Repositioning your perspective to achieve goals

Cognitive constructs to maintain goals

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Saturday, Sep 24, 2011

Sebastian Marshall wrote a great article about a way to prevent yourself from “giving in” when you’re working towards a goal. Often times, I say “screw it, I finished such-and-such medium-sized project, let’s dig into some steak/these brownies/some dessert… I haven’t in a long time.” Not only is it dangerous, but you eventually lower the criteria for “event for celebration”, and it’s so easy to give in.

One way to suppress this urge to give in, says Sebastian, is thinking the following: “Self destruction is generally counterproductive.” It’s smart. The idea is that, all things considered, giving in is almost always net negative. So why do it?

The thought goes from appealing to counterintuitive—usually, at least. Sometimes those brownies just smell too good.

* * *

It’s important to think about why this works, since that could tell us what makes it so effective, and maybe we could apply this thinking elsewhere. When you get into a stage where you’ve done away with something and used your self-control to do so, you eventually fatigue of doing the correct, but enormously less satisfying thing. (At least, that’s what dieting tastes like.) Rewarding yourself is now appealing and your self-discipline is weak.

So how does it work? My thought is: getting this reminder triggers a subconscious memory of when you first decided to set the goal, and reminds you of why you did it and what you imagined the end result to be. With this perspective floating in your mind, the urge to do better and be better, because indulging does mean a net negative, overpowers the nagging thought of the satisfaction of indulgence. This reminder gets you into the perspective and mindset from when you set your goal.

Another method for reconsidering the decision to indulge (or in this case, to drop the ball) is the well-known Seinfeld rule of “don’t break the chain” for keeping habits. I think there are a lot of ways this can be triggered.

However, rewards are definitely important, and sometimes indulging is the right thing to do. The problem lies with that it’s too easy to get into a habit of bad rewards. The idea of repositioning your perspective to see things from a past mindset can help set better, net-positive rewards. It’s powerful because one thing that is incredibly hard to hold on to is a mindset you had in the past, which you used to set a goal. Sometimes, after a short while of inspiration and discipline, it deteriorates, while the urge to defect becomes stronger. Being in the original mindset is a good way to hold fast to your original goal.

By Mark Bao

I write about behavioral science, personal growth, strategy, and the true nature of things under the surface.

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