GHDR Report 0505: Predominantly Prosocial Motivation

Posted Sunday, May 5, 2024 by Sri. Tagged GHDR
EDITING PHASE:second draft
I'm following my gut regarding 'predominantly prosocial motivation' as the core of my emotionally-driven operating systemFortune cookie reading 'Consider your impressions; follow them once in a while'Fortune cookie reading 'Consider your impressions; follow them once in a while' (full size image)

Happy Groundhog Day Resolutions Report Day!!! I'm continuing to debug my motivational problems, which have plagued me since I was a child. Last month I realized I had perhaps misunderstood how my "activation mechanism" works: I described this as logic driven by emotion, emphasizing that my logical processes that lead to action were informed by emotion. However, I may have been getting the order of importance subtly wrong: it's emotion that drives me, not logic. I'd like to chat a bit about that, and then talk about how this affects my goals moving forward for May.

Revisiting Self Care as Motivational Management

As someone who prized connecting with the emotional needs of others as I worked in design, I was shocked to realize I had been ignoring my own basic emotional needs.

I've been writing about the feelings of disconnection and unrelateability which leads to emotional dysregulationThis is a Sri-specific "out of control" mode; "being unable to do what I know is good for me, instead doing something else." It's an inability to control my actions while being fully aware that they are detrimental, and my "willpower" is not strong enough to force the issue. this year; was the severe depression I've been having symptoms of that unmet need? Yes, I think so.

"Logic Driven by Emotion" is Not Self Care

Until now, my way of understanding my motivational triggers is described as Logic Driven by Emotion, a process that (for me) looks like this:

  1. During normal daytime activity, I become aware of a fleeting emotional reaction that is visceral or noteworthy based on its strength. While I don't yet know why I'm responding, I'm immediately driven to investigate the pattern further.
  2. My associative memory immediately searches for a matching feeling and the contextual memory that goes with it. For example, perhaps there is the faint wisp of Summer Day on the Beach that I am getting, or perhaps a vision of Dark Wood, Books, Mahogany come to mind. Or I remember feeling a similar kind of happiness/fear very specifically because it's formative. At times, it may stem from a meaningful character moment in a work of fiction.
  3. I then try to create connections between the memory and the recent emotional event. Was this something I've seen before that I have a name for? Is this something new? Is there another related memory/experience that suggests a new principle that governs Sri's universe?
  4. I come up with a working definition and an accompanying hypothesis to be mindful of in the future, should the event happen again. I try to give it a new name, and write it down somewhere. This becomes a new conceptual anchor that I can use as a reference, which is helpful for understanding myself and to describe to others.

The first point is the emotional trigger, and subsequent steps are logical processing that helps me understand and come to terms with my experience and feel confident enough to form a plan of action.

For a long time this seemed like a pretty good adaptation to the craziness of the world, and it is also the basis of my approach to design and communications. The difference in design work is that instead of relating just my own experiences, I am seeking shared experience between myself and the clientI have belatedly realized that this is a naturally "human-centered" approach to work that is not as common as I thought. I have periodically been mystified why fields like "User Experience" (UX) replaced "Graphical User Interface", and trends like "Design Thinking" (isn't that just thinking???) and "Human-Centered Design" (isn't that just design???) keep cropping up like it's something novel and new. It never occurred to me that many people are content simply to make things work., finding ways to coalesce our communication around shared ideas to find more connections. For example, if a client mentions Dark Wood, Books, Mahogany, I might mention the Dark Academia style...maybe another way to describe "Logic Driven by Emotion" is Vibe Logic?

So what's the problem? By spending so much time logicking my emotions and applying them to communication, I instead get stuck in the trap of using logic to interact when it's really that is the primary carrier of motivation. I've grown accustomed to using my insights into classifying feeling and relating experiences to others as a resource. It happens to be a useful one with clear applications in my various lines of work, but this utility obscures the main desire for me to be immersed in deep and meaningful connections that resonate with the heart.

In other words: Sri Runs on Emotion. That feels true to me after long reflection. But I need to dig a little deeper into it to identify the mechanisms that underlie the feeling via my Logic Driven by Emotion processing.

