RAMPS – A Way I Approach Motivational Puzzles

Part [part not set] of 15 in the series RAMPS

Motivational Puzzles

Rhythm, Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose, and Safety are important bands in my own motivational spectrum, so I often use them when I’m thinking about other people’s motivational spectroscopy.

I’ll give you snapshots of the meaning behind those bands in a minute, but I want to start with that base metaphor, of spectrums, spectroscopy, and signature.

When you bombard an element with electromagnetic radiation — for the sake of shorthand, when you make it glow — it gives off visible light. If you use a prism to break that light into its separate color bands, you get a picture that looks like an ordinary vertical bar chart.

Each bar represents the amount of that color component present in the glow. You might get a very tall bar for "blue" and short bars for the other, or any other possible permutation, one bar for each color of the rainbow (roughly).

That barchart, a spectrum, is actually a signature. That is, all pure samples of the same element glow with the same bar chart, the same spectrum.

In fact, all same-proportion mixed samples of pure elements glow with the same spectrum that is math-ily related to the individual elements and proportions. Scientists use this idea to find out what some things are made of.

(That’s a super-rough approximate summary, and there’s a ton of detail I can’t tell you because I don’t know it: I’m a coach, Jim, not a miracle-worker . . . or a chemist or a physicist or a scientist.)

So, too, in this perhaps overblown metaphor, I’m taking what we call "motivation", and treating it like light, breaking it into component bands, and thinking about the various motivational puzzles one encounters in dealing with oneself and with others.

There are two key aspects to this metaphor. 1) Every person’s bar-chart, spectrum, motivational signature is different. 2) The closer the setting is to a person’s motivational signature, the more motivated they are, and the further, the less so.

Let’s do the bands.

(Important: I make no claims of originality, invention, or even completeness here. I just made up the acronym, yo.)

I will expand on each band in coming muses, but for now, let’s just sketch each band, quick-like-a-bunny.

Rhythm is about sequences of alternating tension and release. Operative concepts here include anticipation, endorphins, refractory periods, cycles, epicycles, and multi-modality.

If we had one utterance that encapsulates the effect of feeling in rhythm, it would be the word we associate with the release period: "Ahhhhhh!" The look would be an unaware grimace of effort followed by an unaware expression of delight.

Rhythm is deeply embedded in one’s embodiment. That is, it is almost always a visceral physical experience. Those of you who are drawn to music will recognize this instantly, a subject we’ll take up when we expand the idea later.

Autonomy is about the layout and interaction of obligation and action. Operative concepts here include freedom, range of motion, permission, trust, specification.

The classic utterance of optimal autonomy is a response to a problem statement: "I’ll handle it." The look is one first of relaxed attention and then a quick nod.

Autonomy seems to be the most abstract of the bands, the one most easily framed in grand concepts, like freedom. It is often the most overlooked of motivational bands in classical motivation & management theory.

Mastery is centered around growth. Operative concepts might be completion, novelty, identity, boredom, reach, extension, courage.

The utterance for mastery is twinned. Before the fact, it’s "I think I can." After the fact, it’s "Nailed it." The look is first smiling child-like trepidation, then grinning child-like celebration.

Note "child-like". Nothing is more to the essence of mastery than watching a child learn to do a thing she really wants to do. (As a GeePaw, let me just add, for me, nothing is more joy-producing than watching that happen, either.)

Purpose is about the value of service. Relevant concepts here are instrumentalism, role, faith, mission, one’s place in the grand scheme of things and one’s valuation of that grand scheme.

The utterance for purpose is "Chaaaaaarge!" The look of it is a bizarre mixture of grim glee, the gestural equivalent of girding one’s loins for the next round. I find it the hardest to visualize, because there are so many ways to manifest it.

The over-rating of purpose is the grotesque centerpiece of old-school motivation & management theory, the land of meaningless psuedo-wise slogans that are so bad they’ve spawned a cottage industry of hilarious fake motivational posters.

Safety is about the delicate nuanced dance between who I am and who we are. As such, the operative concepts include self- & group-identity, acceptance, source & substance & style, experience, perception.

The archetypal safety utterance is "I don’t feel good about this yet." The look of it is of someone speaking with another person slightly futher back gently resting a hand on the speaker’s shoulder.

Safety is all the rage just now, which is good news, because for some folks it’s of critical importance, and bad news, because it is far easier to speak of than to actually achieve.

So those are the five bands I have in mind in RAMPS: Rhythm, Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose, Safety.

I’ve gone on for too long already. We’ll look at each of those bands in greater depth another time, and for the love of Pete with some actual advice attached to them.

My Motivational Spectrum

Let me close by sharing with you my own motivational spectrum as I currently understand it. I am generally regarded as highly motivated, to the point at times of being maniacally so.

When I was younger, and the situational signature matched my personal signature, I would routinely and quite joyfully work for 18 hours, read for 2, and sleep for 6. (My circadian rhythm is about as broken as you can imagine.)

I am far more frail these days, and I also have learned to intersperse rest throughout the day, but it’s not uncommon for me to work 12-14 hours spread loosely across my (still broken) circadian circle.

On a scale of 1-10, my bar chart might look like:

  • Rhythm – 8
  • Autonomy – 7
  • Mastery – 9
  • Purpose – 5
  • Safety – 2.

I do my best work by far based on my sense of M, R, and A. P is a middle ground. S, well, that’s an outlier and an odd one.

There are two oddly contradictory sentences that account for that very low requirement for S.

  1. I’m a white american male computer geek born in 1960. I got a track record. People listen to me. They actively value my discomfort-o-meter. I got me some considerable privilege.
    It’s what grandma called "shittin’ in tall cotton".
  2. I really have never felt happily safe in my entire wildly lucky life. I had to learn to live without it, and I largely have. The safety in a situation may be high or low, but the safety I experience is always low. Changing the situation affects me, for sure, but not much.

So there ya go. I use RAMPS to help me think about motivation, both my own and that of others. Using it this way seems to help me do better. We’ll talk in more depth about all this soon.

Rhythm, Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose, Safety.

What’s your spectrum look like?

Friday night. Soon soon we shall go out to a favorite weird funky pub to celebrate one of our WOOF’ers 66th birthday.

I hope you have a favorite weird funny celebration tonight, too!

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