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The conflict between long-term desires and short-term gratification

by Rick Baker
On Jan 23, 2017

We use a long list of words including ‘wants’, ‘needs’, ‘desires’, ‘goals’, ‘objectives’, ‘purpose’ and ‘vision’ to describe our thoughts and feelings about the future. It's about our future. It's about the future possibilities and our desires and preferences around those possibilities.

I have posted several articles about these topics, for example, one article about Desires is copied below.

We all have desires: some desires are modest in scope, as in kicking an annoying little habit; other desires are most grandiose, as in making a dent in the universe. 

Our desires are both inwardly-focused and outwardly-focused, although most of us exhibit blind spots in both the internal/intrinsic and external/extrinsic directions. As a general observation, most people fail to place enough onus on internal focus. Their words and their actions illustrate their expectation that external changes will bring the desired outcomes and internal ‘self-changes’ are not necessary. 

For most people, the equation can be as simple as this: 

My Personal Changes + Other People’s Personal Changes = My Desired Outcomes.

Now, I am not saying most people will agree with that equation. In fact, many if not most people will present the opinion that they should, must, and will make personal changes to accomplish their desires. For example, over-drinkers, over-eaters and under-exercisers will acknowledge they could improve their odds of achieving their desires if they could reduce their bad habits and increase their good habits. And, most will say they are prepared to work at these changes. Regardless, study after study confirms people do a very poor job of correcting their behavioural shortcomings by reducing bad habits and expanding good habits. [for example, read the book 'Change Or Die']

Why do people have such trouble giving up bad habits and sustaining good habits?

The simple answer is: for most people the emotional attraction of near-term 'rewards' out-muscles the future 'rewards' tied to long-term desires.

Most people grab gratification when it is available.

Before any of us judges others, we should consider the extent of our own willpower.

Each of us should ask questions like:

  • Are my long-term goals clear?
  • Do I adjust my actions so they align with my long-term goals?
  • Do I have plans to help me reduce bad habits and develop good habits?

 

The following was first published on Oct 22, 2013


Desires

I have noticed in people 4 dominant desires. These desires apply to people in business and to people in general:

1.The desire to vent one’s strength.

2.The desire to feel important.

3.The desire to control.

4.The desire to create things of value.

 

The Desire to Vent One’s Strength

At the philosophical level - Nietzsche considered this to be the #1 human desire, greater than the drive to procreate.

At the day-to-day business level – People who are enthusiastic about their work are working at things that align with their personal talents & strengths; people who are worn down by their work are working at things that do not align with their talents & strengths. Both consciously and subconsciously, people know when their actions are not aligned with their strengths…it tends to bother them and it tends to eat away at their spirit. Their ambition shrinks. Their performance dulls. Their minds wander and their energies shrink.

 

The Desire to Feel Important

At the philosophical level – Dale Carnegie, the self-help pioneer, viewed this as the leading desire. In his lessons and his classic ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ he taught how to influence people by (1) appealing to this basic human desire and (2) not conflicting with this basic human desire…in summary: be hearty in approbation, be lavish with praise, and do not criticize.

At the day-to-day business level – “Constructive Criticism is an Oxymoron”. Criticism can cause behavioural changes; however, those changes are achieved at a cost. “Criticism finds few friends”. Criticism finds people who already recognize their errors. Some of these people have already given themselves a dose of self-criticism…so they don’t benefit and may hold a grudge against the extra dose of outside criticism. Others do not care about their errors and are predisposed to resist external criticism. Criticism finds people who do not recognize they have made an error. There are kinder ways than the use of criticism to educate them about their shortfalls.

 

The Desire to Control

At the psychological level – much has been written about locus of control. Some people believe they have within them an internal ability to control their lives while other people believe their lives are controlled by external factors.

At the day-to-day business level – People with an internal locus of control can be driven and extremely self-motivated. Or they can be more passive. They can appear strong-willed and opinionated…even maverick or renegade. Some react very poorly to authority and rules. They are self-energized. For some reason these people have withstood the criticisms of others and their spirits have survived. People with an external locus of control may be content or they may be discontented...living the life of a victim. Some will be comfortable with authority and rules; some will be subversive. Few, if any, successful business leaders have an external locus of control. Unhappy followers may be displaying the impact of throttled internal locus of control or external locus of control discontent.

 

The Desire to Create Things of Value

I think people are born with natural desire and drive to innovate and create. Psychological studies confirm this and the fact that over time most people become less creative and less willing to try new things.

That’s why entrepreneurs stand out in business. Entrepreneurs have an internal drive to create things of value and that drive survives the beatings placed on it by other people, the bureaucracies, the cruelty of the markets, etc. This desire to create things of value is not isolated to business. We see it in art, we see it in music, and we see it in philanthropy and charitable endeavours.

PS: People's actions provide clues to their desires. However, we cannot jump to conclusions. For example, a resistance to authority or a resistance to change will signal certain possibilities. More work is required to uncover which one of the possibilities is most-accurate. People's words provide clues to people's desires...but, watch what they do at least as much as you listen to what they say.

