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Clues of Motivation

article identity motivation Mar 05, 2024

One of the most frequent conversations I’ve had over the past two decades has been around this question: What do I do to figure out what to do? I had the same question, so I’m not surprised by how often it comes up. There isn’t even one class over years and years of school where we’re given any insight or knowledge on tackling that central question. And yet, it’s the most pressing question in life. 

There are a lot of different ways to approach the question. Just Google search it, and you’ll see. You probably have your ideas and advice for how someone should address it based on your experience and perspective. 

One of the most helpful concepts comes from the study of motivation. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to complete an assessment offered by my previous employer. The assessment and coaching that came with it was a part of a longer process to assess my abilities for a management position. The test was called the SIMA (System for Identifying Motivated Abilities), and I was prompted to recall stories from my past where I was proud of my accomplishments. The test had me list what I did to contribute to that achievement and then describe why I felt like the moment was so fulfilling. I recorded several such stories, going back to elementary school. I turned in my responses and waited to hear what they thought. 

And that’s when the magic happened. 
The people who developed the SIMA did so in 1961 and have used it in various cases to help people identify and organize their lives around their core motivations. As they put it, it’s “a proprietary, non-psychological, qualitative process for clearly identifying a person’s innate giftedness—their motivated strengths, interests, contextual circumstances, preferred roles, and motivational drives.” In short, they look for threads of commonality between the stories that you recall, searching for a unique fingerprint of motivation that only you have. 

When I finally met with my SIMA assessor, I reluctantly did so. I had developed a cynical attitude towards personality assessments since I had knowingly gamed them throughout high school and college to skew my results in the direction of finance and accounting. But I was quickly converted. With a brief preamble to the assessment, they dove into my results and revealed things about me that I had never shared with anyone before. They knew things about me that were so deep down I’m not even sure I had seen the connections myself. And they were spot on. 

If you have an interest, no pun intended, I’d encourage you to take the assessment yourself. I also believe that doing the exercise on your own and with a friend would help immensely, too. Here’s how it works:

  • Step One: Recall an accomplishment you’re proud of from your past. 
  • Step Two: Describe what you did to contribute to that accomplishment. 
  • Step Three: Write (and/or talk) about what makes that memory fulfilling and satisfying to you. 
  • Step Four: Recall a few more stories using the same three steps above, and search for themes and threads that connect. Asking two or three people you trust to help you could be a game-changer, too. 

Once you discover your motivational themes, you’re onto clues about your unique wiring that can be the key to unlocking clarity for what to do with your life. 


P.S. What if there was a way to get the best resources to impact the kids in your life—delivered to you at the right time?
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