I recently wrote an article on core motivators, and a commenter mentioned that they’d like to learn more about the self-inspection part of the subject. How does it work? What does it really mean to know yourself to the point where you can actually understand and mitigate your weaknesses?

The single most important thing in this process is honesty. You need to be able to take a cold, hard look at who you are, what you do in a given situation, and how your emotions and motivators affect you. That level of introspection is more difficult than we like to think, because it means opening up past decisions, arguments, and even wounds to critical assessment.

Some people think of it as just asking “What matters to you?” but it goes deeper than that. It’s about asking why those things matter to you, and then asking why the answer matters. You’re peeling away layers of an onion, and at the core of it all, what you find might be a bit embarrassing. It might even be a bit shocking. But if you have the guts to do it, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Most people don’t bother to go through the process. Some start it but have a hard time with what they find, so they stop before they get to the bottom level. Some people manage to get to their core, but then do nothing about what they find. Understanding yourself is only half the process; you need to find ways to recognize when your motivator is driving poor decisions or even things you say, and mitigate it. If you don’t, you’re essentially like a network security guy who finds a gaping hole in his network, but says, “Well, no one will find it so I don’t need to do anything about it.” Pretty stupid, right?

Starting Out

One way to at least get the ball rolling is to sit down with a piece of paper and title it “Who Am I?” You might be able to write down a whole bunch of things off the top of your head. You’re a spouse and parent, a construction worker, a financial planner, a baseball coach, a motorcycle owner, all kinds of things. That’s fine and great but look at your list. They’re all surface things. They aren’t who you are at your core. They’re who you are in the outside world. Try again.

You might put down that you’re a “good guy,” or a “hard worker.” That’s nice and all, but it still isn’t what we’re looking for. “Well, I’m also honest and forthright.” Are you? Everyone lies. Every single person on earth lies. Some people lie at the family reunion about Aunt Mabel’s baked beans being fit for human consumption. Some husbands lie and say their wife looks fine in that dress. Some wives lie and say they’re “fine” when they’re internally seething about something. As human beings, how we determine integrity and liars isn’t based on whether someone is honest or not in every single situation no matter what. It’s based on whether or not we determine that the lies will harm us, people we care about, or violate the standard of morality we hold ourselves to.

I’m not saying that you should brand yourself a horrible liar with no integrity if you told your wife last night that the bulging muffin top coming out of the new too-small jeans she bought was somehow attractive. In fact, during all of this process, refrain from applying negative labels to anything yet. There’s plenty of time for that later. Right now the goal is you admitting who you are in an impartial and unemotional manner.

To do that, you’ll need another list. The first one was just to get you started on the path. Now it’s time to dig deep.

Getting Into the Muck

This one should be titled, “What Am I Hiding?” and will help a great deal to get you down to the nitty-gritty. Maybe you’re hiding the fact that you watch porn from your wife. Maybe you leave early from work and let one of your buddies punch your time card when your shift ends. Maybe you like to bet on sports games and owe a sizable chunk of money. Maybe you’re cheating on your spouse. Maybe you like to hang out in certain online chat rooms that others who know you would raise their eyebrows at. Maybe you’re in real financial trouble but no one knows. There are a thousand things you could be hiding–because we all hide something. And the things we hide aren’t always secret sins. Sometimes people hide past trauma or mistakes. Deep-seated insecurities and fears. All of these things, in the right hands, are leverage. They’re fodder for a manipulator, and we all have them. There is not a person on earth who is so emotionally healthy, so perfect, so “together” that they have nothing to hide. People say they have nothing to hide all the time, and that’s a crock. We all have something to hide, and we all have a reason for hiding it. There’s no shame in hiding things, or admitting that we DO have things we hide; the shame is in refusing to acknowledge those things to yourself and take steps to minimize any damage it may cause later.

One thing I’ve said over and over is that everyone has skeletons. They can’t really cause you any problems if they’re right out there in your living room hanging out. They cause problems when they’re hidden away in the closet. Now, I’m in no way suggesting that you should just tell everyone your life story — in fact, need to know is something that should really be a watchword for your entire life. But if you’re doing something that would cause you significant drama, ruin your marriage, end your employment, etc., you need to think long and hard about ending it before someone else finds it and uses it against you.

