Gorilla Shrewdness #2
This may come as a surprise to you, but I probably have less will power than most. It’s true. I tend to be lazy and overeat. I also enjoy sleeping.
Even without any will power I have somehow been able to make some interesting things happen in my life. What’s my secret?
I’ve been able to develop more will power by working with rather than against my unconscious mind. I was talking to Dr. Jeremy about how I play tricks on my lizard brain, and he showed me that there’s a lot of science behind these tricks. We thought it would be a good idea to have another Gorilla Shrewdness roundtable. (Check out our first one: Testosterone: The Mind-Body Connection.)
Mike says: “I have no will power and yet I tend to achieve more than most.”
I am all or nothing. I steam roll the world or sleep my life away. I have unlimited discipline or no discipline.
For example, I like to eat. Counting out calories for six evenly space meals simply presents six separate opportunities for me to overeat. Hence I do Intermittent Fasting.
By using IF, I only eat twice each day. I can eat large meals. As I fast for 16-18 hours out of the day, I am not tempted to overeat.
Likewise, I don’t bring junk food into the house. If there’s junk food in front of me, I will eat everything. If there’s no junk food in the house, I won’t even walk across the street for it. Hence, no junk food is allowed in my home.
I eat with small dishes and small spoons. This places tricks on your mind. You think you’re eating more than you actually are.
At the gym, I don’t count reps or sets. I have no plan going into the gym. Sure, I don’t look like a Men’s Health cover model, but my physique and level of athleticism are higher than most. I do posture exercises all day, as science shows that dominant behavior and posture increase your testosterone level.
I wear the same outfit each day. I have several pairs of gym pants from Gold’s Gym in Venice and several different colored Henleys. I either wear gym pants and a Henley or blue jeans and a Henley. I do not spend any time thinking about what I am going to wear.
I also don’t fight myself. I’m honest and unapologetic about what who I am and want I want.
Because my brain is not wasting time on stupid decisions and because my life is not a lie, my brain has the energy it needs to hit it hard. Danger & Play exists in its present form because I don’t spend hours a day worrying about nonsense like packing food, counting calories, counting reps in the gym, picking out a cool outfit, etc.
Dr. Jeremy Says: “Mike is actually planning and making shrewd use of his limited resources.”
Mike is doing a lot more to achieve his success than it appears at first glance. By projecting into the future and planning in small ways (like with fasting, not buying junk food, and using small spoons), he is able to act in the moment for greater progress with less stress. Here is the psychology behind how he does it…
As opposed to animals (like lizards) that primarily live in the moment, we have an added component to our consciousness called Symbolic Self Awareness (Sedikides & Skowronski, 1997). That added awareness allows us to imagine future behaviors and their possible outcomes (like buying snacks at the store), before we actually act them out in real life (and pig out at home). Essentially, it makes such future projections, plans, and goal-setting possible on a cognitive level.
As a result of this added symbolic awareness, we have the ability to improve ourselves by bouncing back and forth between setting future goals and immersing ourselves in present actions to reach those goals. This behavior has been described as a discrepancy-reducing feedback loop, also known as a test-operate-test-exit loop (Carver & Scheier, 1982). In essence, we project into an imagined future to set goals and plan (the test). We then perform behaviors in the present to get closer to those desired goals (operate). After a period of time, we compare the present to the future, in order to monitor our progress toward that future goal again (test). Finally, we either adjust and behave again (operate), or reach our set goal (exit).
This is the basics for why we flip-flop between present and future, in order to help us set and reach desired goals, and improve ourselves. It is also what Mike basically does to set plans and then “coast” through his day. HOW he (and we) accomplish these activities is a bit more complicated…
To begin, an individual needs to project into the future and set a goal. Such goal setting is essential because goals are the “test” that all present action will be measured against. In Mike’s world, it is the time he spends envisioning his ideal physique and deciding on the general steps and goals required to get there. Those goals, in turn, help to direct attention to goal-relevant activities, increase motivation, prolong effort, and aid in strategizing for future success (Locke & Latham, 2002). To best accomplish that goals should:
- Be Specific – so that an individual can clearly measure success (e.g. deciding to lose 20 pounds is better than just wanting to lose weight).
- Be Challenging – in order to improve motivation and satisfaction upon completion. However, it should also be achievable, to avoid discouragement (e.g. setting a 20 pound goal instead of 5, because it is still achievable, but would make a bigger difference).
- Be Important – to meeting the person’s needs (e.g. losing weight to promote health AND attractiveness).
- Provide Feedback – to help the individual be aware when change in behavior is needed (e.g. weighing every week to determine weight loss – or getting a DEXA scan every few months).
Next, it is important to motivate the behaviors required to reach the goal. We “perform” in the moment by being propelled by two general types of motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). We may perform because of personal desires, needs, or values internal to ourselves (Intrinsic Motivation). We may also take action to obtain some sort of external reward, favor, or relationship (Extrinsic Motivation).
Although both types of motivation serve the same function, when possible, it is often better to set goals and perform behaviors that are at least congruent with intrinsic motivations and personal needs. That is why people who work “doing what they love” are often more satisfied and productive than those who work “for a paycheck”. It is also why Mike says that he doesn’t fight himself, and is true to who he is and what he wants. He is being congruent with his intrinsic motivations and using them to drive his behavior.
To stay on track, self-control is important. Staying in the moment, keeping focused, and persisting is not always easy. That is where discipline and self-control come into play. However, self-control tends to operate like a muscle, getting fatigued with repeated use (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000). Therefore, try to juggle too many tasks in a day and you’re bound to let one slip. Fortunately, also like a muscle, self-control gets stronger after repeated exertion and rest.
Thus, to perform in the moment and reach goals, self-control needs to be used judiciously. Ideally, goals and behaviors should be staggered, to give times for rest and recovery. New endeavors should be added one-at-a-time. If that is not possible, then sometimes certain taxing behaviors or routines could be made more automatic and effortless with practice (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999). At other times, perhaps a change in general mood or reframing the task might make it less taxing – called Emotion-Focused Coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).
This is the area where Mike really shines. He streamlines many of his tasks to make them automatic. He keeps a positive focus, reducing stress and making things feel less like “work”. In short, he makes careful use of his limited self-control to maximize success.
Finally, it is important to “test” again and adjust behaviors as necessary to reach goals. That is where the idea of Implementation Intentions comes into play (Gollwitzer, 1999). In short, implementation intentions are quick “If X, then Y” statements, that lead to behavior prompts much like conditioned reflexes, or NLP anchors.
For example, if Mike sets certain times to fast, looking at the clock will automatically remind him about his diet (and not to eat yet). Similarly, if he associates certain dominant behaviors with the gym environment, those stimuli will prompt him to “hit it hard” when he walks in. Like Mike, by setting and conditioning these prompts, we can create little behavioral reminders that either keep us on track or help us change focus.
Overall then, looking into the future to plan and acting in the moment are two sides to the same coin of self-development. Switching between those states helps us to set goals, find motivation, control ourselves, and implement positive behaviors. Like with Mike, a little forethought also helps to reduce the clutter in our lives, reduce stress, and find greater success.
Now that you’ve read my thorough analysis of the mechanisms behind Mike’s success…take one more cue from him. Spend a few minutes setting a goal, then get off of your computer and go do it!
About Dr. Jeremy:
Jeremy Nicholson is a Social and Personality Psychologist, with a research and writing focus on influence, persuasion, dating, and relationships. He also holds master’s degrees in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Social Work. Dr. Nicholson shares his advice as a dating/relationship expert as The Attraction Doctor on Psychology Today.
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