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Where You Are Depends on How You Look at Things

Where You Are Depends on How You Look at Things
Look at things differently

One of the big differences between people who are successful in life and business and people who aren’t is how they look at things, which in turn shapes how they make decisions. If you aren’t satisfied with your progress up the corporate ladder, the value of your investment portfolio or your ability to find a partner you might have more success by altering how you look at things and therefore how you decide to act.

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To show how we look at things, and the difference it makes, here are a couple of situations where you might look at things in a new way. Read the full story to see multiple ways of looking at the same things.

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At a bedroom, linen, and kitchen store, packages of six low-energy fluorescent bulbs are hanging near the checkout for last-minute sale to shoppers. The concept of being green has proliferated in recent years so the shopper, Susan, reaches up and takes a couple of the packages. She is happy with herself for joining the green movement and thinks, “Al Gore would be proud of me.” When unpacking the bulbs at home Susan has a ‘light bulb moment’ and realizes these energy saving bulbs are packaged in energy wasting plastic casing. That might be safe packaging, but what is wrong with the paper boxes of old? Is it that the plastic casing is see-through? Is it that these packages are easier to display? Susan wonders, “Is more energy used to make this packaging than will be saved using the bulbs in it? Maybe this wasn’t such a good green purchase when taken as a whole.”

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Brett needs to become more proficient with a piece of software, Photoshop. He purchased it a year ago for hundreds of dollars along with a Getting Started with Photoshop book. He hasn’t opened the book. He’s opened the software but doesn’t understand how to get started. Today Brett is considering taking a class to get cracking and act on his New Year resolution to use what he has. Brett’s investment in the class would be $175 and 8 hours. Getting started seems like a good idea. Brenda, his girlfriend and firecracker analytic, asks a few investigative questions: “Brett, do you have 8 hours to spare? It seems you’re always doing work as it is.” She continues, “Is it possible that you could hire a tutor or power user who could show you one-on-one only the things that you would like to learn about? If so, wouldn’t that take a lot less than 8 hours? And, might it cost less than $175?” Hmmm… Brett never thought of such special education but the cost/value analysis Brenda is offering changes his leaning against taking the class but still to get the start he wants by hiring a tutor (or proficient high school student).

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Verizon recently installed FIOS in a small townhouse community. Looking out his window Smitty, a seasoned businessman, did the calculation. There have been 5 guys here for 5 days digging the trench, laying the conduit, and putting things back in the original condition. That’s worth at least $6,000 ($30 per hour, 8 hours per day, 5 days, 5 guys). Then there is all that equipment and materials they brought in worth another $2500, at least. And the tree they killed and are now replacing is another $400. Plus, the installers have to come back on yet another day to run the conduit and hook up to each townhouse. That’s probably another 13 man days worth ($3,120). That totals $12,020. Doesn’t seem like the payback period is too good. When Smitty gets out his calculator that 100 per month x 7 units x 12 months equals $12,600 per year income. That’s 1 year break-even if you don’t consider the back office costs. Plus, and probably more important to Verizon, they now own the channel to these 14 townhouses for new technology installations in the future.

The way we look at things affects the decisions that we make. Watch how you look at things and, if you want to be in a better position whether in your relationships, work, fitness, or money see if you can expand how you look at things. Watch how others look at things. Ask questions of people whose situation you admire and move toward understanding how they look at things.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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