A model to find reward anywhere, anytime

May 3, 2013 by Joshua
in 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.]

Do you ever find yourself frustrated, impatient, disappointed, anxious, or feeling some similar emotion and wish you could not feel it? Do you wonder how some people can keep calm or at least not lose control in situations more difficult than you can and wish you could too?

Do you want to know how to handle yourself in situations you don’t like and can’t control?

Today’s model derives from the Model. If you get the Model, it will be obvious. I’ll remind you of a distinction the Model makes, that I believe follows regular uses of the words, between pleasure, happiness, and reward. If the following uses of the words aren’t exactly how you use them, please don’t get hung up on the words so much as the meaning behind them. The meaning of the terms overlap in regular usage and I’m artificially distinguishing them to highlight slight differences.

I’ll use the word pleasure to describe a physical feeling you like. Maybe physical pleasure might be a better term; substitute that if it works better for you. Many things can give you pleasure — food you like, smells you like, a massage you like, falling asleep when you’re tired, and so on. The cause always comes from your environment.

I’ll use the word happy to describe emotional feelings you like. Many emotions can be happy emotions. They always motivate you to keep something in your environment the way it is. Many things can bring happiness — good times with friends, finishing a project, seeing your child succeed, and so on. Compared to something that brings just pleasure, something that bring happiness is more complex and doesn’t just come from something you sense. When you feel happy or a related emotion you want to keep whatever caused it the way it is.

I’ll use the word reward for the feeling you get when things are the way you like them, but in particular for something you helped bring about. You get reward from how you interpret and react to your environment, even parts of it you can’t change, because you can always change your beliefs to interpret your environment differently.

A model to find reward anywhere, anytime: Pleasure and happiness depend on your environment. Reward doesn’t. You can get reward under any conditions.

Did you notice this major difference between pleasure and happiness on the one had and reward on the other? Happiness and pleasure come from something external, meaning they depend on things outside your control, meaning you can lose them. Reward comes from how you interpret your environment and behave with respect to it — which you can do independent of the environment.

In other words, you can create reward under any conditions. I believe Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl meant this when he wrote about finding meaning in life even under worse physical conditions than anyone reading these words will likely face

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.

When I use this belief

I use this belief in situations I don’t like but can’t change. I think of how to perceive them differently by changing my beliefs. The result? I can create reward even amid pain (physical, emotional, or otherwise) and unhappiness. Then I’m more capable of handling the situation and creating results I want.

In other words, I feel better and improve my life faster. What more could you want than a better present and as good a future as you can create?

Will I be able to handle situations as difficult as Frankl if I face them? I hope I never have to find out. I hope nobody ever again has to find out. But if I do, I hope I learn from him and find myself able enough to create reward and meaning amid torture and deprivation. In the meantime, I plan to use what he shared to live life with as much as possible.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces helplessly accepting situations I don’t like. It replaces misery and complacency with reward and effective action.

I can’t solve every problem that comes my way but I can control how they affect me and how I react to them.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to independence and resilience.

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