Hot-air Baloon

Ch-8: Rise Above Anxiety, Anger, and Depression

Mental Control Strategy 2: Harmony of Motives

Tom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
Send Feedback/Questions to:
You Can Choose To Be Happy:
Site dedicated to enhancing human happiness, self-development, and success
SITE MAP: All free Self-help resources includes online book, You Can Choose To Be Happy, and SHAQ

Photo of Dr Tom and Sherry Stevens
search index brief sitemap advanced site search
search engine by freefind
Chapter 8,  Part 3, from You Can Choose To Be Happy,  Tom G. Stevens PhD
Go to book Contents     Go to chapter contents  Go to Dr. Stevens' Home Page

Mental Control Strategy 2:

HARMONY of Motives:
Resolve conflicts to increase motivation

 Do you look forward to the activity? A measure of motivation
 Harmonious motivation versus conflicted motivation
 The first step to resolving motivational conflicts
 How resolving one inner conflict can affect many sitations
 How to convert guilt and obligation to genuine desire
 How to motivate yourself with positive (or negative) consequences
SUMMARY of: Mental Control Strategy 2:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand"--Abraham Lincoln

Have you ever noticed that after work on Monday you feel "too tired" to cook dinner or do the laundry? Yet after work on Friday you may have plenty of energy to go out for a fun evening and have fun until midnight. Where did all of this energy come from Friday that was not there Monday?

It came from your natural motivation and enthusiasm. It came from a harmony of motives that was present when you wholeheartedly wanted to go out and have fun Friday night. That energy was missing for doing the chores because you only partly wanted to do them. Another part of you was rebelling and refusing to cooperate. The result was a tired feeling that resulted from emotional underarousal--not physical tiredness. When you feel tired--but have not performed hard work--don't think, "I'm too tired" think, "I'm feeling underaroused (or mildly depressed)."

To function in the zone of harmonious functioning, we must have harmony of motives. It is one thing to set a goal or write something on a to-do list, and quite another to actually do it--or to do it well. We may feel too stressed or too apathetic.

You may try to force yourself to do it anyway. However, that little person inside yourself that you are trying to force may resent your dominating methods--and get more stubborn. The only way you can generate wholehearted enthusiasm is to treat that resistant part with empathy and love. Give it a voice in the final decision.

                                                            "Looking forward" to the activity or outcome

Harmonious positive anticipation means that our inner parts are in harmony looking forward to an activity. If we are dreading the activity because some part anticipates being understimulated, we will feel bored or depressed at the thought of doing it. If we are dreading the activity because some part is afraid of being overstimulated, overwhelmed, or injured, then we will feel an overarousal emotion like anxiety.

Mental states affect mental and physical energy levels. Positive anticipation stimulates our arousal systems--bodily systems that increase or decrease mental and physical energy. This is a biological process. Hormones such as adrenaline are released into our blood causing our nervous system to become more energized. We become more mentally alert, our heart and breathing rates increase, and our muscles get more prepared to exert force.

When we are thinking about doing something fun or interesting, then these expectations produce positive emotions that increase mental and physical energy. They increase both our mental alertness and our physical energy. They prepare us for functioning both mentally and physically in the zone. That is why we get more energy after work Friday looking forward to a fun night.

The "tiredness" we felt when thinking about doing the laundry was actually mild depression or unhappiness. This anticipation of being understimulated reduced both our mental and physical energy systems and we felt "tired." It is difficult to tell the difference between feelings of tiredness caused by negative expectations about an activity and genuine tiredness due to overexertion. Many people experience tiredness due to lack of interest so often and physical tiredness so infrequently, they completely confuse the two.

Another type of negative anticipation comes from anticipation of overstimulation. Anticipation of overwhelming or harmful situations causes emotions like anxiety or fear. This type of anticipation leads to too much arousal. Our heart, breathing, and thoughts may race at such a pace that we cannot relax, concentrate, and think clearly. Or, we may fear the outcome so much that we avoid an important task.

Return to beginning


Conflicted motivation is the waiter presenting me with a desert tray--filled with chocolate goodies-- when I am trying to watch my weight. It is looking at the clock and seeing that it is time to go play tennis when my writing has just begun to really flow. It is feeling romantic with Sherry in the morning and seeing that it is time to go to work.