Don’t be Passionate about Shorthand Abstractions…they have no Integrity

by Rick Baker
On Jan 12, 2017

Over the last few years, I have written and talked about the communication problems that happen when business leaders use words like Passion and Integrity to lead/encourage/inspire people to be the best they can be at work. The words Passion and Integrity are laced with double entendre and have been overused and misused to the point of obfuscation. Put another way, these two words have been clichéed to the brink of uselessness. Their use has evolved and become mostly bad habit.

Like many of the words and phrases we exchange with one another, the words Passion and Integrity are shorthand abstractions. You can also think of these two words as troubled memes. The words Passion and Integrity have been passed down the generations and passed around the tables for so long and by so many that intent and meaning have been bastardized as happens in ‘telephone games’. 

Business leaders should exercise care when they communicate, especially when they use shorthand abstractions that are likely to touch sensitive territories including personal values, morals, emotions and powerful feelings. 

Why should leaders take greater care when we use shorthand abstractions?

Here’s some thoughts from Tor Norretranders’ –

“That is also the point with abstractions. We want them to be shorthand for a lot of information that was digested in the process leading to the use of the abstraction but not present when we use it. Such abstractions have depth. We love them. Other abstractions have no depth. They are shallow, just used to impress the other guy. They do not help us. We hate them.”

Article – ‘Depth’ by Tor Norretranders, Science Author. An excerpt from John Brockman’s edge.org inspired book ‘This Will Make You Smarter’, (2012)


PS: Yes - interesting use of the shorthand abstractions ‘love’ and ‘hate’ in the quote above. That goes right to the heart and brain of my message here.

PPS: Yes - much of what we communicate has the forms of both shorthand abstraction and bad habit. That's why we provide definitions of words and explanations: this is one way to help people understand what we are trying to communicate. 

 

Say “Adieu” and then forget.

by Rick Baker
On Jan 9, 2017

Forgetfulness plagues us all. At least from time to time, everyone forgets things. We forget things on our shopping lists, we forget the places where things are located on grocery store shelves, and sometimes we forget where we parked our cars in those massive shopping mall parking lots. Forgetfulness comes to us easily. It’s a natural thing. Sometimes we can forget two or more of these things during one visit to the grocery store. When we forget these things [as long as our spouse doesn’t make a big deal out of it] we rather quickly write off our forgetful experiences.

On the other hand, if someone steals that last open parking space we have been zeroing in on then we will have a tough time forgetting their ignorance, rudeness, and self-centeredness.

Most of us can quickly forget and forgive the grocery store people after they pick such good hiding places for the most-important things on our grocery lists. However, many of us will not treat grocery store parking-space thieves so kindly. At the very least, we will ruminate about their ignorance, rudeness and self-centeredness. At most, we will fight the parking-space thieves until one of us is dead. Between these two extremes we will retell the stories of parking-space thievery to our relatives, friends and coworkers until we have exhausted our inability to forget. When we finally let go of such tough-to-forget incidents they will leave no vacancies in our minds because other ignorant, rude and self-centered people will fill the voids by bringing other unforgettable experiences to us.

Sometimes we really struggle to forget things, especially the negative experiences brought to us by others.

Our minds exhibit curious abilities, including:

  • our minds are quick to blame others for our negative experiences and
  • our minds hold onto negatives and are fully receptive to upgrading negative content by adding fresh, unforgettable negative memories.

These are symptoms of our unforgettable-negatives mindsets. These are weaknesses. These are bad habits.

With persistent work, the bad habit of unforgettable-negatives mindsets can be corrected. 

All we need to do is understand and believe forgetfulness comes to us easily and upon that foundation build the good habit of looking our 'unforgettable experiences' in the eye and persistently bidding them, “Adieu”. 

There are 2 types of busy in business

by Rick Baker
On Jan 5, 2017

I think there are 2 types of busy in business:

1. There's good-busy

2. There's ?-busy

When business people tell me they are 'too-busy' I am uneasy because I have no place in my brain to file that type of busy. So, I either wonder if they are telling me they are experiencing #1 [good-busy] or I jump to the conclusion it's just another case of #2 [?-busy]. 

I admit I am prone to jump to the #2 [?-busy] conclusion because experiences tell me there's an awful lot of #2 out there.

On the other hand, I do not always jump to conclusions so I regularly find myself wondering, "Is this too-busy good-busy or ?-busy?" When I am wondering in the direction one thought always finds its way into my mind, "Is your too-busy coupled with increased gross margin?" Sometimes that internal thought finds its way to my external voice and I blurt out, "Is your too-busy coupled with increased gross margin?" That's always followed by my observation of a puzzled if not surprised or maybe annoyed face peering right at me. The conversation either goes uphill or downhill from there. While the downhill conversations are not particularly enjoyable the uphill ones more than offset their downhill counterparts...resulting in an overall net gain...call it 'productive and constructive conversation'.

Needless to say, when I slip up and almost start thinking I am too-busy the little voice in my head keeps asking me, "Is this almost-too-busy coupled with an increase in gross margin?" When the answer is "Yes", I know I am dealing with some good-busy work...so I don't even feel tempted to get stressed out about it let alone complain about it.

