The Battle Of Thought Control
As humans, one of the things we love to do is come up with ideas about how others should be behaving. People shouldn’t text and drive. People should say thank you. People shouldn’t watch TV past ten PM. Kids should do their homework. Parents should pay more attention to their kids.
However, as much as we love saying these things, (we’ll see later why this is an inescapable part of human nature) we will intend to differentiate two very basic mindsets. The should mindset which all of operate from most of the time and the is mindset, which is very difficult to maintain, but can offer us a lot more resourcefulness.
Resourceful Vs. Good
Right off the bat, we make a distinction between something that is good vs. something that is resourceful. Resourceful is devoid of any values. If you wanted to kill somebody, having more weapons to kill them with would be more resourceful than having only your fists. If you wanted to build a hospital, having more tools at your disposal would be more resourceful than having less tools.
Why Use Resourceful?
We use resourceful because it is independent of anybody’s desired outcome. This means we leave it up to you, Dear Reader, to take responsible for your decisions and your behaviors. But we also assert that whatever your intentions, operating from a more resourceful state will increase your chances of achieving your intentions, whatever they may be.
Climbing The Monkey Ladder
Every study they’ve done on us humans indicate we are hierarchical. When they study chimps, they notice they are hierarchical. Whoever is higher up the food chain gets more sex and more resources. Since this seems to be true for us humans, and it seems to have been true all throughout history, and it is true for chimps, we can assume that hierarchy plays a big part on our lives.
Every entity on this planet is involved in a never ending replication contest. Whoever makes the most copies of themselves will continue to exist. Whoever makes less copies of themselves will eventually get crowded out by the more efficient replicators.
Chimps To Humans
Since chimps are seen to have a hierarchy benefit, we can imagine what this might mean. Chimps who were higher up the food chain had more sex than chimps who were lower on the food chain. Those that have more sex make more babies. So we can imagine that since humans split from chimps, every generation has been a social hierarchy contest.
The winners of each generation’s social hierarchy contest had the bulk of the kids in the next generation, since higher hierarchy primates (from chimps to humans) had more kids than lower hierarchy humans.
More Social Status = More Everything
Since this social status contest has been going on for a few million years, it’s not a stretch to imagine that within our human brain, the ultimate goal of all humans is to get as much social hierarchy as possible. It may not feel like it as you are reading this, but every ancestor of ours going all the way back to monkeytown was descended from high hierarchy players.
Should Demonstrates Social Status
Any time we use the word, “should” it feels like we are demonstrating social status. Try this quick mind experiment. Let’s think of a relatively commonly used should. Like, people shouldn’t litter. Let’s try saying this two different ways. One from an imagined high social status position, and one from an imagined low social status position. Say them both out loud and really imagine the different feelings from within the differently imagined social status.
High Social Status
People shouldn’t litter! Say that. While you say that, imagine you have some kind of power over others. That simply by saying it, you have the ability to affect social change. Say it again. Say it like you mean it.
Low Social Status
I wish people wouldn’t litter. Say that from a position of powerlessness. As if you were worried that if somebody heard you, they’d get in your face and say, “Yeah?! What you gonna do about it?!” Say it again. How does it feel?
Should Implies Power
Whenever we say people should or shouldn’t do anything, we are simultaneously implying we have some kind of power. That we are in an elevated social position, looking down on others and we actually have the capacity to make up rules that humans should live by. It really feels like we are high up on the social status ladder, and the people who should or shouldn’t do what we say are lower.
Reason Behind The Should
Now we know why we love to say the should word. For the rest of this post, let’s explore what it really means. Because while saying should make us feel powerful in the moment, it’s really weakening us in the long term. We’ll see that by the end of this post.
Should From Behavioral Standpoint
This next set of mental experiments might be difficult to accept. But let’s go ahead with them anyway. The flip side of saying should is dong something because we should. We pay our taxes because we should. We pull over when the cops flash their lights behind us when we should. We say thank you to strangers because that’s what we should do. But is this the real truth?
Deep Thought Experiment
Think of something you do, and you believe (more or less) that you do it because you should, and not for any other reason. Pick something specific, like not littering (unless you are a litterbug!). Could there be some other reasons that you don’t litter? Ask yourself these questions. Don’t worry, nobody’s watching.
