A few models that don’t improve your life that effectively

May 24, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Evolutionary Psychology, Exercises, Models, Tips

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I wrote about The Method being an effective way to improve your life and, when applied to a team, to improve your leadership style. Based on the Model, The Method says that if you align your environment, beliefs, and behavior with the emotions you want, you’ll feel emotional reward.

reward environment beliefs emotions behavior

Illustration of the Model.

Feeling reward means you’ll feel motivated to continue your change through to completion.

Most people don’t know the Model or follow the Method. They use techniques that can work, but generally not as well (my science background forces me to say that I base this on my anecdotal experience), because they don’t ensure you’ll feel emotional reward from the process, which The Method does. Without reward, you’ll more easily fall back to your old ways. With reward, you’ll want to keep at it until you finish.

Four common models that don’t improve your life that well

People improving their lives often use one or more of the following methods, each based on its own model.

“Once I get a new car/house/job/girlfriend/boyfriend/etc, then I’ll be happy”

The first not-so-effective model says the solution to your problem is external to you. I call it the “Once I get a new car/house/job/girlfriend/boyfriend/etc, then I’ll be happy” model (note capital M Model means my Model; lower case m model means some other model). If you’re lucky and your problem is based only in the outside world, this model’s strategy might work for you. If your problem isn’t only based on things external to you, it usually won’t work because it won’t address those needs.

Since changing things in your environment takes a lot of resources like time, money, relationships, etc, people put off changes for a long time. Then if they don’t work they have to do it again, usually needing more resources. How many people work at jobs they don’t like for years before finally getting around to changing them?

If you don’t like your job and part of the reason is you don’t respond well to authority, you first might not change for a while because changing is hard. After you change, you’ll likely find your next job no better. So you switch again. And again. Maybe you later change cities. If you never change your strategy, you’ll never solve your problem and you’ll “learn” not to try anymore, feeling like you have to accept jobs just suck.

So the “Once I get a new car/house/job/girlfriend/boyfriend/etc, then I’ll be happy” model leads to delaying change and learning futility.

New Years Resolutions

The next not-so-effective model says the solution to your problems comes through your behavior only. I call it the New Years Resolution model because people use it when they resolve to eat less or exercise more after January 1, though people do the same thing throughout the calendar. They rely on their willpower to instill a long-term change in behavior. Long-term behavior results from your emotions, so this model’s strategy forces you to fight yourself — your willpower versus your emotions. Already this conflict is hard.

If the new behavior happens to be one they like, this strategy may work. Maybe at the gym they find an affordable trainer they like or a team sport they like. But willpower works in the short-term and long-term changes need long-term motivation so it’s easy to revert to your old ways when your willpower gives out. Worse for your goals, since your long-term motivations — your emotions — result from your beliefs, if your willpower loses to your emotions, you will reinforce beliefs you wanted to change. That’s why so many people who tried and failed say things like “I just can’t lose weight,” “I just can’t stop smoking,” or “I’ll never learn to speak well in front of an audience.”

So the New Years Resolution model pits you against yourself and risks reinforcing the beliefs motivating the behavior you want to change.

The law of attraction / The Secret

The next not-so-effective model says you can solve your problems just by changing your beliefs. I call this model the “Law of Attraction” model, based on the popular term, which it resembles. Changing your beliefs only will change how you perceive your environment, which will lead to different emotions, which will lead to different behavior, which will change your environment so, in principle, you can drive your emotional cycle through only changing your beliefs.

But only changing your beliefs can go slowly. If you wanted to have more friends and only changed your beliefs accordingly, it might take years for the cycles to come around. If you also changed your environment (say going out more) and behavior (say, practicing social skills exercises) the process could happen faster. If you wanted to lose weight by only changing your beliefs, you might take a long time more than if you also exercised more and ate more healthily (behavior) went to the gym or joined a team (environment).

Moreover, if you don’t start by focusing on your emotions, as the Method suggests, you might create change you don’t value. And while you’re waiting for your behavior and environment to catch up to your new beliefs you won’t feel reward you would have had you changed all three at once, so you might give up faster.

So the law of attraction model when it works works slowly, isn’t rewarding from the start, and doesn’t necessarily point you in a direction you value.

The Power of Positive Thinking

Another not-so-effective model says that thinking positive thoughts can improve your life, which I call the “Power of Positive Thinking” belief. Like the law of attraction model, it also suggests solving your problems by changing only your beliefs and has the same problems.

Since many people think when I suggest changing your beliefs I’m suggesting thinking positive thoughts, I want to call out major differences between The Method and positive thinking. First, this model I posted recently should suggest I don’t find categorizing things as positive or negative helpful. The Method starts by working with your emotions, which I especially don’t label positive or negative. I don’t consider anger, rage, or any other emotion bad. Since all our emotions evolved and helped our ancestors survive, if anything I’d call all emotions useful, which makes it hard to call them bad. Just as physical pain helps protect us from physical injury, so do painful emotions protect us from other injury.

If you call anger bad or negative, people will try to avoid it even when it could most effectively motivate the behavior they want or they may deny feeling it when they do, motivating the opposite of self-awareness.

Sometimes thinking something someone calls negative can be effective. Sometimes you already feel something someone might call negative and you realize it could help. Sometimes, as in the good-thing-bad-thing-who-knows parable, something that seems good might later seem bad and vice versa. Might as well not call things positive or negative in the first place.

So the power of positive thinking model suffers the same problems as the law of attraction model while also risking lowering self-awareness.

The Method avoids this problem by starting with emotional awareness and aiming to creating the emotions you want.

What I use instead of these beliefs

I use The Method instead of these beliefs. If I try to change something and don’t feel reward, I realize I haven’t aligned my environment, beliefs, and behaviors with each other, meaning I likely used of the above models instead of the full Method.

Then I start The Method from the beginning.

What replaces these beliefs

The Method replaces these beliefs.

Where these beliefs leads

These beliefs lead to strategies that don’t improve your life as effectively as The Method. They’ll probably improve your life more than not trying, but not as much as The Method.

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