 

PS: There are competing thought-cycles at play with one another here. When almost-too-busy is tested and found to be good-busy the opportunity for too-busy disappears. When almost-too-busy is found to be ?-busy further thought is required: one good example of further thought is 80/20 Rule thinking. Further thought about ?-busy results in paring of some underlying work, which again reduces the possibility of too-busy thinking. Either way, there is little temptation to be thinking, "I'm too busy". And, that's a real good way not to be thinking. 

Successful people have more time...

...because they do not fall into the trap of thinking they are too busy.

And...we want to be successful...right!

 

PPS: good-busy --- Good Habits --- Acting in the direction of Goals

 

Original posted October 3, 2013

Favouring a realistic approach to Values, Virtues & Rules

by Rick Baker
On Jan 4, 2017

Values are concepts covering things important and admirable to us (our minds). Values are our perceptions of intrinsically valuable or desirable ways of doing things.

Virtues are concepts about good behavior and character, reflecting how other people think of us…perceptions they carry in their minds about us.

Rules are concepts, which set boundaries on thoughts and action. Rules are determined by our values. Actions are things we do. Actions are governed by our rules.

***

When you have Integrity – I mean when you have Integrity as I define it - your actions are closely aligned with your values. You say what you mean and you mean what you say…and you do what you say. Put another way, when you have Integrity your perceptions of your values closely match other people’s perceptions of your virtues.

When your values and virtues are closely aligned people find it easier to trust you. Trust grows naturally…organically. You feel no need to advertise your Integrity and other people have no need to witness such advertising. They observe the ‘real thing’ when they see the consistency of your behaviour and that’s the way trust is built between people.

There’s a saying, “Rules are made to be broken.” That’s a fair and accurate statement considering the reality of human behavior. All rules get broken…by someone…sooner or later…(and often we don’t have to wait for later). 

Even rules based on our deepest and most-admirable values get broken. As one example – nearly everyone lies…even to the people who mean the most to them. People have their secrets and certain questions defy honest answers. While it is admirable to think people can behave like open-honest books, that expectation is inconsistent with reality. Those who seek perfection in others will find the human condition is laced with imperfections. So, when considering others virtues and drawing conclusions about their personal values and their character it is important to set the bar at a reasonable level.

When people slip up - when people who matter to you clearly illustrate they have broken their own values-rules - 

  • Fight the urge to question their virtues and write them off [as Covey described the reality of human behaviour] by quickly emptying their ‘trust account’,
  • Step back and consider the reality of your own values-rules breaches and try to counteract your natural attribution bias, and
  • Be open and candid with the people, but stop well short of dragging them through the coals or humbling them as if you are blessed to administer that right. 

Trust is a fragile thing.

by Rick Baker
On Dec 28, 2016

Trust is a fragile thing.

Two people share trust then one of them perceives an injustice and trust quickly comes into question. Whether the injury is 'real' or not, when the injury is perceived it is quite normal for the person who feels injured to retaliate...to seek revenge. Then trust is lost and anti-trust takes hold with a powerful appetite for growth.

The key to sustaining trust often sits at the point where one party perceives the other has done an unjust/unfair/unkind thing. At that point of recognition there is still opportunity to remedy the situation quickly and easily...at least relatively quickly and relatively easily.

When a perceived injury happens, the offending party may be oblivious. In many situations the real problem is the injured party has too-thin skin. Too-thin-skin and victim-thinking are common human frailties. These frailties are the consequence of lack of self-confidence. In other situations, the offending party may not be attentive or observant or empathic. Regardless of the reason, when one person perceives injury at the hands of another the offending party may be oblivious. The gap between of perceived injury and obliviousness is enough to fan the flames of distrust and revenge is, often, the natural conclusion. I say 'natural' because revenge isn't something reserved for the wicked and maladjusted. Revenge is in the genetic fabric of most human beings.

Revenge does not have to happen.

Revenge is like any other bad habit...it catches us, it gets repeated, it digs a deep habit-rut, then it owns us until the day we decide to work to overcome it. 

The best way to overcome revenge is to recognise it is not deviant behaviour. It is a natural behaviour that doesn't work too well in our current society. And, it is something a person can control if that person wishes to control it. First, we must identify the breeding ground for revenge. Revenge comes to life when we perceive offensive behaviour in others. So, we can nip revenge in the bud if we stop and think during the 'I-feel-offended stage'.

We can be more trusting and cut the other person some slack. We can accept our self-biased tendencies. We can accept our tendencies to protect and bolster our own ego. We can choose to understand these tendencies cause us to over-react to other people's actions and cause us, regularly, to perceive offence where none exists. And knowing these things we can choose to ignore that little voice that tells us "That person just injured me." When we choose not to be injured revenge-thinking will not arrive. 

As the saying goes, "You can act offensively but I don't have to feel offended." Even if another person is truly offensive, we do not have to feel offended. It is a choice. If we choose to not feel offended then revenge-thinking will not arrive.

Controlling egoic biases & refusing to be offended: we have these two ways to reduce/remove the need to feel revenge.

When we practice these two ways they become good habits, good habits that breed trust between us and other people.

Trust is a fragile thing - we can choose good habits that sustain & build it.

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