Dominant Motivators: How I Stack Up To McClelland’s Theory of Human Needs

by Dan Walsh

I have picked apart my previous behaviour changes and discovered the motivations that make me tick. I was surprised to learn that I am not actually motivated by what I thought motivated me. This misconception has hindered me over the last decade.

I recently discovered McClelland’s theory of human motivation and used this model to determine my dominant motivator. Of the three potential motivators, I scored highest for achievement, middling for affiliation, and low for power. Despite my gregarious nature I am not all that motivated by the need to belong. I pursue many alternative and unpopular hobbies, so I guess this shouldn’t be a huge surprise. I have at times been considered very popular, in large part for my achievements, and I think I reversed the cause and effect in these situations. Somehow I ended up with the slightly twisted logic that I achieved because I was popular, when in reality I was popular because I achieved. My achievements all but ceased when I started pursuing popular hobbies instead of weird ones.

I used achievement as a shovel and dug through my past successes. The theory held up. I had been pursuing achievement in every instance where I accomplished a successful behaviour change – with one caveat. There were many times when I pursued an achievement solely for external validation. These were not successful, and were further examples of my conflating affiliation and achievement motivations. My failed attempt at a black belt in Judo is a good example of this. Yes, a black belt is a great achievement, but I was pursuing it because I thought it would be impressive. I thought it would be cool. I thought others would like it. That sounds an awful lot like an affiliation motivation to me. No wonder I couldn’t make it happen.

I posted similar thoughts to these in the article, Do Weird Shit, but they were rough and raw and I couldn’t accurately articulate the truth that was beginning to dawn on me. McClelland’s motivation model has helped me understand and hold those loose thoughts long enough to apply them to areas of my life where my motivations were skewed. This knowledge is a Level 0 “aha!” moment. My homework will be to turn it into Level 1 behaviour change.