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Drives and motives revealed in daydream themes

By David Kauss

To help further in guiding you as you assess your daydream themes, this section of this chapter describes some of the basic theme categories that psychologists find most helpful. A good way to proceed once you’ve recorded a series of your daydreams through any of the exercises described previously is to look for some of the basic categories of drives, motives, and needs that psychologists have come to recognize as relevant to performance. These drives, motives, and needs are what usually express themselves in your daydream themes.

The system of categories discussed here is not the only one that can be useful in evaluating human motives, but I’ve found it to be among the best for athletes. The categories are readily understandable, and they are fairly easy to recognize in daily life. They date back to the motivational work of Atkinson, McClelland, and others, primarily at Harvard, in the 1960s. The categories are need for achievement (nAch), need for affiliation (nAff), and need for power (nPow).

Need for Achievement
The need for achievement is the motive most clearly relevant to any sort of performance. It refers to the need to accomplish things. People with a high nAch tend to think of things in terms of goals and accomplishments. This motive was demonstrated by Tom and his family in chapter 1—recall how he and his parents tracked his progress constantly. High nAch people might shoot at a target just to see how many times they can hit it. They have nothing against practice because it helps them improve performance. They often have internal standards of excellence that drive them; if the coach says to take 10 laps, they take 12, just to see if they can do it. They take deep pleasure in succeeding and love to feel competent at what they do. Their activities often lead to tangible products to show what they’ve accomplished. They always know the score, their statistics, and where they are on the path to any goal.

Here’s a daydream filled with nAch imagery: It’s 5:00 A.M. I wake up just before the alarm goes off. I’m tired, but I lace on my running shoes, make a brief stop in the bathroom, and hit the road. It’s cold and drizzling, so I zip my warm-up jacket tighter around me, but I’m not going to skip my run today. It’s hell at first. Then my muscles start to warm up. I can feel my stride start to assert itself, just the way I’ve been training. As I’m running, I envision myself in the championship race. My pace is right where I want it to be. I feel strong. The other runners are starting to fatigue, but I’ve learned to push through that. All my training is paying off. I’ve got energy to burn. I hit my times at lap 1, lap 5, and lap 10 just as I’ve planned them. I can feel some fatigue trying to get to me as I run, but that’s a good sign, because it means I’m really pushing my body to the limit this time. No pain, no gain. I won’t give in to fatigue, no matter what. I think about how good it will feel at the finish line, to have given everything I’ve got and to have done what I set out to do.

Need for Affiliation
Affiliation is all about feeling connected to other people. For people with high nAff, everything is viewed in terms of its effects on and meanings to others. Interpersonal contact is paramount. Love, respect, recognition, understanding—these and any other categories of relationships between people are foremost in these people’s minds.

At first glance, this motive doesn’t seem particularly relevant to performance. However, the need for affiliation can drive people to accomplish quite a bit through sport. They may not crave the athletic challenge purely for its own sake, the way high nAch people do, but they must make the team, even if they have to excel individually to do so. They make great teammates, and they thrive in sports requiring communication for team success. In chapter 2, Rod gave us a good example of how nAff can prove very useful in athletic circumstances, especially in team sports.

Here’s a daydream filled with nAff imagery: It’s 5:00 A.M. I’m tired, but Chris and I promised each other that we wouldn’t bag it this morning, and I’m not going to be the one who breaks the deal. I’m dressed and out quickly. It’s tough running that first stretch down to the park where we meet, but we’re both on time. It’s so cold that we can barely talk, but after a while, we’ve both just got to laugh at ourselves for working out even in this drizzle. Chris sure has great form, but I can keep up. Ugh, I remember how much I used to hate doing this, before we started working out together. We agree that we motivate each other—when one is down, the other is always there. That will be especially important in the championships next month. The pressure would be a killer without the team, and it’ll be great to have my brother and those people from school there to cheer us on. We’ll have a great meet, and then we’ll have a great party. [Of course, the high nAff runner might just talk with Chris instead of having any of this internal monologue, but that’s precisely the point—it’s the personal contact that drives the running machine.]

Need for Power
Power is directly related to competition. This motive is all about dominance. It’s about mastering what one undertakes, or the people in the competition, or both. Whereas nAch is about excelling, nPow is about winning. It’s not as much about the doing as about what one gets for winning. It revolves around dominating the physical aspects of your sport, or besting your opponents, or both. C.J. in chapter 5 was a good example of an nPow person, although he displayed a good measure of nAch as well.

