Excellent Talk on Negotiations – How Creatives Should Negotiate by Ramit Sethi
– Reframes negotiating as a good thing and you can use it anywhere! Gyms, credit cards, phone companies, etc.
– Gives you scrips you can good. Links with other goodies below.
– Build rapport by talking about how long you’ve been with them. Stay cool.
– Ask what else can they do or offer.
– What to do when others negotiate with you.
– Ask open ended questions not yes or no questions.
– In a job interview never answer salary requirements question.
– Women find it harder to ask but they also smile more which helps.
– How to take or turn down offers that are close to what you do like wedding photography. I don’t have the equipment right now, I’m not an expert but I’ll try.
– Don’t feel bad for charging what your worth is and first sell yourself to yourself. Creatives should not underestimate themselves. Don’t feel bad monetising your work. Don’t defend yourself, take it or leave it.
– Start of with an hourly rate and see what competitors charge.
– When you work for free tell them what your normal rate is and say you’re doing it because you want 3 referrals or whatever condition you decide because sometimes there are other things more valuable than money.
– Be prepared to answer ‘your greatest weakness’ question. Tell a good story as humans cannot stop listening to a good story.
Show notes from original post on Tim’s blog – http://tim.blog/2016/06/15/how-creatives-should-negotiate/
Optimizing your spending with credit card companies, cable and telephone providers, the gym — you name it. [07:46]
Ramit’s word-for-word negotiation script (tested with tens of thousands of people and multiple companies). [11:43]
Why you shouldn’t feel guilty about negotiating. [13:01]
Mock negotiation (waiving a credit card late fee). [14:50]
The importance of rapport. [17:28]
Is rent negotiable? [18:50]
Negotiating even when you’ve already got the best price in town. [21:21]
How can you negotiate if you don’t have a perfect track record or the advantage of being a long-time customer? [22:28]
What to do when clients use your negotiation tactics on you? [23:18]
Are there gender differences in negotiation? [25:32]
How to answer the “What are your salary requirements?” question. [28:19]
The difference between theory and practice in negotiation. [31:21]
Your credit card was just sold to a new company. How long should you wait to negotiate with the new company? [31:55]
Can you negotiate insurance? [33:34]
Can you negotiate with monopolies? [34:32]
What Ramit learned by videotaping his negotiation style that changed everything. [35:43]
Why being “too busy” is a good problem for creatives to have. [43:08]
How to overcome the mindset of “I hate selling myself.” [43:53]
Understanding the needs of your client base, upping your rate, and justifying it (to yourself) without guilt. [50:25]
When you’re comfortable with your rates, you can be okay when clients say “No thanks.” [53:54]
Finding ways to overdeliver. [56:40]
How do introverts talk business? [57:47]
How much should you charge? [59:12]
Should you ever work for free? [1:00:40]
How to go from one client to many. [1:05:55]
How do you research what your competitors are charging when many of them don’t discuss it until they’re trying to close a sale? [1:08:10]
How do you handle price shoppers? [1:10:41]
For hourly consulting, is it better to price in packages? [1:13:22]
Do you have to tell a story to convey emotion every time you’re pitching a client? [1:14:52]
How powerful is a smile? [1:17:35]
How to answer, “What is your greatest weakness?” [1:20:56]
Reiterating the importance of storytelling. [1:26:44]
How to answer the “Among all candidates, why should I choose you?” question. [1:28:13]
How can you practice? [1:36:14]
– 3 Conversation
1. The “What Happened?” Conversation. Most difficult conversations involve disagreement about what has happened or what should happen. Who said what and who did what? Who’s right, who meant what, and who’s to blame?
2. The Feelings Conversation. Are my feelings valid? Appropriate? Should I acknowledge or deny them, put them on the table or check them at the door? What do I do about the other person’s feelings? What if they are angry or hurt? These feelings are not addressed directly in the conversation, but they leak in anyway.
3. The Identity Conversation. This is the conversation we each have with ourselves about what this situation means to us. We conduct an internal debate over whether this means we are competent or incompetent, a good person or bad, worthy of love or unlovable. What impact might it have on our self-image and self-esteem, our future and our well-being? Our answers to these questions determine in large part whether we feel “balanced” during the conversation, or whether we feel off-center and anxious.
– 3 fronts — Truth, Intentions, Blame
1. The Truth Assumption. As we argue vociferously for our view, we often fail to question one crucial assumption upon which our whole stance in the conversation is built: I am right, you are wrong. This simple assumption causes endless grief. There’s only one hitch: I am not right. They are not about what is true, they are about what is important. (Paras note: Something I say about relationships. Either one person wins/is right or the relationship wins/is right)
2. The Intention Invention. Did you yell at me to hurt my feelings or merely to emphasize your point? What I think about your intentions will affect how I think about you and, ultimately, how our conversation goes. We assume we know the intentions of others when we don’t. Worse still, when we are unsure about someone’s intentions, we too often decide they are bad. Sometimes people act with mixed intentions. Sometimes they act with no intention, or at least none related to us. And sometimes they act on good intentions that nonetheless hurt us.