Would you litter if nobody saw you?
Would you litter if everybody else did?
Would you litter if you were leaving town and would never come back?
Would you litter if you were leaving town, would never come back and for the past week everybody had been extremely rude to you?
Would you litter if you knew (by magic) that your worst enemy would ALWAYS get blamed for the litter?
Would you litter if not only every else littered, but every time you tossed something in a trash can everybody would stop, point and laugh at you for being a sucker?
Would you litter if you knew you wouldn’t get caught, AND every time you tossed a piece of trash on the sidewalk your bank account would grow by $10,000?
Would you litter if you knew you wouldn’t get caught and you knew that every time you littered you would become twice as attractive to the opposite sex?
Whenever we humans make a decision to do something, we do so for two reasons, and two reasons only. Because we want to increase our comfort, or decrease our discomfort. And one of the most powerful forces of human nature on our level of comfort is the level of social proof we enjoy.
Consider that for most of our own, self-professed shoulds we really only do them because everybody else is doing them, and we don’t want to stick out. Do this experiment next time you are standing on a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change from red to green. Do this twice, at the same intersection, if you can.
First, make sure it’s really busy. Consider crossing before the light changes. Forget about the law (only consider this!) Focus only on the negative feelings you’d experience if you crossed and nobody else did. Would you look at everybody and smile as you crossed, or would you keep you head down?
Go back to the same intersection when there is nobody around. Is it easier to cross against the red when there are no people around?
Inside Our Own Heads
It’s very difficult to imagine how things like social proof and authority impact our day to day, and even minute to minute, thinking and acting. But plenty of psychology experiments demonstrate that we humans have pretty weak independent brains. When the crowd does something, we normally go along with it. When somebody in charge tells us to do something, we tend to go along with them.
Thinking About Other People
Let’s think about others now, from a perspective of we think they should or shouldn’t do. Let’s go back to the idea of incentives. People do things for their own reasons (even these reasons are social proof and authority and only exist subconsciously). These reasons are the things that motivate them. Economists call these incentives.
Inside and Outside
Incentives exist both inside and outside. Internally and externally. External incentives are when other people, or the situation, compels us to do something. We are sitting on the couch lost in our favorite TV episode and we smell smoke. Then we remember we’re baking a cake, and leap up off the couch. The smoke is an external incentive. It also triggered an internal incentive. As you can guess, few incentives are purely external or purely internal.
Positive and Negative
Incentives can also be positive and negative. Bad things we want to avoid, or reduce (like the smoke and the idea of a burnt cake). Good things we want or want to increase, like money we want. If we have a job that sucks but pays well, the money is a positive incentive to help us put up with the goofs at work.
All Action Is Based On Incentives
Internal or external, positive or negative, consider that all human action can be expressed as incentives. So when you are waiting to walk across the street, the light is red but there isn’t any traffic and you are in a hurry, the negative social proof that keeps you waiting for the green light is a potential negative incentive.
Why Should They?
Now we are ready to understand the futility of the should. Well, it’s not really futile since saying it makes us feel good in the short term, but it is absolutely useless for changing other people’s behavior. This is why nearly all the time we say should sentences, we either say them silently, or we say them around people we know will agree with us. Very few of us will walk up to a litterbug and say, “Hey! You shouldn’t litter!”
Most of us see people doing things we think they shouldn’t, but we don’t say a peep. Now we’re ready to think of an alternative way of thinking, one that will make us more resourceful in the long term.
This mindset ignores all shoulds. It views shoulds as only serving to temporarily improve one’s mood or feelings. It doesn’t do anything about other people’s behavior unless you have the capacity to alter their behavior. But even then, it is a very short term strategy. If you alter their behavior by applying negative incentives (to force them to do something or force them to stop doing something) they will resent you.
Think of how you feel when you pay your taxes, or when a cop decides to pull you over, or your teacher stops before you leave the classroom and decides to lecture you on your behavior. Do you appreciate it? Do you honestly alter your behavior, or do you only alter your behavior to minimize the negative incentives they are showering you with? This is how people would feel about YOU if you were capable of forcing them to behave differently. They would resent it, and they would revert to their original behavior once you ceased the negative incentives.
