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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.

Thought has two forms: one is Creative, the other is not.

by Rick Baker
On Jan 22, 2017

The Thinking Behind The Tweet

It seems I  am on the verge of concluding Thought is either Creative or Destructive...never in between the two.

Our Creative Thoughts are aligned with our true Goals...leading to productive building and growth.

Since all other thoughts are not aligned with our true Goals they subtract from achievement of our true Goals...leading to things that are not productive building or growth. Their effect is distraction from our true Goals, which is negative, making them "Destructive Thoughts".

 

Mistakes are Stepping Stones – the question is, To Where?

by Rick Baker
On Jan 18, 2017

Indiana Jones reminded us that you don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step. A journey of a thousand miles always starts with a single step. And we know a single step can be both one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.

When we take steps, sometimes we miss the desired landing spots. We make missteps and mistakes and, unless we stop moving and doing, chances are very good we will always make missteps and mistakes.

Sometimes missteps signal inattentiveness; sometimes missteps signal inventiveness.

In the first case, our bodies are used to stepping along without help from our conscious thoughts. When the ground in front of us throws us a curve or presents a new wrinkle, our feet are caught off guard. In response to this new information our feet can misstep, stumble and sometimes cause us to fall. In most cases, our missteps are not deemed to be failures. In most cases, they are accepted as little errors, human errors. Now, of course, that does not apply if we are talking about a misstep from a tightrope over Niagara Falls. Regardless, generally speaking missteps happen and we dust ourselves off quickly and move on. We are skilled at this because we have been doing it since we were wee babies…venturing out with our first steps.

‘Venturing out’: Those words bring us to the second case. Sometimes we intentionally venture out into new territory and even into dangerous territory, exploring and inventing. Some people do walk tightropes, sometimes even over Niagara Falls. Other people take steps to climb mountains, even the tallest and most-treacherous mountains. And some people even go as far as the moon to take a small step. These shoes worn for these adventuresome steps are laced with invention. And, regardless of planning and precaution, sometimes missteps happen. Missteps that happen under high-risk can be catastrophic. Regardless, often, missteps under high risk are not catastrophic. They are informative. They clarify the wrong ways to step, move, do things.

Missteps and mistakes are stepping stones. Far more often than not, they take us to better places. We must not lose track of that. We must not lose curiosity or the spirit that drives exploration and invention.

People eat sour fruit sparingly. Yet they complain about it much.

by Rick Baker
On Jan 18, 2017

The Thinking Behind The Tweet

Sometimes sour fruit is the best thing to consume. The British found that out several centuries ago and the practice of eating limes was encouraged by Scottish Dr. James Lind. He helped the British Navy understand limes and lime juice prevented sailors from the pain and suffering of scurvy. This fact was known prior to the arrival of Dr. Lind. And, the benefit of limes was well understood when he documented proof. Yet, the practice of eating limes to prevent scurvy was not adopted by the British Navy until some time later.

The first sailors who ate limes were ridiculed. By fellow sailors and pirates alike.

To this day the legacy of ridicule lives on in the form of a derogatory/racist ancestor of the word lime.

To this day, people resist when others try to force them to eat sour fruit.

So, take care when you try to unload sour fruit on your people.

Care taken while introducing sour fruit is inversely proportional to the amount of complaining that introduction generates. The greater the care, the lesser the complaints.

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. 

 

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

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