Reversal Theory: In Tweets

By Jennifer Tucker  

Lots of my work involves applying personality models and social theories to better understand and navigate real world problems. One of my favorites is Reversal Theory, a model that helps people both systematically understand and better control their motives and emotions. While awareness of Reversal Theory is growing, it is a model that deserves even more attention out in the world.

Quickly communicating the benefits and use of a new tool is a vital step toward its adoption and use.  Along these lines, a few months ago I wrote MBTI Refresh: The Twitter Way as a tool to help communicate the theory of psychological type in a fast and simple way.

Now, I’m applying that same approach to summarize Reversal Theory. Consistent with the Twitter format, the following bullets are each 140 characters long or less (one tweet per bullet), and summarize the core ideas behind Reversal Theory.

  • Many personality theories focus on traits, preferences. Reversal Theory focuses on how our motives and emotions CHANGE, and can be changed.
  • Don’t like a situation? Change your state of mind, and your feelings change. There are 8 states: trigger new states, and you feel a change.
  • The 8 states are grouped in 4 pairs: each pair reflects flip sides of the same coin. You REVERSE between states in a pair.
  • Motivated by goals and future impacts? You’re in Serious state. Motivated by the fun of the process and moment? You’re in Playful state.
  • Motivated by rules and knowing what’s expected? You’re in Conforming state. Motivated by freedom, pushing back? That’s Rebellious state.
  • Motivated by power and ability – for yourself or another? You’re in Mastery state. Motivated by care and compassion? That’s Sympathy state.
  • Motivated by your own needs? You’re in Self state. Motivated by someone else’s needs? You’re in Other state.
  • Each state has positive emotions if motives are met; negative emotions if they are not. Feeling bad emotion? Try changing your state.
  • How do you change states? Learn your state triggers: Change situation or reframe its meaning, use mental imagery or props, places, songs.
  • Example: Not achieving my goals leads to anxiety (bad emotion in Serious state). Reverse to Playful by taking break, make project a game.
  • Example: Feeling sorry for self? (bad emotion in Sympathy Self). Get to Other state by helping friend, or challenge self with task (Mastery)
  • SO WHAT? Reversal Theory teaches you to control your states, so you control your feelings. Don’t let your emotions just “happen to you!”
  • Learn more! or read free article on using Reversal Theory: Motivation and Emotion in Technology Teams.

What’s the point of this exercise? I want Reversal Theory and many other personality tools to be accessible to everyone, because: Powerful tools are learned one step at a time. Self-awareness comes one day at a time. Change begins with each of us – one state, one choice, and one emotion at a time.


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