Behavior Changing Strategy – Stopping Negative Behavior
People behave the way they behave, based on the incentives. Internal and external, positive and negative. To the extent you can create a positive incentive for them, and alter their behavior in a way that is beneficial to the both of you, you will succeed. To the extent you cannot, you really don’t have any other options.
The first question to ask, when you feel some shoulds bubbling up, is to ask yourself specifically how you would benefit if they actually altered their behavior. If you would benefit, then you can proceed. If you wouldn’t really benefit very much, or if the main benefit was small, then that’s just part of life.
If you decide that if they altered their behavior you would benefit, then the next step is to ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” What would make them decide to alter their behavior. Sometimes this is simple. Meaning if they are breaking the law, or breaking a written agreement, you’ve got something to start with.
If they are doing something against the rules, you’ve got a couple of options. One is to speak to them directly. Maybe they might not know they are breaking the rules. Or you can contact the authorities. That is their job, to keep people from doing things they aren’t supposed to be doing.
If none of these work, then your only option is to provide negative incentives. How to do this specifically is beyond the scope of this post. But ideally, you would deliver these anonymously, and make sure they are connected in some way to the behavior. That way, they would slowly associate their negative behavior with the negative external incentives.
A commonly feared negative incentive is negative social proof. Convey to them somehow that everybody knows they are doing something wrong, and everybody is angry at them. You can do this anonymously in a note. Just beware of any potential negative ramifications. When doing anything like this, it’s best to follow the advice about seeking revenge: First dig two graves.
Behavior Changing Strategy – Creating Positive Behavior
If you want somebody to do something that they aren’t doing, then you’ll have a lot more flexibility. The strategy is very simple. First, figure out exactly what you want them to do. Then figure out what you are willing to pay for it. Not pay as in cash, but pay as in behavior, communication, or anything else. While we’d all love to just snap our fingers and get people to immediately do what we want, when we look at human behavior through the is model, we know the only way to alter behavior is to provide incentives.
Find Out What They Want
A good way to do this is first find a little bit about them. If you approach them and say, “Hey, what would it take for you to do X?” They might ask for more than you’re willing to give. This is why it’s much better to start finding out what they want before brining up what you want them to do.
If you don’t know anything about them, and aren’t interested in a lengthy conversation, this can be difficult. But if you are willing to talk to them, it’s pretty easy. Just ask them general questions about what they like. The longer you ask and expand on what they like, or what they want, the sooner you’ll find something you are willing to provide.
Make The Offer
Once you’ve got a few things you know they are interested in, make the offer. “Hey, how about this. I’d really like it if you did X, if you do that, I’ll be happy to do Y for you. What do you think?” If you started the conversation and started building up things they want or like, they’ll be in a good mood. Chances are, if it’s a fair trade, they’ll be eager to take it. This is definitely one of those, “honey vs. vinegar” situations.
On a much broader level, looking at the world through the is lens makes it much easier to interact with it and get what you need. Think of traversing a series of mountains with unknown terrain. It’s difficult, but if you take your time, it’s doable. What’s not doable is sitting there wishing the mountains were flat. Reality is the same way.
The world is filled with people who are all doing their own thing for their own reasons. Wishing they were doing something else won’t make it any easier. Interacting slowly, and taking the time to understand the terrain enough to slowly make your way through is the most effective way forward.
Trial And Error Learning
Forget about trying to get it right the first time. Most things require trial and error. Most of the time, we call this practice, or being on a learning curve. Living life is really just one big learning curve after another. The more you release any should thoughts, the easier it will be to get in there and get some.
Avoid Imaginary Social Status
It can be easy to pretend you have high social status by sitting on the sidelines and explaining to all the other folks on the sidelines why people in the game are doing it wrong, and how they should be doing it differently. But that won’t get you anything expect agreement from everybody else on the sidelines.
Build Real Social Status
Fully embrace your inner primate which thrives on real social status. The social status that comes from real accomplishments. That means getting in the game, and getting some. Figure out what you want, get in the game, and go after it. This is the main reason we humans are here. To play the game of life and continue to achieve greater and greater things. The more you play, the more you’ll win.
Mind Persuasion has plenty of books and courses all designed to help you get much more out of life with much less effort.