How to turn conflicts into opportunities to strengthen your relationships

I am continuously on the lookout for skills that are so rare in our modern world, yet so useful, that they can be called "superpowers." Thus far, I've identified three such skills:

In this article, we'll explore another "superpower", one closely related to the above. This is the ability to skillfully resolve conflict in relationships.

This third and final article was developed largely from information found on The Gottman Institute website. The first article discusses the importance of understanding other people's "bids for connection," i.e., identifying and responding effectively to their spoken or unspoken, conscious or unconscious, requests to us for support.In my opinion, the first is the most important. If we maintain a full emotional bank account by responding often and positively to the other person's bids (requests for support), serious conflicts will be less likely to develop. This article may be most useful when the relationship is not strong or the issue is potentially divisive.

The second article sprang up from the great wealth of information I uncovered at about how to deal with conflict. In this article, we'll discuss how to apply the principles and frameworks we discussed in that one.

To do so, we're going to build on those frameworks. Next, we'll look at an example of a potential conflict and see how we can use what we've learned to produce better outcomes. But first, let's start by reversing the mistaken beliefs I listed in my last post.

Flip the script

Belief #1: I should never ever feel hurt by someone who cares about me.

Fact: There will be times when I feel hurt by those who care about me. This does not mean they intend to harm me. I should feel free to ask them to stop or to take a break for a while. But if I can avoid getting overwhelmed by what another person says or does, I'll have the chance to address it in a productive way.I like the way Peter Bregman worded it: "If you have that hard conversation, you might have to feel their anger or you're hurting them or shame, or that weird passive-aggressive thing that happens when you give someone feedback and they go, thank you so much. I really appreciate that. And then they don't talk to you for three weeks. Like you have to be willing to feel that stuff. And if you're willing to feel everything, if you're willing to feel the shame and the embarrassment and the anger and the path, if you're willing to feel everything, you can do anything. ... someone said to me recently, I don't want to hurt you. And my answer was, hurt me. Like, that's okay. I could be hurt. Like, it's okay for you to hurt me. I don't, I don't need to live a life in which I don't get hurt. I'll be responsible for that. If you're hurting me too much, I might tell you to go away. Right. But it's okay, we're going to hurt each other in this world. And so to be able to not let that overwhelm us, but to actually be able to engage in conversation around it, it feels like it's the most important thing."

Belief #2: It is my duty to be brutally honest.

On the other hand, that doesn't mean that I should feel free to hurt the other person. If I am gentle and patient with them, I will be more effective. Being "brutally honest" will always do more harm than good (unless the other person has the superpower of accepting criticism, which is highly unlikely). I'm hurting both the relationship and my chances of achieving my goals.

Belief #3: I shouldn't talk about how I feel. It will only make things worse.

Fact: My feelings about the situation are very important. But I need to recognize that the other person is not responsible for my feelings and emotions. Before I can have a meaningful conversation with the other person, I need to have a handle on my emotions. In understanding what I'm feeling and why, I can express this in a non-threatening way to the other person, and this will move the relationship forward.For an example of just how powerful this step can be, see How Being Nuanced with Your Emotions Enhances Your Well-Being: An Interview with Susan David, Ph.D, Part II. Susan David asked a man one question that had such a powerful effect, his wife later said, "I don’t know what you said to my husband, but it has completely changed the relationship."

Belief #4: The world will end unless I get my way.

I may feel very strongly about how the situation will turn out. But I should not fool myself into thinking I know everything. There are probably many ways to solve this problem that I haven't considered. The obvious solution to any problem is often not the best. Our relationship will be stronger if we approach this problem as a team and put my own desired solution on hold for now.

Belief #5: I know what's going to happen.

I should take time to consider my objections to the other person's position. Am I just annoyed, or am I truly fearful that something terrible will happen? Before talking to the other person, try to list all the possible outcomes that you fear. (While you're at it, try to think of good outcomes as well.) How likely are these outcomes? Be prepared to talk about your fears openly.

Belief #6: I know exactly why I want this.

Think about possible reasons why you want to see or avoid seeing a certain outcome so badly. Has something from your childhood manifested itself in this new situation? Has an old insecurity risen to the surface?Find more exercises like this on at the following pages: What are Your Core Beliefs and Needs? (and why it’s important to identify them)Assignment: Turning Towards, and The Workplace: How Your Past Influences Your Connections with Coworkers.

Let's make a plan

Let's put together what we've learned and create a step-by-step plan for solving problems.

  • Start with yourself:
    • Uncover the fundamental complaint. What is really at issue?
    • Recognize the emotions:
      • What impact does this have on me? What do I feel as a result of the other person's actions or inactions?
      • What other emotions are hiding beneath the big one?
      • What do these emotions tell me about my needs? Where does this come from?
  • Have a brainstorming session by yourself. First, list as many options as you can think of for solving the problem.
  • Now try to view from the other person's perspective.
  • Ask, what do I know about their view of the issue?
    • What do I not know?
    • Do they recognize that it's a problem?
    • What are the positives I know?
    • What are the possibilities that are positive?
  • What is the most direct way to express my need?
    • What makes it difficult for me to do so?
    • What am I afraid of?

Now, ask yourself, How can I give the other person some control over the conversation? (Where, when, and how) How could I frame it in a way that it will matter to them?

It's only at this point that you're fully prepared to bring up the touchy subject. But let's have a practice session first.

Putting it into practice

Let's use this to constructively decompose a complaint we might have against a friend or partner.

Using these principles can also be helpful when we are on the receiving end of a complaint. (In that case, the other three superpowers discussed above will be most helpful.)

I am using an example from Gottman's website. Let's analyze the problem and see how the steps above can help us.

Imagine you are disappointed that the person who used to take time to do adventurous things with you has been so busy lately and has put you off when you express interest in doing it again. The following is an ineffective way to resolve the issue:

"We never do anything fun anymore. I feel like you don’t care about having adventures with me like you used to.”

What are the unsaid messages?

This is the complaint hidden in the message: "I miss going on adventures with you."

Which emotions are present?

Perhaps I'm feeling disappointed. Since then, life has not been as enjoyable as it once was. I might be feeling frustrated, especially if this is not the first time I've raised this issue. Maybe I feel jealous because you are doing things with other friends and not with me. There's a possibility I feel angry as well. 

What do these emotions tell me?

You matter to me and I want to spend time with you. It's possible that I feel insecure because my other friends seem to be having more fun than me. Maybe I don't have any other friends. Maybe I'm worried about never experiencing the same good times again. It might be that I was abandoned by someone I cared about in the past, and this is triggering those feelings.

What are the alternatives? It's time to brainstorm.

Here are just a few. You can probably think of many more:

  • I could do fun things with other friends.
  • If someone is too busy to spend time with me, I could offer to help them with whatever is keeping them from doing so.
  • Perhaps my behavior has made them less likely to want to spend time with me lately.
  • We might be able to do adventurous things on a smaller scale than before. Sometimes life gets in the way.
  • Is it possible to experience the feelings of adventure and connection we felt at the time in other ways? 
How does the other person view the situation?