During conflicted motivation we experience both positive and negative motivational forces toward doing the activity that we are attempting to focus on. We will attempt to perform the activity to the extent the positive forces outweigh the negative ones.

However, the stronger these negative forces are, the more we will experience mixed motivation and be unable to feel happy and perform at a peak level.

Harmony between our inner subparts increases harmonious functioning. When our internal subparts are in harmony with each other and all agree, then we feel a great deal of positive anticipation. In the examples above my inner parts did not agree. My "inner gourmet" was at odds with my "inner health-care specialist." My "inner writer" conflicted with my "inner tennis player." And my "inner lover" was upset with my "inner psychologist."

No matter which activity I choose, if I do not adequately cope with the feelings of the neglected part, then I will feel less positive anticipation. To the degree that there is unresolved conflict between two subparts, then I will not feel harmony and positive anticipation, I will feel loss of mental control and anxiety.

Return to beginning


When you feel a negative emotion and want to get control over it, the first step is to explore the emotion. Follow the emotion to the underlying issues--do not avoid it like many people do.

Taking time to self-explore creates more quality time and increases productivity. You may be thinking that you don't have time to take the extra time it takes to settle conflicts between your inner parts. However, the cost of conflicted motivation is not only feeling unhappy, but also significantly reducing performance. The same underlying issues will keep interfering with your life day after day, unless you put them to rest.

"Following our most intense emotions" can help us identify important, underlying life problems. Use the self-exploration method for following your most intense emotions to identify underlying issues, conflicts, and problems. You may have learned habits to avoid emotions and to avoid dealing with painful underlying problems. Self-explore now if you are working though a problem using this chapter as an emotional "repair" manual.

(1) Follow the strongest emotions (the hotter you get, the closer to the fire causing it).
(2) Accept these emotions and thoughts as natural.
(3) Accept yourself as "ok" for having the feelings and thoughts. (See self-esteem chapter).
(4) Explore the associated images, thoughts, and underlying conflicts and beliefs, and pay more attention to thoughts that generate the most intense emotions
 (5) Find new ways of resolving these problems. Use your Higher Self beliefs as your "Supreme Court" for resolving conflicts (Chapter 3).
==> Go to chapter 2 to review the self-exploration process in depth.

Return to beginning


One inner conflict can spread to many situations (or activities) and interfere with our harmonious functioning in all of them. Resolving one underlying conflict can increase harmony throughout our lives as the following example illustrates.

A common underlying conflict---"Work versus Play." When I was in graduate school, one of my greatest conflicts was between "work and helping others" and "play and having fun." Too often, when I worked, I felt resentment; and, too often, when I played, I felt guilty.

I explored the feelings of my inner "helper" and the feelings of my inner parts conflicting with it. My inner helper expected me to dedicate my whole life to my work. That "dedicate all my time" expectation was being reinforced by my peers and respected professors.

I explored my own philosophy of life and remembered my ultimate goal of happiness for myself and others. To be happy I knew I must listen to all parts of myself, find balance, and set limits on my work goals. My first attempt to resolve the problem was to divide my time between work and play.

My new rule of thumb was that I would work a maximum of about 50 hours per week (as efficiently as possible) to give what I could for others and provide an income for myself. That was all the time my achiever could have for work or impact on the world. The rest of the time I was free to focus on happiness for myself and my immediate family and friends.

I reached that agreement with myself many years ago. It has helped keep my work and personal life in balance, with very little conflict, every since. Lasting inner peace results from many such agreements between subparts.

Return to beginning


How often do you have a conflict between what you think you "should" or "must" do versus what you want to do? Many of us think we "have no choice" about a "should" or "must." "Shoulds" and "musts" usually come either from external authority figures or from internalized authority figures. Or they may come from commitments we refuse to question.

To replace "shoulds" focus on consequences (for maximizing happiness). How do we replace a "should" or "must" with an "I want to?" Examine the expected consequences of your decisions and their effects upon overall happiness for self and others. Examine each alternate course of action and its possible consequences. Then choose the alternative that you estimate will lead to the greatest overall happiness (over time).