Defining Emotional Environmental Factors

I think in popular writing, "emotion" is associated with extremes related to uncontrolled neediness as a foil to rationality. I am not talking about that kind of emotion, but the fusion of both. For example, in organizations like the military and organizations this is called morale, and the ability to create it is strongly correlated with effective leadership. There is a connectedness between the goals of the organization, its people, and the leadership.

In my case, I am currently an individual without an organization or social group with which I feel strong daily continuity where this can develop. The approaches I've taken in the past have related to setting a compelling mission and finding ways to connect my proclivities for human-centered design with people who also appreciate this approach in practice and in product. However, I've always found it extremely difficult to motivate myself to work toward these goals or take those steps because they felt so EMPTY to me. I thought that if I could just force myself through enough of these cycles, I could acquire the money and resources that would help me establish a group of people that would provide the strong daily continuity I craved in a form that I knew would work well with me. But it's more complicated that just "feeling good" about a's an essential environmental requirement too!

I only am moved to act when someone else is physically or mentally present and involved in the moments of action. I work rather poorly without this context using stand-ins such as induced curiosity or timed data experiments or work as narrative. As weird as this may seem to many people, I think the following statement is true for me:

I am unable to feel intrinsic motivation. I require a strong shared social context with mutual goals in a realtime setting.

I tried to find a name for this kind of motivation, and there is no easy label like "reward motivated" or "interest motivated". The best match I've cobbled together is predominantly prosocial. It seems to be rather rare as a personality trait, but the idea of prosocial activities itself is quite common. Unfortunately, I've found that merely seeking prosocial opportunities in as volunteering, non profits, interest groups, and other social contexts don't meet my actual need. Thus, my current thoughts are as follows:

If I want to be happy in work and life, I need to define and create my own community of such folks.

The dilemma is that creating anything at all is difficult because I don't have the strong emotional connection yet to motivate myself to action. In hindsight, many of my lofty Groundhog Day Resolution Goals of the Past have been due to this conundrum, complicated by my recently cataloged autistic and other neurodivergent traits.

I feel emboldened to declare:

Prioritizing the formation of a predominantly prosocially-motivated group is the foundation of my self care.

Key Realizations and Future Actions

The Sri engine runs on emotion, and therefore emotion is my priority resource. However, there is a very specific form of emotional energy that I'm looking for that is deeper that just the desire to have a "supportive community". The form of this emotional energy has to fit the conditions of having what I'm calling a Predominantly-Prosocial Motivational Profile. I have an extremely strong desire to see people working together to create shared environments of immersive creative synthesis, and I'm only motivated when I see my work contributing to this kind of collective spirit. If I am not in this environment, I become extremely depressed and demotivated (which is how much of my 2024 has been so far).

Last month I had expressed my action items as follows:

First find the people and start talking about dreams we're working on. Then see where the conversation goes!

I'm happy to report that the long bout of depression seem to have lifted toward the end of April. My cousin came to visit me and we smoked cigars and tasted a dozen kinds of bourbon while working on our future project codebase, having deeper conversations over many days. This was highly restorative, so I feel the desire to try again returning. Despite that, I still am facing the quintessential dilemma of needing to form a group to acquire the energy I need to start a group.

I can operate on the old "logic driven by emotion" model and try to bootstrap my way into it, but it's important to prioritize having those conversations which will create the primary motivation. Instead of applying that energy to work/entrepreneurial endeavors, I want to put it into the prosocially-motivated core group.

More concerning is that I have a lot of hangups about talking to people in the first place, so I will have to get out of my comfort zone. A few energy-sapping patterns come to mind; applying mindfulness to these thought patterns as they come up would be really important.

