Perpetual Dissatisfaction and Peak Performance - Lacan, Desire, and Drive

Drive, desire, and motivation are fundamental concepts in all theories of personality development. Although these concepts are portrayed in different ways by different authors, all psychologists must consider these forces in order to develop a holistic perspective on how people improve themselves as time passes. Jaques Lacan's psychoanalytic perspective on personality explains the structure of our motivations.

It is first important to note the difference between needs and desires. Needs are satiable - at least temporarily. For example, we all have physical needs like food and shelter. Lacan had no doubt that our needs can be easily met - otherwise we would not survive. Desires, on the other hand, are intrinsically insatiable. Due to our conscious experience as beings of language, there is no way for our awareness to completely come to terms with our surroundings. We are always finding (or even creating) more flaws, problems, and issues to resolve. Our inadequate representation of the physical world within our conscious minds forever guarantees that more problems will be created. Because no holistic perspective can be gained upon the physical world in its entirety, we are forever caught in experiences of inadequacy.

In other words, our accomplishments are always trumped by our insatiable desire. Did you finally get that bonus at work? Well, now it's time to work toward the next promotion. Did you finally learn that tricky guitar lick, sliding up and down that strange scale? Well, learn another one, and do it FASTER.

Many individuals will simply identify a desire, and blame their unhappiness on it's lack of resolution. "I need more money," they will say. "If I had more money, I could retire and live on my own island. That way I wouldn't have to deal with anybody, or put up with any nonsense. It would be great!"

This makes it very easy to overlook the fundamental problem which is causing their distress. Is it really just a simple matter of having money? Or, is there something more going on - a fundamental problem in human psychology, or even a deep-seated philosophical Truth?

I argue that Lacanian psychoanalysis provides the most robust answer to the question of motivation. Because our desires - by definition - cannot be satisfited, our minds will continuously shift from scenario to scenario to keep us entertained. Lacan calls this process fantasy. We are continously telling ourselves that a certain set of circumstances will allow us to feel satisfied. This is the urge of the Freudian Death Drive. For Lacan, however, jouissance forces a displacement of our desire upon new criteria. This perpetual cycle, Lacan argues, is the basis of most human activity. We believe that our actions will bring us satisfaction. However, human nature ensures that this satisfaction will never be achieved.

While this may initially seem like a morbid point of view, Lacan articulated a passage from simple desire to drive which affords the individual a true opportunity for creativity, inspiration, and even rebellion. Through psychoanalysis, Lacan displayed to his patients the structure of their desire. Upon this realization, the move from desire to drive is completed. Once an individual understands that their mind will forever create new barriers, problems, and desires, they enter the realm of drive. Rather than being stuck in a meaningless fantasy, pursuing a goal which has been dictated to the individual by society, the individual of drive is capable of breaking these barriers and pursuing more meaningful, new goals.

Here, we run into the central tenant of Zizek's critique of ideology. Zizek argues that most people today are stuck in various fantasies - most notably that capitalism is a sustainable economic methodology. This ideology, for Zizek, makes Real, true revolutionary change impossible. So long as we are stuck trying to "fix" capitalism (by recycling, donating to charity, etc.), our planet is in grave peril. It is only once we realize that our fantasy is invalid - that sustainability is impossible within a capitalist framework - that we may face the difficult problem of creating a new social environment which is in line with the needs of the planet. However, even then, we will always face more and more problems - each which will be tackled one-by-one, but each which will also create a new set of problems on its own. This is why Zizek rejects the idea of utopia, much like Jaque Fresco. Because imperfection is inevitable, we will never completely satiate our collective desires.

Here, I see a very interesting connection to the work of Dabrowski. Dabrowski argued that high-ability individuals experience psychic overexcitabilities which drive them to higher and higher levels of performance. This is why gifted individuals are so much more sensitive to criticism - both from the self and from others. What distinguishes a gifted individual is her perpetual dissatisfaction with her performance, her situation, and the status of society as a whole. This irritation drives the individual to create positive changes to their lifestyles and therefore reach higher states of consciousness. Is this not jouissance at its best? Our goals must grow with our capabilities, otherwise stagnation sets in.

Only by embracing the deepest causes of our motivation can we achieve both individual and collective development. Our desires will always push us into higher states of consciousness, higher levels of societal integration, and higher levels of performance.

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