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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.

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