Monday, April 4, 2011

When the path leads uphill...

An alternate title to this post could be "How many obstacles are too many?" or "When do the signs tell me to pack it in?"
The definition of what is one step too far depends upon the judgment of the value of the outcome. If I want ice cream for a snack and there is none in my freezer, I'm comfy in my jammies already and it's raining outside I'm probably not going to choose to take the steps necessary to score a carton or a cone. The reward of that creamy, cold goodness is outweighed by the inconvenience of going to get it. I know numerous, stories, however, of the heroism of devoted husbands of jonesing pregnant wives - men who have braved blizzards for a quart of chocolate chip.

The rewards for overcoming obstacles are sometimes external, like the continued admiration and adoration of your spouse, your kids, or your boss. They might be tangible, like the taste and texture of the ice cream. You might stand something measurable to gain, like a promotion or a salary increase.

But sometimes the rewards are intangible and internal. This is not to say that they aren't important. Sometimes the biggest rewards come from knowing that you acted in accordance with your values, or that you upheld a responsibility that you think is key to your role as wife, husband, leader, child, etc. They can't be measured or seen. Their impact is revealed in your emotional state, in your feelings of congruence and satisfaction and competence.

I am often asked how many obstacles are too many. The answer is simple but hard - it depends upon how big and numerous the rewards are in comparison to the obstacles. The challenge for a goal-setter is that often the rewards piece of the plan is left to the subconscious. It is often not articulated in detail. The value of the rewards isn't considered completely, so the scales of motivation vs. struggle appear to be tipped in favor of avoiding the struggle. Thus the difference - sometimes a gulf - between a goal setter and a goal achiever.

Your autopilot, your subconscious value-weighting, occurs on a daily basis. That's why some days you ask yourself, "Why did I spend my time doing that instead of doing this?" Your unconscious assessments of the relative rewards and consequences didn't support your doing this - so you did that.

If you don't want to live on autopilot, that which replicates the results you are already getting, you will need to bring the rewards/obstacles analysis to the conscious level. You'll need to place your brain onto "manual" in order to conquer longstanding habits of thought and behavior. When you see adequate rewards you'll be willing to climb a loooooong staircase, and you may shock everyone - including yourself -by doing it without complaint.

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