Be careful not to assume things about the other person that you don't know for sure.

In this situation, what do I know? Here's what I know for sure:

  1. I enjoy doing fun things with them.
  2. In the past, they enjoyed doing fun things with me.

Where's the positive there? They enjoyed spending time with me in the past, so they probably will again.

Expressing the first point makes me vulnerable. What if they no longer want to spend time with me?

At least I will know if that's the case. I could then look for other friends. (This is where self-esteem is important.) Even if my efforts bear no results, I will know one thing: By expressing myself the right way, I won't be pushing them away from spending time with me. There won't be any reason for me to feel guilty about it.

What will expressing this accomplish? It will show them I care. It's possible they weren't sure I still wanted to do fun things.

What else is possible? Most likely they will explain why they can't do it. Maybe we can come up with ways to solve these problems together.

Is it possible they want to do those things with me just as much as I do? In what way can I demonstrate my positive view of the situation and their willingness to act?

If they seem unwilling, try to find out why. Is it possible they are battling their own emotional issues in relation to this issue? What can you do to draw them out and listen to what they have to say?

Ask yourself:

  • Have I mentioned this before? If so, how effective was I? Did it come across as an attack? Did I bring it up at the wrong time? Are they aware of how important it is to me?
  • Have they responded negatively?
    • What do I know about their reaction? Is their initial reaction simply defensive, or are they completely resistant to change?
    • Am I assuming they are doing this on purpose?
    • Are there external factors influencing their behavior? 

The conversation

Now that you've thought this through, it's much less likely you'll say or do something that will worsen the situation. Your outlook is optimistic, and you're feeling confident that you can handle this and that the other person will respond at some point.

Right now the best question is, can I let this issue go? What exactly is it costing me? After considering your own needs and triggers, as well as putting yourself in the other person's shoes, you may realize it's not such a big deal after all. Be sure not to skip this step. When you forgive and move on, you can prevent many conflicts. Perhaps you even thought of something positive you could compliment them on. Your emotional bank account will grow as a result.

If you still feel you must make an issue of the problem, use the gradual escalation method. Start small. Remember to always treat the relationship more seriously than the issue.

Start with the positive. Talk about why you care.

Stop at the first sign of resistance. Avoid fighting.

The next time you have a good opportunity to bring it up, ask if they've thought about it. Then listen. Don't defend yourself.

Be vulnerable. Explain why this is important to you. Try to limit your discussion of emotions to "I" statements. "I feel like we never do anything fun anymore. It's been so long since we spent time together, and I miss it. I'm feeling frustrated because I want to do it and it seems like you don't."

If the issue is sensitive to the other person, you may want to ask if they are willing to discuss solutions. This step may take a lot of time and patience. Listen carefully to what they are saying and revisit the subject many times if necessary.

When deciding between options, don't look for the best one. Find the one that both of you are most likely to follow through on. This is what Bregman calls a "level 10 plan."

More practice

Here are some more scenarios where conflict can occur. Apply the process above to think about what you would say and what you would do in each situation. Then check your answers on Gottman's website.

  • Your spouse hasn't even offered to help you with the housework for weeks. It's exhausting, and they haven't acknowledged your efforts.
  • You frequently cannot reach the other person when you call.
  • When the other person comes home from work, he or she always wants to talk about their day and never asks about yours.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Playing an instrument well might win you some acclaim, but learning how to resolve conflict effectively may earn you something even more valuable: A lifetime of relationships that pay high dividends.

Understand basic needs and learn how to communicate to reduce conflicts

A man's needs are few. The simpler the life, therefore, the better. Indeed, only three things are truly necessary in order to make life happy: the blessing of God, the benefit of books, and the benevolence of friends. ― Thomas Chalmers

Chalmers may have oversimplified somewhat, but he's on to something. In order to survive, we need food, clothing, and shelter. To thrive, we need relationships.

Just as finding food, clothing, and shelter are not simple tasks, maintaining thriving relationships is not easy. Since we all have different personalities and goals, conflicts are inevitable. Of course, some relationships involve more conflict than others. John Gottman and his colleagues tried to identify the most important causes of interpersonal conflict. What did they discover? 

Was it:

  • Finances?
  • Sex?
  • Parenting?
  • Dealing with difficult in-laws?

No, they discovered that the number one thing couples fight about is:


Gottman says 69% of the issues couples fight over are impossible to resolve.

Does that mean we should give up and devote our lives to a never-ending quest to find a "soulmate" we are 100% compatible with?

No. The surface issues in the conflicts did not cause the disputes. Without even realizing it, most were fighting over the failure to connect emotionally.

Gottman and his team realized couples' real arguments were about how one partner may not pay attention to the other's concerns or may not show much interest in the things that their partner cares about.

Underneath all fights for control are deeper questions of:

“Can I really trust that we are a team? That you will stand up for me to the rest of the world above all else? Do you really, truly GET me? Will you still love me, even if I completely disagree?”

Let's revisit our basic needs analogy. Getting food, clothing, and shelter is not just a matter of standing in line. But for most of us, these aren't complicated issues. To acquire the means to buy the things we need, we find work. Then we buy and maintain them. It's not rocket science.

Can we put our relationship needs in such simple terms?

What do we need for our relationships to thrive?

Almost immediately after publishing last week's post, I had an epiphany. We recognize and assert our need for two things from the time we are very young:

  1. We need to belong.
  2. We need control over our environment.

As I was preparing this week's article the idea came to me to compare these two needs with what we most need in a job or career.See my article on the subject for the results of a meta-study involving 15,000 nurses. The question was: What factors are most strongly linked to job satisfaction?

The article this week is a continuation of my research from the previous week, so I will draw heavily from articles found on John Gottman's website.Or more accurately, The Gottman Institute website. I highly recommend the article The Secret to a Meaningful Life is Meaningful Relationships, by Emily Esfahani Smith. The brief story she tells of a man who buys a newspaper from a street vendor demonstrates well how bids for connection affect every relationship we have, from life partners to momentary daily interactions with strangers.

However, what really struck me about the article is that it answered a question I've had for a long time: What does it mean to have a sense of belonging?

According to Smith, people feel like they belong when they are valued by each other. If others think you matter and treat you like you matter, then you believe you matter, too. Also, it means you have frequent pleasant interactions with people.

Let's go back to the list of the most important things we need from a job: Organizational commitment (the worker's feeling of attachment to the organization), communication with supervisor, autonomy, recognition, routinization (how routine the work is), communication with peers, fairness, and locus of control.

