The reality runs on cause-and-effect.  We are part of this reality.  We run on motive-and-behavior.  We run on reason-and-behavior.  After all, we reasonable, rational, sentient, sapient beings.  If we don’t have a reason (i.e. a motive) behind what we do, then whatever we are doing is mindless, meaningless, and reflexive.

Selflessness – as unmotivated behavior – is a psychologically-toxic myth.  A robot is selfless because it doesn’t have a self.  A human has a self, and this self makes choices, i.e. expresses preferences, i.e. moves towards wellbeing.  That’s how we operate.  That’s natural.  There’s nothing wrong with having a reason (i.e. motive) behind what you do.  We tend to struggle to acknowledge our motives in fear that you’ll be accused of selfishness.  But selfishness doesn’t have to be a bad word.  Selfishness* is simply a pursuit of well-being, an act of self-care.  It is our psycho-physiological imperative. 

Sure, we aren’t always conscious of our reasons and motives, but they are there.  We are just not in a habit of acknowledging them.  And, sure, sometimes, we just do things on autopilot.  If I hold the door for you, of course, I didn’t quickly calculate some kind of quid-pro-quo scheme, I’m just being an automaton of politeness.  My gesture is reflexive, conditioned: my self wasn’t really involved.  That’s not altruism or selflessness, that’s just mindlessness.

The fact of having a motive in and of itself isn’t the problem; the problem is when our motives benefit us at the expense of others’ wellbeing.  If you secretly took some work home because you want to do a really good job, it’s for you even if you are not going to get credit for it.  How’s that?  Well, if you made a choice, then you expressed a preference.  If you expressed a preference, then there was something preferable, i.e. desirable about it.

What could it have been, you might ask, and remind me that you weren’t even going to get credited for this?  Well, you tell me: you made a choice, you expressed preference!  What moved you to do so?  Maybe you thought you’d feel good knowing that you did the best job you could on this given task?  Or maybe you were interested in the project itself and welcomed the stimulation of the challenge?  But whatever the reason, one thing is clear: you had one.

To claim that you didn’t have a reason is to claim that you are an exception to this omnipresent reality of cause-and-effect.  But, of course, you are not: you have your reasons.  A reason is a motive.  If, for some reason, you like the word “reason” better than the word “motive,” then call your motives “reasons.”  What you call it is irrelevant: what’s relevant is that you acknowledge – at least to yourself – that whenever you make a choice, you are moving in the direction of your own wellbeing, that you are taking care of yourself.  Once again, there’s nothing wrong with that!  Therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid to want to feel good.

You shouldn’t have to sustain yourself on shoulds or hide your motives.  After all, a should is just another want.  So, why the charade?  Why not acknowledge your motives?

No need to cover up your motives: recovery of motivation begins with awareness of one’s motives.  Unmask a “should” to find a “want.”


*Selfishness can be “zero-sum” or “non-zero-sum;” in “zer0-sum” selfishness satisfaction of one’s needs comes at the expense of others’ needs; in “non-zero-sum” selfishness one’s need-satisfaction does not impinge on the wellbeing of the others (and possibly facilitates it); thus, the word “selfishness,” in and of itself, is not to be confused with “egotism” (which would be zero-sum type of self-serving behavior).



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    Last reviewed: 9 Jul 2011

APA Reference
Somov, P. (2010). It’s OK to Have a Motive. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2015, from


Select books by Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.:
Mindful Emotional Eating Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment

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