3. The Blame Frame. Most difficult conversations focus significant attention on who’s to blame for the mess we’re in. We don’t care where the ball lands, as long as it doesn’t land on us. But talking about fault is similar to talking about truth—it produces disagreement, denial, and little learning. It evokes fears of punishment and insists on an either/or answer. Nobody wants to be blamed, especially unfairly, so our energy goes into defending ourselves. Talking about blame distracts us from exploring why things went wrong and how we might correct them going forward. Focusing instead on understanding the contribution system allows us to learn about the real causes of the problem, and to work on correcting them. The distinction between blame and contribution may seem subtle. But it is a distinction worth working to understand, because it will make a significant difference in your ability to handle difficult conversations.
– Why We Argue, and Why It Doesn’t Help. We think they are the problem. They think we are the problem. We each make sense in our story of what happened. Arguing blocks us from exploring each other’s stories. Arguing without understanding is unpersuasive.
– Move from Certainty to Curiosity. Curiosity: the way into their story. Embrace both stories: adopt the “and stance”. They can feel one thing and you can feel something totally opposite. Exceptions are I really am right (caught daughter smoking) and giving bad news (firing/breaking up).
– Disentangle Impact and Intent. Separating impact from intentions requires us to be aware of the automatic leap from “I was hurt” to “You intended to hurt me.” You can make this distinction by asking yourself three questions: 1. Actions: “What did the other person actually say or do?” 2. Impact: “What was the impact of this on me?” 3. Assumption: “Based on this impact, what assumption am I making about what the other person intended?” Share the Impact on You; Inquire About Their Intentions.
– Listen for Feelings, and Reflect on Your Intentions. When we find ourselves being accused of bad intentions — we have a strong tendency to want to defend ourselves: “That is not what I intended.” We are defending our intentions and our character. However, as we’ve seen, starting here leads to trouble.
– Listen Past the Accusation for the Feelings. Accusation about our bad intentions is always made up of two separate ideas: (1) we had bad intentions and (2) the other person was frustrated, hurt, or embarrassed. Don’t pretend they aren’t saying the first. You’ll want to respond to it. But neither should you ignore the second. And if you start by listening and acknowledging the feelings, and then return to the question of intentions, it will make your conversation significantly easier and more constructive.
– Be Open to Reflecting on the Complexity of Your Intentions. When it comes time to consider your intentions, try to avoid the tendency to say, “My intentions were pure.” We usually think that about ourselves, and sometimes it’s true. But often, as we’ve seen, intentions are more complex.
– Blame Is About Judging, and Looks Backward. Contribution Is About Understanding, and Looks Forward. Contribution is joint and interactive.
– Three Misconceptions About Contribution.
1: I should focus only on my contribution.
2: putting aside blame means putting aside my feelings.
3: exploring contribution means, “blaming the victim”.
– Four Hard-to-Spot Contributions.
1. Avoiding until now.
2. Being unapproachable.
4. Problematic role assumptions.
– Two Tools for Spotting Contribution. Role reversal. The observer’s insight.
– Map the Contribution System. What are they contributing? What am I contributing? List each person’s contribution. My contributions. His contributions. Who else is involved? Take responsibility for your contribution early. Help them understand their contribution. Make your observations and reasoning explicit. Clarify what you would have them do differently.
– Don’t Vent: Describe Feelings Carefully.
1. Frame feelings back into the problem.
2. Express the full spectrum of your feelings.
3. Don’t evaluate — just share. Express your feelings without judging, attributing, or blaming. Don’t monopolize: both sides can have strong feelings at the same time. An easy reminder: say “I feel . . . .”
– The Importance of Acknowledgment. What does it mean to acknowledge someone’s feelings? It means letting the other person know that what they have said has made an impression on you, that their feelings matter to you, and that you are working to understand them. “Wow,” you might say, “I never knew you felt that way,” or, “I kind of assumed you were feeling that, and I’m glad you felt comfortable enough with me to share it,” or, “It sounds like this is really important to you.” Let them know that you think understanding their perspective is important, and that you are trying to do so: “Before I give you a sense of what’s going on with me, tell me more about your feeling that I talk down to you.” Sometimes feelings are all that matter.
– Three Core Identities. Am I competent? Am I a good person? Am I worthy of love?
