- When our motivations are satisfied, it feels good; but when they are not satisfied, we feel bad.
- This unique view of motivational lability adds credence to the adaptability of human behavior.
- Many clients will say they are not motivated. They are, but just in the wrong direction.
Apter’s Reversal Theory (RT) looks at the relationship between motivations and emotions. Apter identifies eight "motivational styles" (or states of mind) that are based on values that are like lenses through which we perceive events.
When moving from one motivational style to another, not only do we want different things but we also see and experience things differently. When our motivations are satisfied, it feels good, but when they are not satisfied, we feel bad.
RT’s emphasis on these dynamic states promotes the view that we are fundamentally adaptable, and the structured relationship between motivations and emotions (or EMotivation) that it describes provides a pathway to help us make more deliberate and informed choices about how to adapt.
Apter also suggests that these eight motivational styles are also in direct opposition to one another. What are these eight "motivational styles" and how are they opposite to one another? Apter describes these states in the following way: serious is opposite to playful, conforming is opposite to rebellious, sympathy is opposite to mastery, and self is opposite to other.
Your Motivational Lenses
These eight different lenses of motivation are paradoxically in competition with one another and force us to make motivational choices about what is working for us or what is not working. When frustration, satiation, or contingency arise, we will inevitably reverse our state of mind (i.e., from serious to playful or visa versa, and the same for any of the other three oppositional states), hence the name Reversal Theory.
This unique view of motivational lability adds credence to the adaptability of human behavior. It is dynamic in that we possess the ability to change our circumstances through understanding the structured relationship between our emotions and our motivation (EMotivation).
Everyone has probably experienced a need to fit in or conform. Maybe it was your first day in a new job. At some point, there may have been something about fitting in that did not feel right and you might have expressed an opposing view. This is a specific example of how satiation or frustration, maybe even a contingency, can lead to a change in motivation. Your emotional comfort zone has shifted to discomfort and you reverse from conforming and fitting in to rebelling and opposing.
Another situation that may trigger gardeners of a mature age into a motivational shift is a lack of energy. When this gardener was 40, weeding the garden every day was relaxing and fun. Now at the age of 65 years of wisdom, the same activity takes on new meaning. The lack of energy now reaches a point of satiation more quickly, and the playful gardening experience becomes too taxing and a serious matter that requires rest and recovery. The gardener allows the contingency of aging to shift their motivational direction from playful to serious.
The self and other motivational styles have a special significance for anyone in the helping professions, even psychologists. Being there for others places incredible demands on the giver over time. Most healthy helping professionals realize the requirement for self-care, which requires a psychological shift from the other to the self.
Another example for helping professionals would be the sympathy and mastery motivational styles. Mastery of your skills may be primary in your training years. However, when working with clients there is a need to shift from mastery or power to sympathy or caring. The contingency of empowering the client becomes paramount and mastery and control are displaced with sympathy and care.
360 Degrees of Motivation
Many clients will say they are not motivated. They are motivated! They are just motivated in the wrong direction and are not doing anything to change that direction.
The client that chastises themselves for laying around instead of doing something productive, is really motivated to lay around. They have not listened to their emotional dissatisfaction that would move them toward changing their motivation and feeling better. When feelings arise that are unpleasant, we are being sent a memo to shift to another motivational style. When frustrated by where you are, change it! You have the power to change your circumstances by shifting your motivation.
Apter’s Reversal Theory is a dynamic tool for psychological change that can be implemented by anyone. You will not need an advanced degree. You will not need any specific skills that you do not already possess. What you will need is a realization that you have the ability to change your motivation by acting on your emotional discomfort. When you stay in that discomfort, you may complain that you are not motivated. But that is an impossible position to defend. You have 360 degrees of freedom to choose from.
Apter, M.J. (2007). Reversal Theory: The Dynamics of motivation, Emotion and Personality. Oneworld Publications.
Apter, M.J. (2018). ZigZag. Reversal and Paradox in Human Personality. Troubador