This post is an edited transcript from The Water Cooler Hangout Podcast – Episode “Why Do People Do The Things They Do?”
The topic of today’s podcast is Why Do People Do The Things They Do? That is the big question, right? Nothing too difficult to answer. Well, years ago, I heard a speaker and author, Michael LeBeouf, at a National Speakers Association meeting speak about that very topic. He called it the greatest management principle in the world. In short, the principle is the things that get rewarded get done. I will say it again. The things that get rewarded get done.
Or, another way of saying it is we are either moving towards pleasure or away from pain. We are either moving towards rewards or away from punishment.
At the most fundamental level. There are two forces that motivate people to do what they do. The desire to avoid pain or the desire to gain pleasure. These forces also are what causes the yo-yo pattern and some people. They go back and forth between taking action to create change and then losing their drive to take any action at all. You move away from what you believe is painful and you move towards what you believe is pleasurable. Belief is particularly important and we’re going to talk about that more.
By the way, forming habits and addictions also happen through reinforcement of the same pain and pleasure cycle over and over and over. Pain by the way is a short-term motivator. You actually need pleasure for long-term motivation. To make value and behavioral changes the pleasure motivation must be engaged.
Let’s think once again about the yo-yo pattern in changing behaviors. I have asked myself this question about people I’ve seen go through gastric bypass surgery. They must eat restricted Foods. They go through a lot of pain to lose hundreds of pounds only to revert to their poor eating habits and gain back all the weight. Sometimes a lot more.
Obviously, the pleasure of eating whatever you want outweighs the physical and emotional pain of being severely overweight. Pain drives most short-term behaviors and we are more likely to move away from something then to move towards something. There is actually a good reason for that; Paleolithic humans learned to run from the danger of animals who wanted to eat them for dinner. Saving your life was more important than finding your own meal and this behavior of running from pain became hardwired into our lizard brain.
What about your own personal goals? If we want to succeed in reaching our goals, it’s helpful to know what the pain of not achieving our goals is going to be. For example, you might think you can’t run a mile, as I would have said about myself. But pain and pleasure can change things.
A few years back a friend and I were out walking on a path that goes behind our homes. It runs along a creek and some woods and we were walking down the path and I don’t know about a hundred yards up ahead, we see what looked like a cat come out of the woods and start walking up the path towards us now. You know, I’m first thinking,” Is there something wrong with the cat? Does it have rabies? What’s going on?” It kept walking towards us, and we kept walking towards him. Finally, we stopped.
The cat looked like was friendly. It walked right up to me – right to my feet and rolled over on its back and looked at me as if to say help me. We looked around and found a cardboard box on the edge of the woods. I went over and looked inside of it. There was a little food in it. Someone had scrawled a name on the outside of the box.
He had been abandoned and someone had left him there. Who knows why? He was as friendly as can be and he had been declawed so we knew we had to help him. But my home was almost a mile away and with a steep hill at the end. Carrying the cat was out of the question. I tried picking him up, but he did not like that idea at that time.
Well, he didn’t mind being picked up, but he didn’t like when I started walking away with him. So, my friend stayed there, and I took off running to get a car and a cat carrier. I went as fast as I could because I was afraid the cat might run away before I got back.
I made it and got the car and the carrier. Later, I thought I had to be out of my mind as I was not in shape to make that run. But the pain of seeing what might happen if I didn’t get back quickly enough coupled with the pleasure of knowing I was helping an animal in need, overrode common sense. The cat, by the way, became a family pet for years. We named him Walker and he was a lot of fun.
So, once again pain is a short-term motivator, but pleasure is the real solution for long-term motivation. I will say it again pain is a short-term motivator, but pleasure is the real solution for long-term motivation. Just like the gastric bypass example the pain you experience in being obese can move you towards action, but for many people the long-term pleasure of eating healthy looking good and being fit becomes outweighed by the pain of not being able to eat anything you want. And, round and round we go.
Dig more deeply into this person’s behavior and you will probably find self-beliefs that block a positive value that would change their behavior, if only they could identify the root belief. We’re going to talk about how to do that. But first let’s talk about sales and marketing – especially sales. Sales is the one business function that is most often managed by both reward and punishment.
You sell more of whatever it is you’re selling, and you get paid more. If you don’t meet your numbers, you’ll lose your job. Most companies that rely on salespeople have some kind of monthly, quarterly, and annual rewards. And while some salespeople are self-motivated, I find that the average salesperson responds to rewards.
Too many companies focus on the pain of losing your job if you don’t meet your quota or assign goals, instead of focusing on the pleasure of rewards. I found that rewards work well for motivation and sales teams. When I was a branch manager at 3M Company, I had a good-sized team of direct sales reps.
One of my favorite ways to reward them and reward short-term achievement was to let the sales reps pick their own rewards. I would give them a budget that we could spend on the reward and they would write down what they wanted. I’d have them post a photo or a drawing of their choice in a common area the office – some of the reps even got into keeping a visual progress graph. They had a good time with it.
When the time period was over, those who had reached their numbers immediately got their chosen reward. We did it in a group meeting and made sure to praise them. I vividly remember one young lady surprising me with her goal of snow tires. Winter was quickly approaching and that’s what she wanted. I would never have thought to offer snow tires as I said reward, but she got her tires and we rolled them into the meeting to present to her.
So, what about money? Isn’t that the best motivator for exceptional performance? Money is great and people might be motivated to work towards a specific economic goal, but most people want and need more than monetary compensation by itself.
Once the money has been paid and spent; it does not take long for it to be forgotten.
People also want to be recognized. They want to be appreciated. They want to know that their work is making a difference and that they are making a change for good.
Now back to where we started. Why do people do what they do? Or more specifically. Why do YOU do what YOU do? And how can you change it if you aren’t happy with your behavior?
Several years ago, I spent some time studying something called axiology. It’s a branch of philosophy that has to do with evaluating principles and values.
I learned that our personal values determine why we do what we do. I’ll say it again. I learned that our personal values determine why we do what we do. And, our values are formed by our beliefs. And where do our beliefs come from and how are they formed?
Well, most of our beliefs are created from what we can remember about past experiences both pleasurable and painful.
Remember the yo-yo syndrome if you are yo-yoing and anything in your life, you’d do well to examine your beliefs. Are they rooted in reality or is your memory faulty?
Are they your beliefs? Or are they someone else’s? And, how do you change them? Well first look deeply into yourself and ask what beliefs you have. Are they helping you or holding you back? Do they ring true for you or once again, are they do beliefs of someone else? Finally accept the ones you find to be true for you and representative of you and not others.
Change your beliefs and you can change your values. Change your values and you can change your behaviors.
Change your behaviors and your life can change.