Let's look at how they relate to the two basic needs I mentioned above. Organizational commitment, communication with supervisors and peers, recognition, and fairness are all related to a sense of belonging, that is, being treated as if we matter. Autonomy and locus of control are both related to being in control of our environment.We also need variety so things don't get boring. How does this fit into our basic needs? First, I made a stop at Wikipedia and found: "There are three types of boredom, all of which involve problems of engagement of attention. These include times when humans are prevented from engaging in wanted activity, when humans are forced to engage in unwanted activity, or when people are simply unable for some other reason to maintain engagement in an activity." In all three cases, the word engagement appears in some form. What does engagement entail? Investopedia says, "Engaged employees care about their work and about the performance of the company, and feel that their efforts make a difference." Aha, we get bored when we feel like nothing we do is making a difference. That seems to me to be connected with both the need to belong and the need for control. What do you think? This strengthens my conviction that all of our relationship needs are based on these two basic requirements.

Whenever we find ourselves at odds with another individual, it is most likely because we both feel one or both of those needs aren't being met.

What is the best way to deal with the situation?

Perhaps the best approach is simply to ask ourselves which underlying need is at issue. We might even try asking the other person this question.A few years ago, a therapist introduced me to a very effective way of asking this question. She suggested phrasing it like this: "How can I care for you?"

There are times when the simplest way does not work. That's why we're going to look at two frameworks that can help resolve and reduce conflicts.

Two frameworks for conflict resolution

I call this one the Gottman framework:

  1. Consider the possibility that both of you are right. You can probably work out a way to get what you both want out of the situation.
  2. Try to trace the roots of the problem. There must be something important that you both feel so strongly about and that usually stems from your childhood. Discuss what old traumas have resurfaced.
  3. Don't feel the conflict needs to be resolved immediately. During this time, agree to disagree while reaffirming the relationship's importance in other ways.
  4. Take the first step toward showing vulnerability. Let your guard down a little and talk about what you find difficult. Be gentle when the other person follows your lead.
  5. Look for similarities and build on them.
  6. Stop pushing your own solution and watch other solutions slowly emerge.
  7. Return to step one and make sure you keep talking and listen even more. Once you both feel that you understand one another, you will be ready to move forward.

In the past week, I discovered Peter Bregman and his new book. It begins with an intriguing premise. Bregman says:

“You can’t change other people, you can only change yourself.” It’s a truism. Only it’s not true.

Even though we can't force a person to change, we can help them make changes, especially if we help them see the benefits of making the changes.

The following is my interpretation of Bregman's framework for dealing with difficult interpersonal issues:

  1. Ask for their permission and let them control where, when, and how you communicate.
  2. Approach the person as an ally. Share ownership of the problem with them instead of offering solutions. 
  3. Show empathy. Validate their feelings. Seek to understand what bothers them about the issue and offer to assist in finding a solution.
  4. Show confidence in their ability to resolve the issue.
  5. Look for outcomes that you both will be satisfied with. Focus on what could be better, and dwell on the benefits of getting there.
  6. You might be able to identify something in the undesirable behavior that you can focus on to move you in the direction of the desired outcome.
  7. Focus on finding creative and unexpected ways to get from the problem to the desired outcome.
  8. Work with both sides to plan a strategy you can both follow through on.
  9. Don't rush them. Provide the conditions in which they feel safe enough to challenge themselves, then stand back. When it’s about you, and not them - they’ll know it and you’ll stop being effective.

I'm excited about the similarities and complementary features that each of these frameworks offers. Both appeal to the basic needs of belonging and control.

Beliefs that make it difficult to resolve conflicts

  • I should never ever feel hurt by someone who cares about me.
  • It is my duty to be brutally honest. ("Brutal honesty is almost always 90% brutal and 10% honest." - Peter Bregman)
  • I shouldn't talk about how I feel. It will only make things worse. (Criticism often erupts when people avoid dealing with negative emotions.)
  • Unless I get my way, the world will end. (There's almost always a way for both parties to get what they need from a situation.)
  • I can predict what's going to happen. (Dire predictions are almost always wrong. Most of our greatest fears do not come to pass.)
  • I know exactly why I want this. (Probably not. There are probably many unconscious reasons, including past influences, experiences, and traumas.)

Next week we'll talk about how we can put everything we've learned to good use.

Bid loneliness goodbye - Learn why it's so important to recognize emotional bids

Imagine for a moment that you've suddenly entered another dimension. You can see and hear everyone around you, but they cannot see you. You are completely invisible.

The ability to remain invisible presents some fun possibilities. Who hasn't ever wondered what it would be like to sit like a fly on the wall and hear what others honestly think about them? 

But such a situation would become frightening very quickly. Why? Because humans rely on one another for so many things, including companionship, comfort, and emotional support.

Sadly, many of us feel invisible even when we are surrounded by others, including our closest friends and family.

Stephanie Cacioppo defines loneliness as a mismatch between what a person wants or expects from a relationship and what they get out of it. She adds:

Because loneliness is a state of mind, being physically alone is not a necessary nor a sufficient condition to experience loneliness. One can experience a lonely state of mind while being with people at work, at home or even in a marriage. Income, education, gender and ethnicity don't necessarily protect you from loneliness, and it is contagious.

How can this be the case? According to Ellie Lisitsa:

Friendship is a wonderful and paradoxical thing. It seems to spring up out of nowhere, out of the beautiful chaos of daily life, to form on the easy basis of pure luck and chance. At the same time, despite such effortless conception, it requires a great deal of attention, intention, and care.

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we can fail to provide the "attention, intention, and care" that our close relationships need in order to thrive. How can we avoid falling into this trap? By understanding an important, but little-known concept. Today's topic is "bids for connection" - a concept that I now consider incredibly important. It is also often referred to as "emotional bids."

As important as today's topic is, I can only trace its origins back to the 1980s. Most of what I'm about to share with you today is based solely on the research of John Gottman and his colleagues. But first, apart from preventing loneliness, why is this topic so important? Gottman writes,

How a man understands and responds to a woman will determine his eventual wealth, his social status, his energy and motivation for life, his resilience, his mental and physical health, how well his immune system works, how well he copes with stress, his happiness at home and at work, his self-confidence, his friendships, his connection to his children, how his children turn out, and actually how long he will live.

No other single thing in a man’s life will be as important as how he understands and responds to a woman’s emotions. ... People who live alone die sooner, are less healthy, are less wealthy, and recover from illness slower than people who are married. This is especially true of men.

In other words, the degree to which we are able to understand this subject affects nearly every aspect of our lives.

The history of this concept

John Gottman is well-known for many things. Among them are:

  • Identifying "The Four Horsemen" that signal an impending end to a relationship (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling).
  • As featured in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, Gottman was able to observe newlyweds interacting for a few minutes and predict with 90% accuracy whether they would still be together in ten years.
  • Specifying the "magic ratio" of positive to negative interactions that would identify a couple with a healthy relationship.

