9 The Law of Developmental Motivation

Use what talents you possess:

the woods would be very silent

if no birds sang except those that sang best.

There exists a profound truth in the understanding of human behavior: only unsatisfied needs motivate! There also exist two types of motivation: developmental motivation and deficiency motivation. Both fulfill unsatisfied needs. However, one leads to a satisfying life; the other, to a life of discontent. Understanding and practicing developmental motivation crucial to experiencing wellness.

For years I struggled with trying to motivate myself. I used all the psyche-up techniques. The benefits were temporary, at best. Then came a revelation. I had been attempting to motivate myself from the standpoint of what was wrong with me. Dr. Wayne Dyer, with unparalleled insight, calls this approach “deficiency motivation.” It’s a no-win way to live life.


I would assess all the things I was missing: love, money, possessions. I thought I was missing it all. I viewed my life as eternally deficient. On and on grew the list of what was missing. I’d think, “When I get a new car, then I’ll be happy”; “As soon as I find the right life partner, that’s when my life will be complete.” “Why did this happen to me?”…

Following all the mind-numbing, soul-draining techniques on the self-help shelf, I would set a goal, create a burning desire, think positive, and drive myself crazy! It was a huge trap. When we motivate ourselves from this mind-set, we can never know life satisfaction. Why? Because we’ll always suffer from the dreadful disease called “more-if-when-why.”

I’d get the new car. But in less than a week I would be dissatisfied. Somebody else had a better one. I’d travel the world, but in a couple of months I’d grouse about having to live out of a suitcase. Other lifestyles always seemed to offer more. What was wrong was my motivating mind-set. I was motivating myself from what was missing in my life. I may have satisfied a want, but my mind-set was never satisfied. I was always focused on wanting more — on striving, not arriving.

In the world of personal motivation, if you focus on the something that is missing, guess what? The perceived lack will expand. Something will always be missing. What’s deficient in your life will become your calling card, your life experience. Enter the great non-negotiable Law of Developmental Motivation. The essence of the law is this: I am complete but not yet finished. This is a statement of powerful truth. You are complete, whole, and fully alive right now! You need no more for life to be happy. You can be completely fulfilled with what is, now. Of course we’re not yet finished. Even though we are complete, growth, change, and becoming are part of life. Our physical body constantly replaces itself with new cells.

Our mental capacities grow. Our spiritual reality provides a constant source of renewal. We grow and change naturally by choice, not from lack. We are complete now, yet our natural development calls for further growth. This shift in thinking is critical. Lacks become impossible. When we can see the inevitability of growth and change, we begin to become motivated by our dreams, not our deficiencies. We feel fully alive because lack is no longer part of our thinking process. We no longer see ourselves as deficient. We are free to grow and change — but not because we are incomplete. Instead, we seek growth and change because we are internally motivated to give, to serve, and to love. This is the Law of Developmental Motivation. It changes the way we perceive achievement and view life.

Walt Kallestad is the pastor of the Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Arizona. He makes this point well. When Walt stopped trying to build the church to satisfy his own ego and started to work solely out of a mindset of service to others, the church started to grow.

Things grow when we have a deep commitment to love and serve. Our greatest perceived need is physical survival. The second-greatest perceived human need is psychological survival. The third is spiritual survival. There is a hierarchy of the perceptions: physical, psychological, and spiritual. Body, mind, spirit. In that order. Satisfied needs, be they physical, psychological, or spiritual, do not motivate. Only unsatisfied pangs of hunger move people. This is one of the most powerful understandings we can have of ourselves and of others.

But the mere fact that we have unsatisfied needs does not mean we are deficient. No. With the Law of Developmental Motivation, we’re seeking the complete development of our life potential. That’s total wellness. And for the practice of total wellness to become an experienced reality, three key elements must come together: knowledge, skill, and desire. Study these elements. Knowledge is the “what to do” and the “why to do it”; each of the non-negotiable laws represents what must be done to accomplish a higher level of wellness. Skill is the “how to do it”; a daily process, a way of thinking, a disciplined response to life — all are part of the skills category. Desire is the motivation, the “want to do it” that is needed to bring knowledge and skill into reality. If we are missing just one of those three elements we won’t have wellness. Knowledge and skill are the simple parts. It’s desire that stands in the way of most seekers of wellness.

A woman wrote to me proclaiming, “I’ll do absolutely anything to get well. Where do I start?” That’s deficiency motivation. And it has been my observation that most people who are motivated in this way don’t do too well. They’re trying to not die, to overcome the “deficiency” of lost health. “I just want things back to normal,”

But hey, “normal” is what contributed to the problem in the first place! We don’t want to be motivated by our lacks. We need a vision of what might be. In my observations, the people who have the most success are those who, in spite of illness, do all they can to live for today. These are the ones who see life as complete even though it may have some health challenges. They have made an essentially spiritual decision to live now.

“The most important thing I learned was to stop dying of cancer and start living with cancer. I’ve resolved to master death by living life.” “The turning point in my health,” wrote Bessie, a very active resident of a retirement community, “was when I decided to forget my troubles and live to be 100!”

When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life! For many, this often means a longer life.

Authority of the self is an important part of experiencing total wellness. A deep sense of fulfillment comes not only from a serious commitment to a life filled with purpose but with striving for higher ideals. Therein lies true happiness. It’s the non-negotiable Law of Developmental Motivation.

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