The Motivation System
So just just orient where we are and where we're going it's always nice to have that little you are here sticker on the map so so we started off the day we talked a little bit of it just you know, this basic idea of learning this role of three and why it is that you would that you would want to focus yourself on roughly three things when you're when you're learning new things and then we talked about habits which is sort of the core of what we're about today and this idea that habits are created from thes consistent mapping is that you repeat now where we really want to shift our focus a little bit to start thinking about what does it mean to change your behavior and in order to think about the behavior change component of this a lot of what we need to do is to start worrying about how exactly does the motivational system work? And when I talk about the motivational system what I'm talking about is a set of mechanisms in your brain that actually gets you tow act okay if you think about...
it without motivation you would just be a couch potato you'd be lying on the couch all day just going ooh and it's on ly because we are motivated to do things were motivated to pursue various goals that we actually engage in any kinds of behaviors to begin with and if we're going to really do a good job of changing behavior, we need to understand the way this system works so that we can use the structure of that system toe help us to create the right kinds of plans for making the changes in our behavior. And so what I'm going to do is I'm going to introduce you to two motivational systems, one of which I call the ghost system, and the ghost system involves a set of brain mechanisms deep inside the brain that drive you to do things, and I'm going to contrast that with what I'm gonna call the stop system, which is sometimes what we call willpower it's a set of brain mechanisms that involves these brain areas in the frontal lobes of your brain that stop behaviors that have gotten started. And so what we're going to do is to use this structure toe understand what are the goals that we pursue? How did those goals get engaged by the ghost system? How does this stop system stop us when we're doing something we feel like we're not supposed to be doing? When does that stop system fail? And then to try and talk generally about cem overall principles for regulating your behavior? And the idea is that once we understand this will be primed to begin to create plans that we can use teo to generate ah better uh, behavior in the future and along the way we're going to spend some time defining some of the goals that we want to pursue uh so that's part of what we'll do in this in this section okay to get started we have to recognize that that our behavior is fundamentally goal directed we can't do anything unless we have some goal in mind this goal could be, you know, acting in a particular way engaging with particular kinds of people achieving really desirable outcomes or avoiding really undesirable outcome right? All of these kinds of things can be a big part of of the way that we act and without a goal without having something that we're trying to pursue, nothing happens right? And in many ways when you when you end up doing something you don't want to do, then you end up you think then you're in a situation in which there is some kind of goal conflict all right? So we have to remember that a lot of times we end up failing in our lives not because we were utterly unable to get anything done but rather because we have too many competing goals that are calling out for our attention, okay? And so this is the environment in which we have to navigate our behavior, right? It would be nice if we if we never failed at anything but of course oui we fail all the time and one of the things that we're going to talk about is, well, what kind of failure is good failure and what kind of failure is bad failure and so that's gonna be a big piece of what we're trying to do now when we think about the goals that we have, one of the things that we have to remember is that some of the things that we call goals or really abstract so I might say I want to be a good person, I want to be a great performer at work, I want to be a morning person, right? These air these are all very general things and what makes them general is that there's no obvious set of behaviors that gets you to that goal, you know, I mentioned earlier today that that, you know, thirteen years ago or so I learned to play the saxophone and if all I had done when I decided I was going to do that was to say I want to learn to play the saxophone then to this day I would still not know how to play the saxophone because there is no action obviously associated with learned to play the saxophone, all that means is I don't know how to play it now and it's some point in the future, I'll know how to play that doesn't that's utterly unhelpful and if you think about a lot of the new year's resolutions that people make, they are made at that level of abstraction, which you know makes perfect sense that we would have some big picture goal that we would want toe engage in our in our lives. The problem is that unless we turn that very general goal into some specific actions, we don't ever make any progress getting from here to there, okay, so if you think about some of the specific things you may do in your life, you might hold the door open for someone you might type memo you might pick up the phone and dial it. Each of those actions is done in service often of some more general goal okay? And part of what we want to do as we learn to change our behaviour is to find good ways of creating better synchrony between the specific goals that we're going to try to achieve and these more general desirable outcomes in our lives, right, and to create plans that incorporate mohr of the good, specific actions and less of the of the specific actions that we perform that don't have any particular, uh, overall goal in mind or worse yet are actually moving us away from the desirable goal, so if you think about mean, imagine that someone would gave you a transcript of the actions that you took in a particular day and you could catalog those actions by the influence that those had on some of the bigger picture