Gottman and Robert Levenson at the University of Washington carefully observed couples in an effort to find a pattern that separated the "relationship masters" from the "relationship disasters". After testing hypotheses involving depth of intimacy or reciprocity of interactions, Gottman and his team made a surprising discovery: 

Maybe it’s not the depth of intimacy in conversations that matters. Maybe it doesn’t even matter whether couples agree or disagree. Maybe the important thing is how these people pay attention to each other, no matter what they’re talking about or doing.

In understanding relationship interactions, they found Stephen R. Covey's metaphor of the emotional bank account useful.According to Covey, "By proactively doing things that build trust in a relationship, one makes ‘deposits.’  Conversely, by reactively doing things that decrease trust, one makes ‘withdrawals.’  The current ‘balance’ in the emotional bank account, will determine how well two people can communicate and problem-solve together." Gottman came to describe the unit of currency, "the fundamental unit of emotional communication," as a "bid for connection."The use of the word "bid" strikes me as curious, because I generally associate bids with an offer to give or pay something, such a bid at an auction. Bids for connection seem more like requests to me. However the more I think about this, the more the word seems to fit. As a word nerd, I looked up the origins of the word bid and I found that it (like some other English words - see swallow, for example) actually comes from more than one language. The sense "offer (a certain price) for something or make an effort or attempt to achieve" comes from the "Old English bēodan ‘to offer, command’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch bieden and German bieten." However, another sense of the word, somewhat archaic in usage, can mean "utter (a greeting or farewell) to; invite (someone) to do something." According to Google's favorite Oxford English dictionary, this sense comes from "Old English biddan ‘ask’, of Germanic origin; related to German bitten." So since bids for connection are both requests as well as offers to strengthen the relationship, this term seems to fit quite well. I wonder if Gottman gave it as much thought as I have. I can only assume so. 

The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of the topic. I have gathered a wealth of information from one source: I plan to analyze the information and compare it to other sources so I can present more information about this subject in the future.Many of the things I have harvested from are in line with the information I have already published on this blog. By incorporating some of the things I've saved, I hope to enrich and deepen our understanding of some of these concepts. My biggest takeaway, which I haven't seen anywhere else, is to recognize bids for connection as what they are. Because oftentimes they can be camouflaged in hard-to-recognize attire. To begin, let's look at what bids include, view some examples, and consider how self-esteem affects bids for connection.

What bids include

In response to an emotional bid, we can choose to:

  • Turn toward the partner
  • Turn enthusiastically toward them
  • Turn away from them
  • Turn against them

It's very helpful to understand the underlying messages we send when we "turn toward" bids or when we turn away or against them. But for now, let's discuss the inherent inequity in this process.

When we initiate a bid, we're in a better position to recognize the bid, primarily because we're impacted by the response. Whether we realize it or not, the way the other person responds will evoke an emotional reaction in us. When a response is less than enthusiastic, or worse, when our effort to engage is ignored or even rebuffed, our internal response may range from mild annoyance to disappointment and even bitter anger.

In contrast, the person who receives the bid has more power. Consequently, the person will be less aware of their actions. Their response will likely be influenced by their current mindset. Are they busy? Distracted? Stressed? Irritated? Their focus will most likely not be on what the other person thinks about their response. That is unless they are familiar with the concept of bids for connection.

We learn to make bids very early in life. Since babies cannot ask for what they want, they use the only methods available to them. These include crying, whining, poking, and yelling. These are the default modes of communication and children (and adults) often resort to them when other methods aren't working. 

I appreciate the points Melissa Benaroya made on Gottman's website

Most of children’s negative behaviors are either bids for 1) attention or connection or 2) a sense of power or control. ... When children act out, you need to remember that the bid being made is actually the child crying out, “See me, involve me, make me feel useful” or “Let me help, give me choices.” 

This is true both for children and for adults. Often, what appears to be a complaint or even an attack is just an attempt to connect or control.

Examples of bids

Bids for connection range from simple bids for attention or interest to bids for affection and self-disclosure. Just having written an article about self-disclosure, I found myself wondering whether bids for connection would align with levels of self-disclosure, which is also known as the stairway of intimacy.

I didn't find a clear connection. However, I feel that I can classify bids according to at least three levels:

  • Bids for interest or attention. These don't require or imply a deep level of intimacy. Instead, they are everyday interactions.
  • Bids for more engagement. The relationship is more than just a superficial one. However, they don't require a lot of vulnerability.
  • Bids for emotional connection. These require vulnerability from one or both parties.

Let's take a look at some examples from each category. Notice that these don't always fit neatly into categories:

Level 1

  • “Look at what I drew in school today!” The underlying bid is, "Please give me some attention."
  • “Isn’t that the ugliest dog you’ve ever seen?” = "Please share an interest with me."
  • "Phoebe's on the way, can you give her our address?" Asking questions or requesting information doesn't assume a whole lot from the relationship.
  • "Could you take Rover for a walk?" "While you're up, can you grab the salsa?" These are simple requests. The underlying message is, "I trust that I'm important enough to you (= my relationship bank account is high enough) to ask you for a favor."
  • “I heard the funniest story today…” - a "bid for humor." This could take the relationship to the next level but it's still fairly low-key.

Level 2

  • "Do you like my drawing?" "How were the cookies?" "Maybe we should think about taking a trip next month.” These are "bids for enthusiastic engagement." It requires more than mild interest.
  • “Have you heard from Pat lately? The last time we saw her, she was about to have that procedure done.” This is a bid for extended conversation. It assumes the recipient will feel the expenditure of time on their part is justified.
  • Reaching out and tickling the partner. Or, "Let's get the chessboard!"  These are bids for play. It indicates a level of trust and familiarity in the relationship.
  • "Let's help Grandma outside." This is a request for help, or an invitation to work together, that goes beyond a simple request.
  • "Greta wants to go on a walk but my foot hurts." This is a request for help with problem-solving. In many instances, it can be mistaken for attempting to push responsibility onto the other party.

Level 3

  • “I’m really worried – I don’t think my new boss likes me.” This is a bid for emotional support. It's also self-disclosure. There's a higher emotional risk if the request is rebuffed.
  • "What've you been up to?" “So what happened at school today?” These are bids for self-disclosure. They are asking for vulnerability on the part of the recipient.
  • "I've been cooking all day, I'm so tired." The underlying bid is, "I need help to de-stress." However, it can easily be misread as a complaint.
  • Reaching for the partner’s hand, asking for a kiss or hug, or "Come cuddle with me while I read." These are bids for affection.

Gottman realized each bid for connection results in either a credit or a debit in the relationship bank account. However, it makes intuitive sense that higher-risk bids would have a greater impact. This leads to our next subtopic.

How self-esteem affects bids for connection 

As you can see from the examples above, we don't often ask directly for what we are seeking. Logan Ury explains why:

Bids are often purposely subtle because people are afraid to be vulnerable and put themselves out there. It’s scary to say, “Hey! I want to connect! Pay attention to me!” so instead, we ask a question or tell a story or offer our hand for connection. We hope we’ll receive connection in return, but if not, it’s less scary than pleading, “Connect with me, please!”