That’s a bit of a rabbit trail, but let’s get it back on topic by asking, why do you do those things? What do you get from them? Why do you hide them? What types of things do you feel compelled to do in a given situation because of them? A classic example is an elicitation trait I use fairly often. If someone wants to be seen as an expert, they often will give out more information than they should in an effort to show you that 1) they’re right, 2) they’re knowledgeable, 3) they are someone to be respected. To trigger that response, all you have to do is contradict them. “But I’ve read that….” or “Are you sure that’s correct?” often starts the ball rolling.

Getting to the Core

We’ve been dancing around the main question this whole time, but you might — if you’ve been doing these steps — be getting a feel for what your core motivator is. There are several lists floating around depending on the context; sales trainers have a list, military interrogators have a list, criminal profilers have a list. Some of the items overlap, some don’t. Some are distilled down to 2 things, some are far longer and more detailed. If you want to find them, they’re out there. What I’ll offer here is simply a couple things to get you started thinking about what yours might be.

You might say, “Liberty is my motivator.” No. It’s not. How you go about the process of “liberty,” however, might give you a clue as to what your motivator is. You might think your family is your motivator. Nope. Not that either. I offered a few questions for you in the last article that bear repeating now:

  • Do I bristle at the idea of being in a group I’m not in charge of?
  • How do I feel when someone compliments me profusely?
  • Where do I find my identity?
  • What grounds me?
  • How do I feel when I see my picture on a news article about my group’s recent events?
  • How strong is my marriage and family relationship in my home?
  • What role do I play in my immediate family?
  • What am I insecure about (everyone has something)?
  • What kinds of things can someone say about me that make me instantly furious?

Here are a few more pointed ones:

  • What do you normally wear to a rally, and why?
  • How do you react if a reporter contacts you to ask you about your recent event?
  • How do you spend your time on social media?
  • What is the main activity your group involves itself in, and why?
  • How do you feel when someone tells you that you’re wrong?
  • How often do you think you’re the smartest person in the room? How do you feel when you realize you aren’t?

This isn’t a condemnation of groups, movements, or anything else. It is, however, an encouragement to look at how your group, your identity and role within it, and who you are at your core affect your decision-making process, and by default, affect you and the people who depend on you. Keep asking why. Keep peeling the layers.

Where It All Comes Together

So, let’s say you’ve got a pretty sizable list of secrets and insecurities and fears and traits that you’ve managed to force yourself to put down on paper. That’s good. Now ask yourself what they all have in common. What do they give you? Why do you have those habits/traits/secrets? What need do they fill for you? How can they be used against you?

You may come to realize, for instance, that your biggest insecurity is someone finding out that you’re mentally weak, and lack courage. Maybe you camouflage that by being a mouthy jackass. Maybe your core motivator is power; you crave it, you need it, you’ll do anything to get it, even if you don’t consciously realize you’re doing it. Maybe you’re someone who deep down craves the validation from others looking at you as if you’re pretty awesome. Maybe you find your identity in achievement, and you have to win everything at all costs. All of our experiences, our relationships, our core of who we are and what we need, shapes everything from how we treat people to how we engineer situations — and the same situation may be engineered ten different ways by ten different people with ten different core needs. The person who finds their identity in their role as a parent, for instance, may seek the validation and being needed that comes from having little humans totally depend on them, offering that unconditional love that little kids give.

In order to recognize the undercover agent trying to get you to do something illegal, foment drama, or otherwise disrupt your life and group, you need to understand the avenues of approach they’ll use, because that avenue will be tailored to your personality and your needs. In order to keep the bad actors at bay, you need to know how they’ll come. That goes for everything from shady people trying to get into your group to whether you can trust your neighbors, to anything else.

Lots of folks will eat up a review on a scope or devour information about various types of gear and firearms and tactics, and all of those are critically important. Equally as important, however, is understanding people. There’s a reason why it’s called “human terrain,” and the first step to navigating it successfully is to know yourself.


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