Melissa Lee-Tammeus, PhD/LMHC
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Get Your Sea Monkeys on or How to Get What You Want

Motive is defined as a drive, an instinct, a biological excitement (Bindra, 1985). One philosopher and psychologist, the one and only Sigmund Freud, had much to say about instinct and motivation.

Clear back in 1915, Freud wrote his famous work entitled Triebe und Triebschicksale. Here, he explained motivation as a part of our soul. We were designed – hardwired – for action. The unconscious had everything to do with innate drives that compel us to do things (Mills, 2004). He wasn’t far off from the biological model of motivation called the drive reduction model in which one is biologically driven to remain in a state of balance called homeostasis (Myers, 2011).

So the reason we get hungry, thirsty, cold, hot, or have to go to the bathroom during an important meeting when that’s the last thing we want to do is make a spectacle of ourselves by rushing to the exit? Yeah, that’s motivation. Your body wants balance and it’s gonna get it.

Freud believed in biological drives but that not all drives were biological. I know, right? He believed that drives had an aim – to create satisfaction and ultimately pleasure – which means they could go beyond biology.

So “the heart wants what the heart wants” ? Freud would totally agree.

But we need an object of that desire, whether it be real or fantasy, in order to really make it work.

For instance, I see a pair of boots I like, I want them, and then I convince myself I need them. I buy them to satisfy that drive. Is that drive real? Um, no. It is fantasy. Definitely. I don’t need the boots. I want the boots. But, it doesn’t matter – I’m still motivated and it works.

Maybe you’re not into boots. Maybe it’s something else. Like cookies. Or tools. Or sea monkeys.

There’s some fluidity with drives though, says Freud. So, one day you may want boots. One day sea monkeys. Or maybe sea monkeys with boots.

Now we know that Freud didn’t quite cover it all. Frank (2004) and other psychologists say that instincts and drives include not only objects and biological balances but the need for recognition, understanding of events, emotional availability by another, and affirmation (Akhtar, 1999). Frank (2004) suggested that in clinical settings and the like, we need to start focusing on needs and how we develop them over the lifespan. I could not agree more.

Helping others to explore their needs – both immediate and fantasy – are important in working with motivation and drive. After all, how do we know how to strive for something if we don’t know what that something is?

In my line of work, I often find students and clients alike struggling to put into words what they want. However, when focus is given to both the unconscious and conscious desires and they are brought to light, it seems to make motivation to get those things much more accessible.

So, today, give yourself permission to desire, want, and need. Then, you can bring forth the ways to get it.


Akhtar, S. ( 1999). The distinction between needs and wishes: Implications for psychoanalytic theory and technique. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47, 113– 151.

Bindra, D. (1985). Motivation, the brain, and psychological theory. In S. Koch, & D. E. Leary (Eds.), A century of psychology as science (pp. 338–363). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Frank, G. (2003). Triebe and Their Vicissitudes: Freud’s Theory of Motivation Reconsidered. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 20(4), 691-697. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.20.4.691

Mills, J. (2004). Clarifications on Trieb: Freud’s Theory of Motivation reinstated. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 21(4), 673-677. Doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.21.4.673

Myers, D.G. (2011). Psychology in everyday life. Worth Publishers.