The amount of courage we display in making the bid, and thus the degree of directness, largely has to do with how secure we feel. In turn, this is largely determined by our self-esteem.

A 2018 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin uses the term "support seeking" rather than "bids for connection," but the concept is the same.Don, B. P., Girme, Y. U., & Hammond, M. D. (2018). Low Self-Esteem Predicts Indirect Support Seeking and Its Relationship Consequences in Intimate Relationships. In Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Vol. 45, Issue 7, pp. 1028–1041). SAGE Publications. This is the only reference to a non-Gottman source I'll make in this article. As Ury pointed out above, sometimes directly asking for social support, or bidding for connection, feels too risky.

In this case, individuals often engage in "indirect support seeking," which includes, according to the authors, "sulking, whining, fidgeting, and/or displaying sadness without disclosing the source of the problem."

Researchers concluded that individuals with low self-esteem tried to protect themselves from outright rejection because they believed that they couldn't handle being rejected by their partners. For example, saying, "I really need your support right now," might result in a flat-out rejection.

When their efforts to get help don't succeed, those who have low self-esteem may believe that their partners don't care about their needs. The hypervigilance they have for signs of rejection can cause them to create situations where rejection occurs, which negatively affects the quality of the relationship.

On the other hand, studies have indicated that individuals with high self-esteem tend to respond to rejection by reaffirming their own value and the belief that their partner cares for them. The authors add:

The way individuals seek support from their intimate partners is a surprisingly understudied aspect of social support, but one that is crucial to the overall success of support interactions.There is no reference to Gottman's work in this paper, which I found interesting. Maybe they are working within disciplines that don't have much cross-communication. Adding evidence to this claim, I couldn't find any reference to "emotional bids" or "support seeking" on Wikipedia. I'm always amazed when there's a concept I can't find on that voluminous website.

They concluded that when people have low self-esteem and are uncertain of their partner's positive regard, there will be a tendency to protect themselves in their relationships at the expense of being open, honest, and vulnerable. This creates a self-repeating cycle.


Among the useful facts we've established are:

  • Despite its importance, support seeking, or bids for connection, is not well understood by most people.
  • Whether we are able to gain the attention, interest, affection, and emotional support we need from others is dependent, in large part, on how well we respond to their bids.
  • Virtually every aspect of our well-being depends on how well we connect with others.
  • The ability to recognize other people's attempts to connect with us, especially close family and friends, can make us much happier.
  • Being aware that feeling secure or insecure can create a feedback loop that is either positive or negative can motivate us to seek ways of boosting our self-esteem and improving our relationships.

Build trust and quality social connections through self-disclosure

As I looked at the calendar and saw my assignment for this week, I cringed a little. I was uncomfortable writing about this topic because I thought I didn't have enough knowledge about it. However, the more I think about it, the more enthusiastic I am about this topic because I'm starting to see just how important it is. It helped that I had some time to think about the topic over the last couple days.

Why is this topic important?

Self-disclosure is thought to be beneficial for forming close, intimate social connections.

What an uninspiring sentence that is, isn't it? Although true, it hardly entices you to read more. It certainly did not motivate me to write more. What did?

I took a break from considering this topic to go get some exercise. As is so often the case, I had some additional insights while I was out.One of the things I do is listen to podcasts that cover topics I write about. Hearing something related to the subject of my blog post often triggers a burst of enthusiasm. For instance, during my walk, I happened to listen to the following podcast excerpt. Then I listened to an hour of people sharing embarrassing stories on a nationally-broadcast radio show, which got me thinking about self-disclosure from a completely different perspective. Unfortunately, that is too tangential for this article, but I am interested in exploring the psychology behind it at a later date.

People want to work with those they know and trust.Just for kicks, I entered this phrase, with quotes, into Google. It turns out this exact phrase appears "about 42,300" times on this day in 2022. Trust is built up through low-stakes repeated interactions, which is a fancy way of describing those "How was your weekend?" conversations. Getting promoted into management and then succeeding in that role isn't just about being good at your job. It's about having other people want to do their best work for you which doesn't happen when they don't trust you. ... Other people have valuable information that they can choose to share, or not. They're more likely to warm you off troublesome projects or share the name of someone in accounting who can help with your problem if you've built up a rapport. - Laura Vanderkam

None of this was news to me, but it well illustrates two very important benefits of building trust with coworkers:

  1. They are more likely to cooperate with us when we need it the most.
  2. They are more likely to share information that will benefit us.

Building trust with coworkers is important, but it should be obvious that building trust with those we depend on the most - our family and friends - is even more important.

Self-disclosure is all about trust. We need to trust others in order to disclose information to them that might make us vulnerable. But they need to trust us before they will give us the support, status, and influence we need. And what is the most crucial factor in building trust? If you've read my article on building trust, you already know that openness is by far the most important factor. As a refresher, openness refers to being relatable, approachable, warm, and human.The other, lesser, but still important factors are honesty (in word and action), competence, and caring about others. 

Additionally, the article pointed out a huge gap between the need to improve "intimacy skills" and the emphasis organizations place on such skills. In other words, when you are aware of the importance of self-disclosure, you will be able to establish a higher level of trust than a majority of your peers.

Openness reflects mutual trust. Withholding information raises suspicions. While distrust breeds distrust, trust begets trust.

According to The Berkeley Well-Being Institute, people like someone more who discloses to them, people like someone more who they have disclosed to, and people disclose more to someone they like.

Sharing personal information shows the other person that you trust them and value their perspective; it also shows that you would like to be close to them.

Besides building trust that makes others more willing to help us and cooperate with us, self-disclosure can contribute to our mental health. Some burdens are too heavy for us to carry alone. Having someone we can trust who can listen empathetically can be a big stress reliever. Of course, it's important to be careful who we choose to unburden ourselves to.

The minefield

As with any skill that is highly valuable and rare, self-disclosure requires a good understanding of the risks and benefits. As well as building trust and deepening relationships, we might also disclose personal information to seek relief or clarification, to seek support, or to correct misinformation.

In self-disclosure, we reveal information about things that others may not learn about us any other way - our beliefs, thoughts, feelings, experiences, hopes, or dreams. We do not want the entire world to know this information since some people might use it against us. However, sometimes sharing it with people we feel safe around can still have unintended consequences. 

We might be reluctant to share something because:

  • There are taboos about the topic.
  • There is a concern with sharing it that it might lead to feelings surfacing that we aren't ready to express in front of the other party.
  • We are concerned about being judged by the other person.
  • We don't want anyone else to know certain things.

