Humans are amazing. We can accomplish great things. We manipulate the flow of rivers, we stave off diseases and other afflictions, we probe the mysteries of life and Nature. For me, though, our most impressive talent is our ability to control how we perceive our own behavior. And I don't think I'm fooling myself.
Among the most useful examples of our brilliance is the collection of patterns that we use to avoid getting what we really want. Over the years, observing myself and others, I've assembled a toolkit that includes some fiendishly clever techniques. Here they are.
- Be ignorant of what you really want
- Understanding or identifying something within ourselves can be difficult. But to maintain unblemished ignorance of something internal, over a period of years, we must avail ourselves of the perverse genius we all share. To accomplish this, some keep busy with mind-numbing entertainment or substances, useless gossip, or misdirected busywork.
- Rejecting these activities can make room for exploring new goals.
- Be uncomfortable with not knowing how to get it
- The feelings that arise from knowing what we want, but not knowing how to get it, can be exquisitely uncomfortable: frustration, pain, fear, confusion, sadness, and more are all possible.
- Focusing on the challenge of finding a path to the goal, rather than the discomfort of not knowing how to reach it, frames that challenge as a problem to be solved, like any other problem.
- Fear failure
- Fear of The feelings that arise from
knowing what we want, but
not knowing how to get
it, can be exquisitely
uncomfortablefailure prevents some of us from trying to reach our goals. But if our goal is determining what we want, fear of failure — and the shame that can come with failure — can preserve ignorance. We don't try to figure out what we want because thinking about it is too unsettling.
- With one exception, failures to figure out what we really want are all temporary. The one exception is the failure that comes from giving up.
- Be compulsive about consistency
- Sometimes we blunder. We think we know what we want, and when we get it, or sometimes on the way to getting it, we realize it's a mistake. But we push on anyway, because we absolutely must be consistent, and acknowledging the error would be inconsistent.
- We have the right to change our minds. Surrendering that right, or failing to exercise it, can be an effective method for avoiding getting what we want.
Perhaps the most dispiriting and effective method of avoiding getting what we really want involves holding fast to the belief that we don't deserve anything good. By eroding the desire for what we want, this belief prevents exploration, and halts any explorations that do somehow get started. But most tragically, this belief can cause us to reject or destroy what we want even if it somehow comes to pass. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 1: The Big Power of Little Words
- Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
- And on February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
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