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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- In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the
answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
- Seven Ways to Get Nowhere
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no real progress towards the goal. How does this happen? What can you do about it?
- Symbolic Self-Completion and Projects
- The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators
of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior
has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.
- Virtual Clutter: I
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are even thinking about decluttering email inboxes. But the problem of clutter is far more widespread.
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
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three examples of this pattern.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
- And on March 7: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: II
- Narcissistic behavior at work threatens the enterprise. People who behave narcissistically systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this Part II of the series we consider the narcissistic preoccupation with superiority fantasies. Available here and by RSS on March 7.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.