goals that you have in your life, I would venture to guess that an awful lot of the actions of you take in a given day actually, I don't really get you anywhere towards any of your big picture goals. Most of the e mails that you send mei mei and not have any particular purpose on off a lot of the browsing you do on facebook or twitter may may not actually bring you towards something that you'd like to accomplish, right? And so if you were to actually put a highlighter on that transcript through all of the things that you did in that day that moved you towards some kind of big picture goal you wanted to achieve you may you may be scared to discover how few of those actions actually moved you towards some of the big picture things you're trying to accomplish, and this is really a fundamental problem for all of us. How do we incorporate maur elements into our day? Mohr specific actions in our day that move us towards the things we'd like to accomplish and remove as many of the actions that we can that either take us away from our desired states or have no particular influence at all on them, which is not to say that we should never do anything frivolous, right every once in a while it's just fun to mess around, okay, so I am not saying that our lives need to be, you know, moving in lockstep with art with our broad goal lt's every once in a while, it's just fun to play, okay? So so, you know, I'm not I'm not trying to make your life boring, but there's an awful lot of stuff that we do that is not all that much fun, and it doesn't get us towards our goals and, you know, you get to the end of the day and really, how many cute kitten videos can you look at in a day? Right? And yet we persist on doing some of these things without really recognizing the influence that it has. What you know what economists would call the opportunity cost right? Any time that you spend something in one place, you have removed that resource to be spent somewhere else and a couple of cute kitten videos or great in anyone's life, but an hour's worth right might might actually take time away from something else that you might really want to accomplish. And we're going to come back to that because I bet that when you begin to look at some of the things that you might want to add into your life that you will discover that there are hidden pockets of resource is in some of the activities that you perform on a daily basis that if you remove some of those activities you could actually make room for some of the other desirable things that you'd like to do and that's certainly when I learned to play the saxophone is we'll see that that was actually one of the things that I did was to discover some of the places in my life where I was spending time on things that didn't need to be spent. So um now here's, the thing about our goals okay, when we have goals we have lots of things we might call a goal that is we have lots of things that we might say, oh, this is something I'd like to achieve but behavior is on ly driven by the goals that gets some amount of activity to them what psychologists would call arousal so you have to have some level of energy in order to pursue a goal in the absence of any energy you just lie there completely inert, you know? And you've had those days, right? Everyone's had days where you just don't feel like getting out of bed, you know, and those days you've got no energy that's been put towards any of your goals you have none of this arousal what you want to do is to engage your goals bye bye, creating some amount of arousal for them and I'm going to talk in a moment about where that arousal comes from, but first I want I want to talk a little bit about how you know that a goal has been engaged because your motivational system is really efficient. One of the things that I should say at the outset here is all of us have had trouble changing our behavior and when we have difficulty changing our behavior it is easy to come to believe that the reason for that is because in some fundamental way our brain is broken right there's just something wrong with me that I can't change my behavior and what I want you to recognize is that when you have difficulty changing your behavior it is not because your brain is broken it's because it works so well our system of engaging habits, learning habits and then continuing to perform those habits is so efficient it work so well that it is extraordinarily difficult to overcome the engagement of those habits in the future and one of the signs of that is what happens when you engage a goal so when you engage a particular goal to do something it really calls all hands on deck to pursue that particular goal so for example um imagine you have the goal to mail a letter right? Very simple goal it turns out that when you have the goal to mail a letter then it increases the value for you of finding the post office, it makes it easier for you to notice goal related information in the environment, and it causes you to care less about things that are not related to this active goal. So several years ago, I had a bill I need it to mail it was one of those things where you're sort of cleaning up your desk and you discover a bill that's like late and you don't really want it to be laid, so you so you quickly, you know, write a cheque, throw it in an envelope, and then, you know, and then I threw it on the car seat and drove out of the house in the morning on my way to work. So I got to get this bill the mail, and then I got distracted as often happens, and I drove right past the post office, and then I looked down at the bill and I forgot to mail the bill, and it had to get out that day, uh, now being a little bit lazy, I didn't want to turn around and go back to the post office, so I then said, I gotta mail the bill, and so I'm sitting there now focused on the goal. I gotta mail the bill. I got it. I think there's a post office on campus somewhere. I'm going through this whole thing in my head. And as I'm doing this, I passed by on office complex and looked and there was a mailbox, and I pulled into the into the parking lot. I mailed the bill. Now you might think, well, okay, so that's fine here's the thing I had probably driven by that office complex model a thousand times. And I had never noticed that