Why Did I Do That?
Are you doing the right thing for the wrong reason?...
Therefore you blunder when you ask what it is that makes me seek virtue; you are looking for something beyond the supreme. Do you ask what it is that I seek in virtue? Only herself. For she offers nothing better — she herself is her own reward. Or does this seem to you too small a thing? When I say to you, “The highest good is the inflexibility of an unyielding mind, its foresight, its sublimity, its soundness, its freedom, its harmony, its beauty, do you require of me something still greater to which these blessings may be ascribed?
I sometimes struggle with the motivations for my decisions: am I doing what is best for myself and others because it is the right decision or because I seek to be seen by others as a good person (and therefore have the excuse to tell myself I am)? I have concluded that, in the end, it does not matter. I am unlikely ever to achieve perfect altruism in my actions, and attempting to do so wastes my mental energy and time in useless self-analysis.
I seek to do the right thing because it is right, not for the praise I give myself or expect from others. Rather than analyzing the decision beforehand for motivation, I will look to how I feel about the reactions of others (or lack thereof) afterward.
If I am indifferent to the reactions (or lack of reaction), then my motivations were properly for the best. If I am offended by criticism, self-satisfied by praise, or annoyed that no one noticed, I know my motivations were more driven by my self-interest (the monkey mind seeking praise and self-importance) than by my rational self.
This does not mean that I cannot do things that benefit myself – if anything, most of my decisions and actions are for my benefit. What I need to watch for, however, is my inner motivation – whether it is to feed my monkey through expected praise or the congratulations/envy of others or because it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether others notice. That is what I strive to make my benchmark.