What motivates you? Reward or Threat?

There were many things that spoke to me in the book Quiet by Susan Cain.  One of them was the dichotomy between introverts, who are often motivated by threat, and extroverts more motivated by rewards.  She discussed this concept in terms of evolutionarily stable strategies, a theoretical framework in which multiple behavioral strategies can exist in a population of animals as long as each strategy is the best strategy for different situations at different times.

Cain asks if extroversion seems so great, why wouldn’t natural selection have made us all extroverts?

Her hypothesis is that extroverts, who tend to go after big payoffs (maybe a juicy mammoth), tend to have success except when they don’t bother noticing that saber-tooth cat over the rise.  The strength of introverts is that they take the time to assess threats and make careful decisions.  If the introvert in the hunting party holds everyone back from attacking dinner, nobody becomes dinner.

Reward or threat?  What’s your primary motivation?  Going all out or playing it safe?  That doesn’t mean introverts don’t take risks, but they will be likely to think through their moves carefully.

Why am I babbling about this?  Well, I think that this framework explains my response to recent conversation with my agent.  A phenomenon that Laini Taylor has called mistrusting the yes.  Anyway, my agent and I were discussing the novel I’ve just finished which she is taking out on submission.  My lovely agent has high hopes for the book, and she said some very nice things about my writing.

So when we got off the phone, why did that blushy-glowy feeling trickle out through the bottoms of my feet so quickly?

We get a lot of rejection in this business.  Writers have to inure themselves to it.  Like Laini, many of us come to doubt that yes is ever coming, and when it does, we wave our fingers dismissively at it.

Like many writers, I’m a classic introvert—threat motivated.  As soon as I got off the phone with my agent, I started looking for predators.  I reminded myself that it would take a long time for editors to respond to our submission and many of them will say no.  I sent the book off into the world—because I’m not afraid of risk—but I also got real about possible outcomes.

Yet I don’t think this makes me a negative stick-in-the-mud.  Instead, my introversion makes me resilient.  A single no won’t shut me down as a writer.  Not even ten nos will.

I’ll keep writing.

The challenge for me—the real risk-taking—is learning how to savor the yeses when they come.

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