The Secret Drive of Behavior

by | Jul 1, 2022 | Neuroscience

Motivation[1] is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. It is what causes you to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge. Motivation involves the biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that activate behavior. ( – Apr 27, 2020)

This explains why a person does something.  It’s a simple statement but underlying its simplicity is the complicated dynamics of a person’s history filled with the biases of one’s culture and personality.

This means that a person’s behaviors are nuanced by his (hers) different styles and cultures of why he does something, making it undoubtedly difficult, if not impossible, to truly know the motivation for a person’s behaviors.

The key concept in the relationship between motivation and behavior is the underlying reality of unconscious biases.  Generally, behavior is unconscious; the more we do something, the less we think about what we are doing and possibly why we are doing it.  This is the advantage of having a habit-forming center in our brain called the basal ganglia, lodged in the middle of the brain and guides our habitual activities. Since it is “ganglia”, a plural word for many nerve systems, it does all kinds of things, but basically, it controls our habitual movements to make them almost automatic. A detailed article on this brain organ is here.

We have, therefore, two processes of behavior going on: the habitual, automatic activities and the deliberate, thought-through activity of planned behavior.  In between those two processes is a rainbow of varied behaviors with myriad motivations.  However, most behaviors are motivated by unconscious biases, of which there are over 200.

How do we control all our behaviors?  Eminent psychologists like Deepak Chopra encourage mindfulness – Mindfulness is the practice of filling our minds with the present, moment by moment.[2] Most psychologists strongly recommend meditation as the foundation of mindfulness and control of one’s biases.

Take-away: Understanding why we behave the way we do demands a life-long effort to stay mindful, and aware of our motivations throughout life.