Here are some problems self-disclosure may cause:

  • Others may perceive it as inappropriate. They may feel that our relationship with them has not developed well enough for us to share such information.
  • It can make us question the discloser's judgment.
  • When someone shares something intimate, it creates a sense of imbalance in the relationship. The other person may not be ready to reciprocate.
  • The content of our self-disclosure may overwhelm or burden others.
  • Not being completely honest in our disclosure can be counterproductive.
  • It is possible that the disclosure goes against social norms, that is, what is socially acceptable.
  • It can be frustrating for the listener if the information is revealed at the end of the conversation and they haven't had enough time to process it or respond as they would have liked.

The role of personality

Our approach to sharing is heavily influenced by our personalities. Some people are eager to share. Others keep things close to the vest. We might find it easier to get close to others who share our communication style, but we miss out on creating closer, trusting relationships with others who have different personalities.

When we are self-aware, we will recognize our own tendency to share or withhold information. It is crucial for someone like me who tends to overshare to learn how to read cues better and to be more judicious about sharing information. An individual who has difficulty trusting others needs to develop more receptive behaviors and to learn how to be vulnerable.

I recently learned of another type of personality difference from McKinley Valentine: she describes people as being either Volunteers or Interviewers. An "Interviewer" feels comfortable asking questions in order to learn more about the other person. They are unaware, however, that they are asking the other person to be vulnerable. It is possible they may feel frustrated when the other person doesn't ask them any questions about themselves. "An Interviewer sees talking about yourself as arrogant and expects the other person not to do too much."

A Volunteer, meanwhile, recognizes that asking questions essentially amounts to "pushing the other person to be vulnerable first." McKinley, who is strongly in the Volunteer category, will share an anecdote or opinion and pause afterward to invite the other person to share their own. In her view, Interviewers should recognize the pause as follows:

That pause is an invitation for you to share a related anecdote or opinion. Hear it as one. Then, when you feel the urge to ask another question, change it into a statement. Lead with your own answer to the question instead. So switch out “Do you have any side-projects?” with “I’ve been thinking of starting a newsletter.”

Self-protection in close relationships can also be a barrier to successful self-disclosure. It could be that the individual is uncertain about their partner's approval or has low self-esteem. Consequently, they avoid self-disclosure, openness, and vulnerability.

The four levels of self-disclosure

This may be the most important part of this article. Understanding this "staircase" is the key to navigating the minefield of self-disclosure.

  1. Common courtesies, also referred to as phatic communication. For example, "How are you?"Many introverts falsely believe that this level of conversation, "small talk," is irrelevant and unnecessary. However, trying to engage in productive conversations without recognizing the value of this stage is like building a staircase but eliminating the first step.
  2. Trading information. "So what brought you here?" "Am I in the right place?"
  3. Trading opinion. "Isn't this music unusual?" "I like your handbag. Where did you get it?"
  4. Sharing emotions. "I really hate this weather." "Do you like your job?"

Every level carries an additional element of risk. While it is safe to start at level one, a conversation that stays at that same level will get awkward fast. The key is to continue the conversation at a comfortable level and gradually test the waters of the next level. 

The article How to Be a Great Conversationalist contains a variety of tips for starting and continuing conversations. However, it does not cover self-disclosure. Most of the suggestions in that article keep the conversation at a fairly safe level. Now let's consider how we can deepen the conversation.

I like these suggestions from Art of Manliness:

When you think you’ve spent sufficient time in one of the stages, disclose something from the next stage as a kind of trial balloon and see if the other person responds in kind. For example, if you’ve been swapping facts, be the first to offer an opinion; if the person offers an opinion in return, then you’re ready to spend some time in that stage. If they fail to reciprocate and stick with sharing facts, however, then keep on with that stage for a while longer, before sending up another balloon.

As I mentioned in the conversation article, preparation goes a long way. Before engaging others in conversation, think of a few opinions and emotions that you can express that will be relatively neutral or positive. These will be useful "balloons" to launch into a conversation to feel out the other person.

One of my favorite podcasts, the Art of Charm, uses the analogy of a cave to illustrate the idea of matching vulnerability with the other person. Instead of waiting for the other person to lead the way into the "cave," we can take the initiative and enter first. They mention the following examples:

Make that first step into the cave by asking an emotionally charged question, like, what are summers like in Toronto?

Maybe now they're talking about their favorite hobby. And again, you're like, Hey, what do you like most about wakeboarding?

Now, how could we bring in emotion? How can we bring in just a little bit of vulnerability to test the ground and to shine the light into that cave? Well, we go vertical by saying, what do you like most about it? Like, if I were to ask you, what do you do? And you say, "Well, you know, I'm a barista. I make coffee." I could ask where you're from, or I could go deeper, bring in that emotional component and ask, "What do you like most about being a barista?"

Self-disclosure can often be most effective in the middle of a conversation. Thus, you can determine whether the other person is ready to hear what you have to say. Consider gauging their mood to see if what you have to say will fit.

How to respond when someone else discloses something

This article is primarily about how to skillfully use disclosure to build trust and deepen connections with others. But disclosure is a two-way street, and how we respond to others' disclosure will have an impact on how they respond to us.

If we understand the levels of self-disclosure we'll detect if someone is sharing an opinion with us, or even more important, an emotion. When that happens, it's time to put our empathy training to work. 

A dismissive response will create distance and make it less likely for the other person to welcome our self-disclosures. Even worse, if we respond with ridicule we'll convince them that we aren't to be trusted. It is for this reason that empathy and intellectual humility are essential. We don't have to agree with them. Though we might disagree completely, it is important for them to know that we respect their viewpoint.

The best way to respond to self-disclosure from another person is to listen. Accepting and validating their viewpoint not only bolsters their trust, but it's money in the relationship bank account

After you have listened carefully, you may feel that it's appropriate to disclose information of your own on the same level. Watch how the other person reacts when you share information with them.

In addition, be aware that a person may feel uncomfortable once they realize they have disclosed something to you, perhaps something they weren't planning on sharing. Don't be afraid to allow the conversation to drift back to shallow topics. It will make the person feel more at ease with you and more likely to share more with you in the future. If appropriate, you might want to acknowledge their vulnerability and courage.

Another important point to note is that when someone discloses something to us, it puts us in a position of trust. We must not abuse their trust by sharing what they've told us without careful consideration. If in doubt, keep the information to yourself, or ask the person who you can share it with. When they share information that shows they or someone else is in danger, we have a special responsibility to carefully consider whom to share it with. Protecting someone's safety is sometimes more important than preserving their trust. Such matters should never be taken lightly.

How to navigate the minefield

I hope I have made clear the value of skillfully using self-disclosure and recognizing it in others. Here is a recap:

  • Be aware of your personality and know what you need to watch out for in yourself and others.
  • Become familiar with the four levels of self-disclosure and practice navigating them in conversation.
  • Think of some simple, positive things you can share.
  • Try taking a small step into the "cave of vulnerability" to see if the other person follows you. If they don't, keep the conversation shallow.
  • Try to match the other person's level of vulnerability whenever possible. Reciprocate.
  • Be prepared to respond with empathy and validate the other person's viewpoint, especially when you don't agree.
  • Balance asking questions and offering information.
  • Master the pause. Give the other person time to share information, complete their thoughts, or ask a question of their own.
  • Be alert to signs that the other person wants the conversation to lighten up. You can always go deeper again next time.
  • Try to end the conversation on a lighter note.

