May 192016
 

I vaguely recall the environment of the boy’s locker room in my high school. I recall a number of posters which contained what might be called “motivational quotes.” Not surprisingly, they focused on athletic performance and winning. For those unfamiliar, they might be such sayings as “a winner never quits, and a quitter never wins.” At the time I found these abrasive, namely because I held science and technical innovation as MUCH higher human virtues than athletics, particularly team sports.

Not surprisingly, over time my thoughts on motivational quotes have changed. First of all, I notice that there are MANY human enterprises about which there are motivational quotes. A quick Google image search shows a number of categories, some of which include the following: Relationship, strength, determination, attitude, confidence and beauty. Helpfully, Google has chosen to further identify these categories with color codes! I invite you to check it out for yourself. Secondly, we all struggle with doing what we think is good, and avoiding what we think is bad, and I’m no different. Perhaps I’m still stuck with the juvenile disdain for motivational quotes I had when I was in high school, as I’m resistant to doing anything besides just reading these aphorisms when I see them. I would never buy a poster or print out a motivational quote and put it on my refrigerator.

Recently I began to think about the nature of resisting temptation, which is integral to creating and maintaining good habits. I believe “motivation” is a two headed coin; namely avoiding bad habits and inculcating good habits. A simple metaphor for this dichotomy is an Angel on one shoulder and a Demon on the other. Let’s consider for a moment the act of persuasion on the Demon’s part. First off, consider a more prosaic example. You are with someone who wants you to do something that you don’t immediately want to do. This person attempts to persuade you by suggesting positive outcomes if the suggested action is performed.

“Let’s go get Indian food!”
“Hmm… I’m sort of tired tonight. I’m not sure I feel like going out.”
“Oh,come on, you know how delicious that curry is, you know you’ll love it.”

Or the persuasion could go in a negative direction:

“Let’s go get Indian food!”
“Hmm… I’m sort of tired tonight. I’m not sure I feel like going out.”
“Don’t be such a wuss, we haven’t gone out in ages.”

The second example is a sort of double-whammy, as it implies that one’s inaction is preventing the other from having fun.

Obviously there are MANY sorts of persuasion, encompassing the entire spectrum of approaching positive outcomes to avoiding negative ones. In my opinion, some of the most successful persuasion works because the persuader KNOWS AND UNDERSTANDS the personality of the person being persuaded. Consider romantic relationships. Why is it that insults and threats delivered by a partner can be the most upsetting? Because of all the people on the planet, a partner is likely to know the sensitivities and weaknesses of the other the best. This is one of the great downsides to all romantic relationships. The person that knows you the best is also the person poised to hurt you the most.

But let’s step back from that dire human assessment for a moment. What if you are trying to break a bad habit? What if you are like me, and wish to stop snacking after dinner? Is there a killer motivational quote to help us? Well, I’m not sure, but consider this: Who REALLY is the Demon on your shoulder who tempts you to engage in postprandial snacking? It can be no other than you, yourself! Consider that of all the humans on the planet, probably including romantic partners, it is YOU who can formulate the most cunning and tempting idea, the most persuasive rationalization to give in to a bad habit. The Demon is YOU!

Frankly I don’t consider this a giant psychological insight, but I do find it helpful. When I find a temptation entering my stream of consciousness, I now realize that it has derives its psychological power from the fact that it came from ME, the person who can most persuasively tempt me of all humans on the planet. For what it’s worth, I find this conception empowering, as I now recognize how potent our OWN ideation can be.

Suppose I find myself in the kitchen, and the following idea enters my stream of consciousness:

“Go ahead and have a spoonful of peanut butter, if you use that long handled spoon it will be even cooler.”

Of all humans on the planet, IT IS I who knows just how much I love peanut butter, and how groovy I find my long handled spoons! Understanding this allows me to recognize how effective such internal persuasion can be, and weirdly, I feel it helps me resist it.

Perhaps understanding how effective your own persuasion works on you will enable you to resist it more effectively. So far it seems to be working for me. I plan to continue paying attention to see if it continues to function effectively.

Good luck!

Homer Simpson

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.