The need for power is often broken down into two subcategories: personal power and social power. Personal power focuses on mastering the materials of your game. In chapter 4, Joanne found an excellent outlet for her anger-driven energy in the intensity of her focus on the physicality of her sport, in personal nPow fashion. Also, nPow can center on images of tangible rewards for winning, such as trophies, money, or the things available to the winner. Social power focuses on the people involved. Then, the relevant rewards are the acclaim and praise of others. Personal-power people focus on controlling the game, the ball, the puck, the race. Social-power people focus on controlling the opponent. Whereas high nAff people need to feel and to foster increased, positive contact between themselves and others, high social nPow people want to be acclaimed by others for winning. Both are interpersonal in nature, but they’re very different in actual motivation.

Here’s a daydream filled with nPow imagery, both personal and social: It’s 5:00 A.M. It’s early, but I’m not going to let anyone be out there before me. That gold medal is going to be mine. I’ve been working out better than anyone else lately, and I can feel it in my legs, my arms, everywhere. Nobody’s going to touch me on that track. There have been some pretty fast times put up, but most of those runners will wilt under the pressure of the championships. I can hear the crowd roaring for me now as I head for the tape. Hey, I’ll bet I’m the only one dedicated enough to be out here in this cold rain. I’m gonna show them all what I can really do.

Although nAch, nAff, and nPow are among the most common basic drives, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have to find one of them in your daydreams. You probably will find at least some elements of each in your images. Very few of us embody these drives in a pure form. The soccer goalkeeper described earlier, for example, had daydreams with a strong portion of nAff (people orientation) but was able to add a healthy dose of personal nPow (mastering the ball, the moment, the game) to his general nAff style.

Each of us is unique. In assessing your daydream images, try to get a feel for your own personal combination of motives. Always be on the lookout for other themes as well, even if they don’t fall into the previously described categories. The more personal your daydream themes, the more powerful they are likely to be for you.

The preceding examples give a uniformly positive expression to the three basic motives, but each has a negative side as well. Although some athletes express their imagery in a hopeful, confident way, others find their basic daydream themes expressed much less pleasantly. Neither way is better; in fact, sometimes the greatest competitors excel specifically because they are driven to do so by what seem to be inner demons of doubt and fear.

The negative expression of basic motives often entails imagery of fear of losing the positive aspects of that particular motive. For example, nAch people can be broken down into those motivated by fear of failure and those spurred on by desire for success.

The daydream imagery of our high nAch early-morning runner pretty well defines the latter mode. A person driven by fear of failure would daydream just as much about practicing, reaching certain goals, and pushing for excellence but would state and feel these drives in the negative: “I’d better work this hard or I’ll be crushed in that meet. I just know there are so many other runners with more ability than me, but I hate the thought of having wasted all this time and energy if I lose. I’ve got to push harder.”

Though fear of failure may not feel as good as desire for success, research indicates that it is just as effective. For every cocksure wide receiver with a Super Bowl ring, there’s another who spent the pregame in tension, nausea, and fear. For every high nAff quarterback who thrives on communication and contact with others, there’s one who’s driven to excel by fears of losing the love, friendship, or respect of certain special people. For every high nPow lineman who wins by using images of domination and reward, there’s one who blocks or tackles just as hard because he dreads the thought of being dominated by anyone, especially his opponent.

In assessing your daydreams, always be on the lookout for such negative images, often images of personal threat. A daydream that reveals to you what you fear most has volumes to tell you about your basic motives. These points of personal threat often carry clues about why you choke when you do and why you triumph when you do. Until Tom, the tennis player from chapter 1, could recognize his basic fear of being like his mildly retarded brother Martin, he could never reach his full potential. Once he did recognize that personal threat, he was able to turn it to his advantage, to harness the power of his images and emotions instead of being controlled by them.

What you fear most, as revealed to you through your daydream images, may not turn out to be a negative factor in your performance. I’ve heard countless athletes complain that they feel frightened or full of doubt before competition (especially a big one) and that they believe this is never the case for successful competitors. Baloney! A certain amount of fear is completely natural. It won’t hamper your performance unless you worry excessively about feeling it and try to fight it. Instead, you’re almost always better off accepting what your fear is trying to tell you about yourself: namely, that you care very deeply about what it is that’s scaring you. Knowing what moves you so strongly and so naturally is the key to harnessing your inner motivations. This is a source of strength much superior to trying to create new, external motivators because you think your mental approach to your game should be like that of some idealized “super winner.”

This is an excerpt from Mastering Your Inner Game.

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