What I've learned

It is about time I put this section at the end of the article. After all, you're more interested in finding the answers than hearing my story, right? For the sake of those who are interested, I'm putting this here.

As I'm trying to earn your trust, I must be honest that all the information I covered above, although not new to me, still needed considerable processing. As with all my blog posts, I'm hoping that the effort of processing the information helps me put it to better use.

There are three concepts I've saved for this section. The first is the concept of "capitalization". I'd never heard of this term in this context before, but it's been around in psychology since at least 1994, according to one source. Capitalization is simply "the sharing of positive events with others." Or, in a slightly longer version, "Capitalization is the interpersonal process of disclosing positive events to close others, which has been linked to individual and relationship well-being (i.e., lower emotional distress and increased intimacy; see Gable & Reis, 2010)."

According to APA Dictionary of Psychology:

Capitalization is most often studied in social contexts, in which people share news of their personal good fortune with others for various social purposes, such as to heighten enjoyment of the experience, to create a positive impression in others’ eyes, or to enhance the memorability of the event. It is often contrasted with social support as a means of coping with negative events.

While we're at it, we might as well get the benefits:

Personal benefits linked to capitalization include increased positive emotions, subjective well-being, and self-esteem, and decreased loneliness. Relationship benefits associated with capitalization processes include satisfaction, intimacy, commitment, trust, liking, closeness, and stability (Gable & Reis, 2010).

Sharing positive events with others can make me feel better? I'm not sure we needed science to tell us that. I'm always amazed at what science has hiding around the corner.

Here's a gem from McKinley Valentine's article quoted above. If someone asks you a question you don't feel comfortable answering, "99% of people won’t mind if you answer a tangential question they didn’t actually ask, instead." Talk about creative self-disclosure. 

My final insight pertains to emotional bank accounts, also known as relationship bank accounts. I've considered this concept several times, using the analogy of a bank account to illustrate the positive or negative strength of a relationship. However I thought about the extra dimension added by self-disclosure. In one sense, it's kind of a multiplier. In the event I self-disclose to someone when I'm overdrawn on their account, they might use that information against me, or at least think less of me. On the other hand, being open with someone who views me positively will likely add depth to our relationship.

There's a saying somewhere about sharing joys and dividing sorrows. Someday I'll take the time to research the origin. (Google says it's from Sweden, but in 2022 we have to take Google with a grain of salt.) 

Building on my new understanding of the concept of capitalization, by disclosing my positive experiences I can increase the joy of my relationships. It's not clear to me whether capitalization builds trust as much as other self-disclosure methods. Those make me think of credit. It's possible that I have a positive relationship with another person, that is, they think well of me, but when I'm open with them and reveal my vulnerability, they trust me more. It's like they are willing to lend to me on top of what they already "owe" me. I am not sure if this is an added dimension or an additive effect. What do you think?

Learn how to motivate yourself and start living an amazing life

My past self assigned me to write a sequel this week to my first blog post on the subject of motivation. There is much more that I can write about the subject than I did in that post. I will enlarge on these aspects below:

  • What makes understanding motivation so important?
  • What role do emotions play in motivation?
  • What factors increase motivation?
  • What effect do beliefs have on motivation?
  • How does self-awareness affect motivation?
  • What other factors influence motivation?

It occurred to me last week that I already have a wealth of information on my website on a number of subjects I plan to address in the future, so instead of looking for additional sources in my notes, I mined my existing articles to find the connections I'll be making below.

Before I answer the above questions, I would like to remind you that you can find suggestions here about getting to a place where you can choose more of your motivations. Even if you are unable to achieve that level, you can still enjoy your current situation. Also, here are some ways to motivate yourself when it's hard to keep yourself on track.

Why is motivation important?

The first thing I wrote in response to this question was:

It may very well be one of the most important topics of all. If we didn't have motivation we wouldn't do anything. Period.

Since writing that, I have also realized that we are already motivated all the time. We are sometimes even motivated to not do anything.Have you tried literally not doing anything? Just sitting there? Some people find it easier than others. I find it incredibly challenging.

Try to think of an activity that most people would say takes no motivation at all. For instance, watching Netflix. It's an effortless activity for most people. They would likely say it takes motivation not to watch their favorite shows on Netflix or whatever platform they prefer. Do they lack motivation then? Not at all.

The people who create the programming provide the motivation. By understanding how human motivation works, they design the program to appeal to as many of these needs as possible, keeping people watching. See my first blog post on motivation for another example: games. 

Most of us don't realize how highly motivated we are to play games and watch TV. When people do such things, they think they are unmotivated because they aren't intrinsically motivated. They are motivated by external factors. In such cases, we are motivated to do what someone else wants us to do, or at least what they hope we will do, which is usually to consume more advertising and therefore more products.In the evenings, I occasionally take walks and notice how many windows are illuminated by a large screen which people sit and watch for hours. I have reflected on what it would be like to explain this phenomenon to well-educated citizens of the 19th century. "We have solved many of the most laborious aspects of life," I might tell them. They might respond, "That's great! You have more time to read, to practice hobbies, and to talk with each other." I can only imagine the look on their faces when I describe modern families that spend entire evenings staring at individual screens without moving or speaking to one another. Can this really be called progress?

Our aim is to be in the driver's seat. Our goal is to steer the car to the destination we want to reach, and we want to press the pedal to the floor. For this to happen, we must understand motivation.

The role of emotions in motivation

I mentioned this briefly in my first article, but it deserves to be emphasized again. There is no doubt that emotions play a significant role in motivation, even though the exact relationship is still a matter of debate. Motivation is one of three fundamentals of emotional intelligence. Think about what that last sentence implies: An intelligent person understands motivation.At least not most of the time. The truly intelligent person knows that, no matter how clever they are, they can never fully comprehend their own motivations. An intelligent person is not a trained monkey or a puppet to be manipulated by others.

In short, since we are all motivated by our emotions in some way, the better we are at identifying and processing our emotions, the better we can control our motivations.

Factors that increase motivation

  • Rewards: this is obvious, but it deserves careful consideration.Here's a thought experiment to put it into perspective. Furthermore, people who have difficulty starting and maintaining good habits or breaking bad ones are usually unaware of the importance of rewards.
  • A hopeful mindset
  • Generosity, a "giving mindset"
  • Compassion (self and other-focused)

I listed the factors above for completeness. Because I've already written about each of them and how they relate to motivation, I won't elaborate here. Follow the links above to learn more.