there was a mail box there, and I looked in and I turned and looked at that off, so I never saw the mailbox. Suddenly I saw it. Why? Because I had this strongly active goal to mail a letter, and it made information in the environment related to achieving that goal more obvious to me. And this is a general thing. We we are more apt to notice things that will help us to achieve our goals when that goal has has been activated for us when we have energy towards it, and we're less likely to notice things that are unrelated. Two the gold that we're trying to achieve. This is an indication of how powerful the motivational system is, and if you've ever had a behavior, you're really trying to change, then you know this. Right, so if you're you know, smokers who are trying to quit smoking when they first tried to quit, they start noticing everyone who's smoking, right? And and people who are worried about you know, uh, you know, not eating desserts suddenly start seeing cake everywhere now, it also happens with new goals you're trying to pursue, so for example, if you've ever tried, if you've ever bought a new car, when you're looking at cars, you suddenly notice all of the other people who were driving that same car on the road when you may never have noticed that before, right? Because that goal is engaged for you all of this is a sign of what your motivational system it does for you. It is extraordinarily good at focusing you on achieving your goals and that's what you have to overcome when you're trying to change your behavior is a system that really, really wants to please you. It really, really wants to help you to achieve the goals that you've wanted to achieve in the past and that's part of what makes it difficult to change your behavior in the future. Okay, so we've talked about this is where the goals come from that this is sort of how your goals influenced your behavior when they become active, where does this goal activation come from in the first place okay, there are several sources of this one of them is just internal thoughts you can think your way into the activity of a goal, okay? And we've all done this in different ways before um one of the examples for people who don't believe that you can do this I have a little exercise I like to play with them I tell them look, next time you're at home alone I want you to go into your bedroom and lie down and then think to yourself I wonder if there's an intruder and I guarantee you that even though you yourself caused this thought within a minute or two you're going to end up getting you're gonna hear every creek that you here you're going to think is that somebody warned, you know what? I'm just humoring myself I'm going to walk around the house and check and make sure everything's okay, right? I mean, you can actually think yourself into this and of course we do this all the time in lots of different circumstance we talk ourselves into all kinds of things, some of which were good, some of which are less good, right there's pretty good evidence at this point that, you know, we can talk ourselves into almost anything if we try so we can actually engage all sorts of goals for ourselves if we just try to do that okay, unfortunately, we often try to talk ourselves into the things that we shouldn't be doing okay, so these internal states have an influence on our goals now in addition to these thoughts, there are of course, physiological influences on our behavior so long. About eleven thirty this morning, I'm sure that there were people who began to think, you know, being awfully nice to have lunch right about now and that's because you have this internal state, you know, change in blood sugar level of feeling, of emptiness in your stomach that become associated with eating and that engage the goal toe have lunch and there are all sorts of physiological states like that as well, you know, about ten o'clock at night for people who have a bed time somewhere in the ten o'clock range about ten o'clock you start to feel like it's like it's time to get ready for bed, you've engaged that goal as well. Did you, uh, waken think our ways into goals, but we've also talked about how motivation for creating habits is is not the most efficient way of doing so. So how do you create that distinction between motivation versus thinking your way into right? So so notice that in order it's a great question in order to, um, to talk yourself into doing something, it has to be something you can do okay, so so part of the issue is if I say to myself, I'm going to be I'm goingto spend more time with my family this year, right? Um, the problem with that is there is no action there, right? So so I it's very hard for me to spend more time with my family if I don't know how to do that, right? And so one of the things we're going to see later this afternoon is that in orderto have a, uh, an action that I can engage with my system, it has to be something ultimately, that I can perform now, there are two ways that I can get the action I performed like that I could perform, one of which is I might already have a, uh known procedure for doing that, so for example, mailing a letter is kind of an abstract thing to do, but I've done that enough that I know the actions that are associated with doing. And so when I, when I engage the goal to mail a letter that in turn engages, you know, the various different components of doing that, finding a mailbox, pulling the letter out and throwing it in the mailbox and things like that, but if I, if I'm trying to do something fundamentally new I'm going to spend more time with my family this year or I'm going to learn to play the saxophone until I turn that into a plan that is specific enough for me to carry out I have nothing there, right? And so that's that's part of the issue is, um I ultimately need tohave uh steps that I can carry out specifically enough that that they can be engaged by my thoughts by the environment by other people. Okay um so these internal states can influence my ability to get my ability to get ah goal engaged another thing that can influence it is the environment and of course we're going to talk about how changing the environment can influence your your behavior tomorrow but right now, let's just remember that that there are all sorts of