Saturday, April 8, 2017

Not what I wanted

I am still listening to Peter Vishton's Great Course called "Outsmart Yourself."  He talks about not telling your friends about your resolve to do something, lose weight, exercise, whatever.  Some research shows that not telling people about a big goal results in a higher probability that you will achieve it.  The theory is that you dissipate the internal reward by telling about your plans before completing them.

He speaks about the "intention-behavior gap", the difference between what we want to do and what we do.   I am reminded of Daniel Gilbert's research on people's' ability to predict what will make them happy in the future.  Also, the book by Prochaska on giving up smoking, which emphasizes that there is a higher success rate if those who want to stop smoking prepare themselves for an attempt to quit before beginning.

Gilbert and others know that it is difficult to ignore my present level of happiness when predicting how happy I will be tomorrow if my team wins.  It is somewhat like the fairy tales where a genie will grant my wish.  It is very difficult to specify all the relevant conditions in my wish.  I have a tendency to just picture the good parts and assume that the genie knows  what I am thinking and what I mean and what I want.  

I tell the genie I want a million dollars but I didn't think to specify that I did not want the money in pennies or even in $1 bills.  Say I intend to lose weight or increase my reading speed.  I can't think of all the conditions and settings I want to go along with that intent.  I do want to lose weight and I can say how much weight but I didn't think to say I want it gone from my waistline and not my calves.  I want to increase my reading speed but I didn't realize that the fun and adventure and pleasure of a book is very much diminished by reading it in a flash.

I may have to try several times to do something, modifying and improving the plan each time, trying to get it right.

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