Motivation is what moves us. Because each choice creates me as a person, the motivation that drives that choice is an essential element in my experience of an inner self. Motivation is in turn created by desire and desire is generated by my deepest sense of what has value. In other words, since I believe that my health is important (that is the value), I have a desire to improve my health (desire), and therefore I want to exercise (motivation). This process is the engine that gets me to exercise.
The problem is that we have a variety of values–some that we know about and some that we do not know about. And sometimes these values clash. To stick with our example, I might value my health and also value spending time with my family. I may find that I have a motivation to exercise and a motivation to sit in the living room and talk with my family. At any one moment I might not be able to pursue both of those motivations at the same time. This creates the need for a decision between competing motivations.
Other times, there may be a clash between motivations that are part of a healthy set of values and motivations that are not so good for me. It may be that I want to exercise, but I also feel deeply hopeless about my ability to get myself to do it. Even though this hopelessness is not a feeling that I want to have, sometimes it seems I cannot help it. That is a motivation, even though it is counterintuitive to recognize motivations that seem to work against our best interests.
In other words, the puzzling thing about human action is that sometimes we do not do what we think we want to do or we do do things we think we do not want to do. How do we understand our own motivation when we cannot seem to regulate what we are deciding? At some level, there can be an internal motivation that is below our awareness which interferes with our best conscious decisions.
It can be frustrating when our best intentions are thwarted by internal conflicts between different motivations. Ultimately we want to find a way to consciously choose our direction rather than be buffeted by the complexities of a conflicted unconscious. This is one of the facets of our experience that can be greatly benefited by a good psychotherapeutic relationship. In the context of therapy, we can begin to know about our whole smorgasbord of motivations. When we can see our motives, we can choose among them more freely and avoid the ones we do not want to act on. It can be a slow process to make these discoveries and to build our ability to regulate ourselves more fully, but it can also be gratifying, energizing, and developmental.