In this way you are always doing what you want. You never a need to refer to the words "should" or "must." [See internal control chapter to get more internal control of "shoulds."] Choosing the alternative you believe will make you the happiest gives you natural motivation to do it. You don't need to force yourself to do it or beat yourself up if you don't do it.

Replace "shoulds" by reexamining old commitments. Sometimes a "should" can result from an old decision or commitment--such as a career choice, marriage, decision to attend college, or commitment to take care of someone. I have had many clients who felt "trapped" by such old commitments.

Others felt guilty because they couldn't force themselves to do something they no longer believed in or can't see the reason for. When they made the decision, they may have thought it was "forever," "irrevocable," or "'til death do we part." When we feel a decision is irrevocable, part of us may feel trapped--especially if things turn sour.

A different point of view maintains that life is a process of continually deciding. No decision is necessarily "permanent" for one's entire future. Conditions change and people change. It is impossible to predict the future and know what we will want in the future. "Permanent" commitments always have exceptions. (It is better to honestly state them before the commitment is made.) Even the Catholic Church recognizes some reasons for ending a marriage.

I know professionals who feel trapped by their jobs. I do not. Almost every year I make a "fresh" decision whether or not to stay in my current job. Once I consider all the alternatives and decide to stay, then I appreciate my job more. It is almost like having a new job.

Once we make a free choice to remain in our job or marriage after an honest comparison to the alternatives, then we feel a new sense of freedom and appreciation for that situation. We no longer feel we are doing it "without a choice" and we get a renewed sense of motivation to make the most of it.

We may choose to remain in a situation where there are "dire consequences" for leaving it--which we find too unacceptable. It may be tempting to say that we have "no choice" in order to avoid the responsibility for choosing to stay in a very unpleasant situation. However, saying that we have no choice subtly gives us a message that we are weak and powerless.

We still have many routes to happiness available within that situation. People who choose to remain in unhappy marriages or jobs can learn to be happy even in those situations. Think of Victor Frankl in the concentration camp when you think it is impossible to be happy in a situation. Instead, think of it as a creative challenge to your new ability to get mental control over your emotions.

Find the right balance to achieve harmony. We need balance between giving to others and giving to self, balance between short-term and long-term values, and balance between our different values and parts of ourselves.

Each must decide for ourselves what these optimal balance levels are ok for us. Some will focus more on ourselves; and others, more on helping other people. Some will focus more on the present; and others, more on the future. Too much imbalance can lead to problems. Aristotle thought that the key to wisdom and ethics was finding the "golden mean" between extremes.

Conscious and thoughtful attention to these different types of balance contributes to inner harmony, because we cannot really forget other people or our future needs. Parts of our mind constantly monitor other people's feelings and the future--whether we choose to focus on these issues or not. We can't hide from them, and we can't have inner peace without dealing with them.

What do you do when there is a direct conflict between what is good for you and what is good for others? Some questions to ask yourself include: Which action would create the greatest happiness in the world? How much happiness do I give up in return for how much happiness others receive? Who is most responsible for taking care of the problem? (I assume that each person is primarily responsible for their own happiness.)

Return to beginning


How do you motivate yourself to do something you don't like to do? If examining inner motives doesn't give you enough motivation, what can you do next? A great deal of research has shown that making positive consequences dependent upon the desired behavior can increase motivation.

Years ago in college, I made a deal with myself that if I were caught up with my homework by Wednesday nights, I could go to the special 25 cent "Wednesday Night Movie." Consequently, I studied furiously on Tuesdays and Wednesday afternoons.

We can use reinforcements such as pleasant activities, money, praise, privileges, tokens or points, freedom, responsibility, free time, or almost anything that we value. We can even make a formal contract with ourselves to change a regular habit. (Warning: under some circumstances artificial reinforcement contracts may "backfire" and reduce our motivation--especially if we feel we are being controlled by others or some "repressive" part of ourselves.)(2)

Tharp and Watson's classic book, Self-Directed Behavior Change details how to use these techniques. I studied with these authors and they impressed me with the insights of this approach. However, I have discovered that while understanding the principle of reinforcement is very important, I rarely explicitly use behavior modification contracts to change behavior. I have found that--for the clients I see--most problems are more effectively overcome by changing knowledge, beliefs, and other cognitive structures using the methods suggested in this book.

