focus on achieving a flawless performance. This personality style is adept at persuading and inspiring others, thriving on challenges and conflict. They are motivated by a desire for excellence and mastery, using their competence to build self-esteem.

For example, a Hornevian-driven mentor might guide a colleague, deriving satisfaction from recognition of their skills and the challenge of mentorship.

Off-Key Note: When driven by unmet needs for security and self-worth, these individuals may mentor critically, focusing on proving their expertise rather than tailoring guidance to their colleagues' needs. This can leave colleagues feeling undervalued and mentors frustrated when recognition is lacking.

Re-tuning: Focus on the intrinsic joy of learning and growth. Ensure mentorship is a two-way street, where both parties benefit from the exchange of perspectives.

The Harmonic Collaborative Drive: Seeking Common Ground

Picture a group of singers blending their voices in perfect harmony. This drive reflects a craving for connection and belonging, with actions aimed at strengthening social bonds and cultivating community.

For instance, a neighbour offering to help with groceries might be motivated by this drive, enjoying the social interaction and sense of community support.

Off-Key Note: When motivated by unmet needs for validation and acceptance, these individuals may overextend themselves, neglecting their own needs and feeling drained. They might become overly invested in others' lives, leading to resentment.

Re-tuning: Build genuine connections without becoming overly attached to outcomes. Offer help while respecting others' boundaries, fostering camaraderie without smothering independence.

The Harmony Reflective Drive: Fostering Understanding

Driven by a desire for social harmony and smooth relationships, this 'mediator' personality style excels at making others feel accepted and valued. They prioritize peace and order, often avoiding conflict and maintaining a calm environment.

Consider a friend intervening in a disagreement at work. Their motivation might stem from the Harmony drive, aiming to create a peaceful environment for everyone involved.

Off-Key Note: When the desire for peace leads to people-pleasing, underlying issues may be overlooked, creating long-term resentment. The once-joyful act of helping can become a burden, leading to passive-aggressive behaviour.

Re-tuning: Focus on facilitating healthy communication and conflict resolution. Encourage open expression of perspectives, promoting sustainable peace and strengthening communication skills.

Finding the Right Notes: Fulfilling Our Needs Healthily

A healthy social symphony requires all instruments to play in harmony. By understanding our motivational drives and addressing our needs in a balanced way, we can create a more supportive and fulfilling environment for ourselves and those around us.

Conclusion: Next time you reach out to help, ensure your motivation is genuine, not driven by a need for validation or control. After all, the most beautiful music is created when everyone plays their part with passion and joy.

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Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical or psychological advice. Please consult with a qualified healthcare professional for personalized guidance.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko:

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