objects in my in the environment that can influence my behavior influence my likelihood of performing a goal if I see a dessert on the counter, I may just eat it right perhaps without thinking about it. I mean, how many of us have been in a restaurant? They've put bread out on the table and you end up just eating the bread, right? You didn't want to eat the bread right? But but it's just it's there and it engages a goal and you have a whole routine for doing it the environment has simply engaged the goal and we do this all the time now this happens a lot in the work place, right? So we talked a little bit about about some of the invitations to multi task right? Well, think about the number of those that are being driven by elements in your environment so there you are sitting at your desk and you've got this nice, beautiful big monitor and you've got a document that you're typing here and you've got your your web browser over there and everyone's so while you sort of look over and and you notice that the badge on on your email program has incrementally by a couple so whereas you had fourteen new emails before now you've got seventeen and once you know there's a new email there it's really hard not to check it right? And so right exactly yeah yeah likes like like the dogs and upright it's girl so so that and that sort of thing happens all the time, you know? Or if you have like a text message ding on your phone that's that's lethal right? As soon as you know you have a message from someone you can't not check it, I'm already a little worried I like someone and I'm appear speaking, you know it's so it's it's it's very hard to ignore these signs from the environment for things that that are engaging for us and so that's one of the reasons why it's so easy to start multi tasking at work so easy to get your attention distracted because there are so many things that draw our attention away from us and we have not structured our work environment in ways that promote achieving the long term goals that we want to achieve you know it's it's a paradox in the modern workplace we value freedom so much we don't really want to tell people what to do and people get a little bit resentful in the workplace when you tell them what to do you know companies that have restrictive policies for websites that you khun visit and things like that people like I hate working at this place because they don't let me do x y and z the problem is you know if you're allowed tohave facebook up on your desk at work, you're going to spend too much time on facebook like it or not because it's there right? I just it's very hard to stop yourself from doing these things right? And so the environment engages us in ways that then draw our habits into it and remember because their habits we do a mindlessly it's not that we're trying to do this it's that we are literally being drawn to it automatically because that's what our habits do that go system is so good at engaging the environment okay, so again, the environment is this huge influence and then the last bit that has a big influences the other people around you so human beings are social species. I mean, look at us, we're kind of weak creatures, all things considered. I mean, I have I have two dogs, and I love my dogs, but left to their own devices, my dogs could devour me in about eight minutes if they wanted to. Thankfully, they don't want to, but they could write they have teeth, that clause and and I got nothing, you know, I got a leash, and I I need tiny tools right to keep my dogs at bay, right? We're just we're not particularly imposing creatures on our own, but collectively were pretty amazing, right? And we, you know, we've created this these elaborate social structures that allow us to achieve our goals and the on ly way that this works is if we engage with the people around us now tomorrow we're going to talk an awful lot about how to use the people around you, but for now, the important thing to bear in mind is that other people aren't important source of the goals that we achieve in a very literal sense. Goals are contagious, and there is actually a phenomenon in the in the psychology research literature called gold contagion and the idea is, if you see somebody doing something, it makes you more likely to want to do the same thing, right, which means you need to hang out with people who do what you want to do, okay, so, yeah, I mean, I'll give you a great example. This a couple of years ago, I was giving a talk in dallas, and it was one of these things where after the talk was over, I had my eye on my suitcase because I was leaving the hotel at that point, and I had a box of papers, and then I had some brochures for something, and then I had some pens that I was giving away, and I was too lazy to make two trips, you know, how it is, so I'm like balancing everything precariously, and I got on an escalator, and it was like, it was like, the comedy gods saw their moment, right? Because suddenly, like, one thing slipped, and then I shifted to try and take care of that and the next thing you knew, you were like, in slow motion, you know, everything was just it was like I was in a sea of paper now I'm going down this escalator, there's, this cloud of stuff and this guy in a suit. Who was another guest at the hotel saw what was happening and immediately walked over to the base of the escalator to start gathering up all the stuff that had fallen and suddenly like five or six other people from around the lobby came over to help okay if that guy hadn't done that if he hadn't for whatever reasons seen this and decided to act I'm sure that a whole host of people would have just stood there watching me pick this stuff up but because one person walked over it engaged that goal in everyone to be helpful the goal was contagious okay and we see this sort of thing all over the place so these these air three of the most important ways that we can engage the goals around us and it's important to know that because as we begin to think about how to change our behaviour we need to think about where the levers are where are the places that we can intervene on our motivational system to create change and these are the sorts of places where we can begin to influence which goals become important for us to achieve