Nevertheless, behavior modification methods using reinforcement and punishment can be effective in many situations--especially with young children. Therefore, I will not describe these methods in detail, but refer you to their book if you are more interested.

Use negative consequences to decrease motivation. We can also use negative consequences (or punishments) to get ourselves to reduce or eliminate behaviors. Punishment-oriented behavior modification methods can also be helpful in certain situations. However, as a rule, negative consequences for undesired behaviors should be combined with positive consequences for alternate desired behaviors.

Use of punishment has several risks including stopping the self-change program or becoming self-abusive. If someone else administers the punishment, then punishment can lead to conflict and even dislike of the administrator.

Imagine natural consequences. In high school, Don had never seemed very motivated to work hard, be self-disciplined, or persist long at anything. Yet, suddenly, he began to run cross-country track for hours every day. I couldn't understand what motivated him and where he suddenly got such self-discipline. He said that he had decided he wanted to "letter" in track. When he got so tired he felt he would drop, he imagined a big "letter O" in front of him. He kept running to catch that letter "O." It worked--he finally caught that "O" when he lettered in track.

We can increase our motivation by imagining consequences. First, list all of the natural positive consequences of doing the desired behavior and all of the natural negative consequences of not doing it.

When you need to motivate yourself, vividly imagine one or more motivating consequences. You can use the same technique in reverse for getting yourself to stop doing something you want to stop doing. Using or imagining natural (positive and negative) consequences has few negative side-effects.

On the other hand, using artificial rewards or punishments occasionally has effects opposite those intended. Because we usually do not like arbitrary consequences and may feel controlled by them--even if we impose them upon ourselves. We usually feel less controlled knowing that imagined consequences are "real world" consequences--so they have more punch.

"Out of sight, out of mind"--overcoming delayed consequences. Many things we want in life are delayed or "out of sight." Therefore, they lose their power to motivate us. We are much more motivated to work the day before the deadline than a month before it. Use visualization techniques to clearly imagine positive and negative outcomes that are important to you and raise your emotional levels. Vivid visualization can bring you out of apathy more effectively than just talking to yourself. Use words and images.

PRACTICE: Recognize negative anticipation and convert it to more positive anticipation. (1) Think of situations in which your arousal is too low. From now on when you say that you are "too tired" to do something, try substituting "too depressed." Then if you still want to do it, think of ways to increase positive anticipation and decrease negative anticipation.

(2) Explore your reluctant inner parts and give attention to their concerns. Find underlying common themes or issues--such as the "work versus play" issue. Make new agreements to make "win--win" solutions between the conflicting parts.

(3) Visualize natural consequences. If you are still having trouble, you may want to use reinforcements to increase your incentive.

(4) Similarly, think of some situations where you think your arousal is too high for optimal motivation. If you are faced with too high arousal from anxiety or anger, use self-exploration and other methods herein to resolve underlying conflicts.

SUMMARY: Mental Control Strategy 2: HARMONY of Motives,

If you feel apathetic or dread an important activity,
self-explore to find the source of the inner conflicts
between the parts that want to do it and those that don't.
To resolve these conflicts,
refer to your highest values (such as overall happiness, truth, and balance)
to strike bargains between your inner parts.
Techniques such as visualizing or modifying consequences can also help.
Resolving one underlying conflict can make life happier in many situations.
Return to beginning
Go to next section of Chapter 8


2. See Eisenberger and Cameron (1996) for a research review of how "artificial"rewards increase or decrease the intrinsic rewards of an activity.


The BOOK (free download): Go to Contents of Dr. Stevens'  book,  You Can Choose To Be Happy: "Rise Above" Anxiety, Anger, and Depression.

FREE SELF-HELP materials available on this web site (click here to see list)  

  How to ORDER You Can Choose To Be Happy  

Success and Happiness Attributes Questionnaire (SHAQ)  to assess self on many factors  including HQ-Happiness Quotient 

Email feedback to Dr. Stevens I welcome your comments about my web site or any of its contents.           

Self-Help and other resources on this website (and site map)

Web site created and maintained by: Tom G. Stevens PhD Psychologist-Faculty Emeritus,
California State University, Long Beach Counseling and Psychological Services.
URL of this web site:

Return to Dr. Stevens' Home Page

Copyright 2021 Tom G. Stevens PhD