The role of beliefs in motivation

People’s beliefs are a fundamental part of their personality and motivation, although this is often unrecognized. - Carol Dweck

Obviously, motivation is based on desire. But we also have to believe that we are able to reach our desired goal (self-efficacy) and that we have control over whether we reach it (instrumentality).

Values, considered to be a form of beliefs, are critical motivators. 

Furthermore, our beliefs determine whether we find certain experiences desirable. To put it another way, our beliefs determine if we want something in the first place.

Thus it can be seen that there is no aspect of motivation that isn't affected by our beliefs.

The relationship of self-awareness to motivation

After just completing a four-part series on self-awareness, I would be negligent if I didn't mention this relationship.

Self-awareness is a fundamental element of both wisdom and authenticity, as I've discussed elsewhere. A wise person is aware of their own motives and behaviors and avoids projecting their own feelings and motivations onto others. People without wisdom are susceptible to criticism and interpersonal slights. Their motivation may primarily be self-protective rather than a desire for growth.Interestingly, the well-rounded, or "T-shaped," person has been described as having "the ability to relate to 'the broad picture' and to people, understanding their motivation and aspirations."

Other factors that influence motivation

At this point, I'm reasonably pleased with myself for having learned the fundamentals of the expectancy theory of motivation.As someone who often writes about my fallible memory and mentions how important it is not to rely on it in making major decisions, I want to make an important distinction when it comes to understanding concepts. Understanding concepts is the key to learning them, and being able to recall and explain them from memory is an important sign that one has learned them.

Here are the factors I listed from memory in my initial essay:I didn't see the need to include a definition of motivation in this article, but I went ahead and wrote one in my initial essay: "Motivation is the strength of a desire to do or accomplish something." If you're like me, you might find it interesting to compare it to the multitude of different definitions out there. If you're like normal people, you won't consider it worth your time. (I often ask, "Why be normal?")

  • The desirability of the outcome
  • An individual's perception of their ability to accomplish the desired results
  • The amount of effort they have to put into the process
  • Other activities can create competing desires
  • The perceived cost goes up when there are delays
  • If the ability to reach the outcome depends on others, and not just oneself, then control over the outcome is also an important factor

Here are some other factors I listed off in my essay:

Here are other factors mentioned on this blog that I didn't cover in my initial essay:

  • Skill variety
  • Task identity
  • Task significance
  • Autonomy
  • Feedback
  • Meaningfulness
  • Responsibility for the outcomeAll of the above factors are discussed in the article How to Find a Career with a Bright Outlook.
  • Values and the fundamental motivations that underlie them
  • Comparing ourselves to others can be de-motivatingMentioned in passing: "If Christopher Reeve had continually kept comparing himself to all his non-disabled acquaintances..."
  • Ego depletion
  • Normative social messagesI provided an example of a study where residents did not detect the influence of normative messages that clearly influenced their behavior. This is an example of the many (probably too many to list) subconscious influences on our motivations.
  • MaturityAs an individual matures, they begin taking responsibility for their actions. They begin to differentiate between the inner motives and outer actions of others.

As above, rather than elaborate here on the relationship of each item above to motivation, I have provided links for you to explore yourself.

Keeping my promise

This article is about motivation, as I mentioned in the introduction. The title is a product of my efforts to choose more interesting headlines. However, a headline is a promise, and I will keep my word to you. If you absorb all the information in this article, you'll have enough knowledge to begin your journey to discovering what makes you tick.

Many people lead amazing lives without understanding their own motivations. But if you and I want to live an amazing life of our choosing, we need both.

The final question before I wrap up this article is: What makes a life amazing?

In all honesty, I hadn't given much thought to this question before, so I searched the web for answers. I'll share some of the ideas I came across, which range from obvious to sublime:

  • Traveling
  • Indulging in pleasures
  • Living in a place that you truly love
  • Meeting people with similar interests and goals
  • Exploring beautiful places (even if they are close to home)
  • Venturing outside your comfort zone
  • Envisioning your perfect life and pursuing it
  • Identifying your core values
  • Being open to anything
  • Learning from a person who already lives the life of your dreams or what you aspire to do
  • Appreciating the little things in life
  • Remaining in the present
  • Learning
  • Curiosity
  • Seeing uncertainty with a sense of wonder
  • Being amazed by all there is to discover in the universe
  • Discovering the specific qualities that are uniquely yours
  • Building on your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses
  • Creating something new
  • Loving people, even when they don't “deserve" to be loved
  • Spending time with your family
  • Living within your means

This wide range of responses brings home the fact that an amazing life doesn't have to be lived in some special way or at a pivotal time or place in history.

I also found some quoteworthy ideas in addition to the individual suggestions I listed above:

The most amazing thing about life is getting to feel things. ... We are able to feel emotions, pain, happiness, beauty, presence of things or someone, the wind, the cold, the warmth of a bonfire, the raindrops, someone else's sadness or happiness, comfort, kindness, spiritual presence, love, and just this universe.

The quote above is a good reminder that we don't have to look outside our current situation to find amazement in life.

Take some time and really think about the people you admire. Think about those people that seem to be living amazing lives. If you think about it, what draws you is noticing that they are happy. They seem to genuinely enjoy life. But it’s not the life that they lead that makes them happy. It is their appreciation for the life they lead that makes them happy.

Often, our motivation is aspirational: We see someone else enjoying what they are doing or having accomplished, and we want to feel the same way. Hopefully, it isn't the only reason we have for wanting to accomplish our desired goal. As long as we are honest with ourselves, it should be okay. But the author of the quote gently reminds us that gratitude, not achieving goals, is the fastest route to happiness.I recently learned that this extremely common view that one will be happy when achieving some goal or attaining some status, is known as the "arrival fallacy." As a concept, it's so far under the radar I couldn't find it on Wikipedia.

Decide what you want, make a plan, and do what it takes to get it done. Be optimistic about what's possible but realistic about what it may take to get there. Be prepared for failure. Failure is always a possibility if not an inevitability. It is also an opportunity.

There is a lot of wisdom in this very succinct quote. One thing that should be obvious at this point in the article is, we should also be clear about our motivations. First, ask yourself, Why do I want this? Then be aware of the factors (many of which this article discussed) that will influence your motivation along the way to reaching your goal.

The following is my favorite, considering the importance of meaning in life:

At the end of the day, I think that it all boils down to 3 questions.
#1. Where do we come from?
#2. Why are we here?
#3. Where are we going?
I’m not proposing that you sacrifice any joys or pleasures, I’m merely suggesting that you incorporate some kind of service to others in order to feel blessed that you can help make this world a better place.

I want to close with a quote from contrarian Nassim Taleb. People in hotter climates tend to be more relaxed and friendlier than those in colder climates. His conclusion:

[Maybe] motivation is just overcompensation for not having a real life.

Before you motivate yourself to go pursue an amazing life, why not read my article on What Is Real Wealth?