  • The desire to connect with people at odds with fear of people rejection
  • The desire to have an exhaustive contingency plan when interacting with people
  • The desire to be as prepared as possible to avoid having to make a decision on the fly with unknown conditions
  • The expectation of not connecting due to different communication style, sensitivities, mental needs, and ways of understanding the world through patterns and models

Additionally, unburdening my self of responsibility is important not only for energy preservation but also for mental self-care:

  • Dropping responsibility for anticipating everyone's needs are fulfilled ahead of time
  • Dropping responsibility for communicating accurate state, processes, concepts until the need is obvious to everyone
  • Limiting number of outstanding issues for each human connection rather than absorbing their entire workload into my mental model
  • Not accepting blame for other people's missteps and oversights as I have been

Very important is that I'm not planning on setting aside time to "Work on my Prosocial Motivation Group Tasks" as I would have in the past. The energy I need is just to talk to people and see where that goes. If my hypothesis is correct, the act of talking with trigger action to talk to people to create that virtuous cycle of interaction I crave. I'm hoping that this happens:

prosocial conversation ⇒ shared energy ⇒ action ⇒ outcome to advance conversation

In principle this is related to last year's Never Work Alone directive from GHDR 2022, which recognized that I work best in these kind of shared goals. It's interesting how the ideas are continuing to evolve!

Wrapping Up

So that's where I am right now. I think I will use my dormant Medium Account as the gathering point for a "Prosocial Cultural Architectural Theory and Practices" group, as has better discoverability and commenting than this site. I'd also like to lean more on the Fediverse (via my Mastodon and Bluesky accounts) as I suspect these communities might have more of the kind of people that would be fun to talk to.

An implication of this new direction is that I'm no longer tracking product or work-related goals. I'm making a bet that if I solve the prosocial conditions that I desire, I'll feel much happier and connected in how I do my work. That said, it's important to remember that there is more than one stage to this:

  • STAGE 1 - Create Prosocial Core Group
  • STAGE 2 - Create Prosocial Core Architecture, Practices, Vision, and Metrics
  • STAGE 3 - Seed Practices and Vision to interest groups that are founded on our output
  • STAGE 4 - Create a for-profit benefit company to make cool stuff

Stage 3 is where I would want to try to create a local group using what happens in the prior stages. Stage 4 would be nice. I think with the articulation of a vision of the architecture, this will help create a funnel for interested people as well as provide the operational template for how the organization governs itself. I know there are a lot of different approaches to this---sociocracy comes to mind right off the bat---as well as thousands of community managers and leaders who are eager to dig deeper into the theory and practice of their respective groups.

Each stage carries its own challenges. Rather than try to push through this alone, I am finally comfortable in admitting I can't do it myself. I am less comfortable with the idea of contacting people, but I am compensating by saying it's ok to make that the ONLY focus for this stage because the goal is to see what happens rather than have expectations up-front. Still...I could use some affirmative feedback to help me feel a little braver. I feel like I am pulling an awful lot of stuff out of my butt and hoping that I really can trust myself to adapt as the future unspools. It feels "right" at this moment.

Please grant me strength, oh mysterious universe, to persevere!


This year's single goal is Building The Colony!

Made a simple "functional area" diagram using Whimsical to help gather my thoughts.

I converted the Whimsical doc from yesterday to Affinity Designer.

Created new subsite at /the-colony/

Wrote stream-of-consciousness "vision statement" for later cleanup

Convert stream-of-consciousness into a "phrase cloud" for further deconstruction

Artifacts of The Colony: Pebbles, Seeds, and Rings

Created a "refined phrase cloud" grouped into five categories, based on boot 05's work.

Extracted "foundational" statements from yesterday, but they didn't leave a strong impression. Punt "why" to tomorrow's post.

Created a "Selfishly Sri" printable assessment to gauge outside interest.

Reducing scope from Colony to Outpost.

Desired results are distilled down to two main ideas, which will cover the next couple of months.

A slow start to the year, as I focused on paying work for most of the month. Set four directives to achieve this mont

The set of analysis notes that I authored with ChatGPT4 to refine my understanding of "prosocial motivation"

New goal is to start connecting with future chatty collaborators, as my brain runs on "prosocial motivation" and meaningful human connections.

Delving further into my "predominantly prosocially-motivated" profile, and how to turn this into action given the dilemma of "needing the energy from a group to start a task" being at odds with "needing to start a group so I have energy".

Jun 6


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