– Vulnerable Identities: the all-or-nothing syndrome. Denial. Exaggeration. We let their feedback define who we are.
– Ground Your Identity.
1: become aware of your identity issues.
2: complexify your identity (adopt the And Stance).
– Three Things to Accept About Yourself.
1. You will make mistakes.
2. Your intentions are complex.
3. You have contributed to the problem.
– Learn to Regain Your Balance. Let go of trying to control their reaction. Prepare for their response. Imagine that it’s three months or ten years from now. Take a break.
-Three Kinds of Conversations That Don’t Make Sense.
1: is the real conflict inside you?
2: is there a better way to address the issue than talking about it?
3: do you have purposes that make sense?
– Remember, You Can’t Change Other People. Don’t focus on short-term relief at long-term cost. Don’t hit-and-run. Letting go. Adopt some liberating assumptions. It’s not my responsibility to make things better; it’s my responsibility to do my best. They have limitations too. This conflict is not who I am. Letting go doesn’t mean I no longer care. Create a learning conversation.
– If You Raise It: Three Purposes That Work.
1. Learning their story.
2. Expressing your views and feelings.
3. Problem-solving together.
– Why Our Typical Openings Don’t Help. We begin inside our own story. We trigger their identity conversation from the start.
– Getting Started.
1: Begin from the Third Story. For example, in the battle between bicycles and cars for the streets of the city, the third story would be the one told by city planners, who can understand each side’s concerns and see why each group is frustrated with the other. When tensions arise in a marriage, the third story might be the one offered by a marriage counselor. In a dispute between friends, the third story may be the perspective of a mutual friend who sees each side as having valid concerns that need to be addressed. Think like a mediator. Not right or wrong, not better or worse – just different. If they start the conversation, you can still step to the third story.
2: Extend an Invitation. Describe your purposes. Invite, don’t impose. Make them your partner in figuring it out. Be persistent.
– “I Wonder If It Would Make Sense . . . ?” Revisiting conversations gone wrong. Talk about how to talk about it. A map for going forward: third story, their story, your story.
– What to Talk About: The Three Conversations (What Happened? Feeling. Identity). Explore where each story comes from. Share the impact on you. Take responsibility for your contribution. Describe feelings. Reflect on the identity issues. How to talk about it: listening, expression, and problem-solving.
– Listening to Them Helps Them Listen to You. The stance of curiosity: how to listen from the inside out. Forget the words, focus on authenticity. The commentator in your head: become more aware of your internal voice. Don’t turn it off, turn it up. Managing your internal voice. Negotiate your way to curiosity. Don’t listen: talk.
– Three Skills: 1: Inquiry, 2: Paraphrasing, and 3: Acknowledgment.
1: Inquire to Learn – don’t make statements disguised as questions. Don’t use questions to cross-examine. Ask open-ended questions. Ask for more concrete information. Create a learning conversation. Examples – can you say a little more about how you see things? What information might you have that I don’t? How do you see it differently? What impact have my actions had on you? Can you say a little more about why you think this is my fault? Were you reacting to something I did? How are you feeling about all of this? Say more about why this is important to you? What would it mean to you if that happened? Make it safe for them not to answer.
2: Paraphrase for Clarity – check your understanding. Show that you’ve heard. Create a learning conversation.
3: Acknowledge Their Feelings (Paras note: big one for me) – answer the invisible questions. How to acknowledge. Order matters: acknowledge before problem-solving. Acknowledging is not agreeing.
A final thought: empathy is a journey, not a destination
– Failure to Express Yourself Keeps You Out of the Relationship. Feel entitled, feel encouraged, but don’t feel obligated. Start with what matters most. Say what you mean: don’t make them guess. Don’t rely on subtext. Avoid easing in. Don’t make your story simplistic: use the “me-me” and.
Telling Your Story with Clarity: Three Guidelines.
1. Don’t Present Your Conclusions as The Truth.
2. Share Where Your Conclusions Come From.
3. Don’t Exaggerate with “Always” and “Never”.
“Always” and “never” do a pretty good job of conveying frustration, but they have two serious drawbacks. First, it is seldom strictly accurate that someone criticizes every time, or that they haven’t at some point said something positive. Using such words invites an argument over the question of frequency: “That’s not true. I said several nice things to you last year when you won the interoffice new idea competition”—a response that will most likely increase your exasperation.
“Always” and “never” also make it harder — rather than easier — for the other person to consider changing their behavior. In fact, “always” and “never” suggest that change will be difficult or impossible. The implicit message is, “What is wrong with you such that you are driven to criticize my clothes?” or even “You are obviously incapable of acting like a normal person.”
A better approach is to proceed as if (however hard it may be to believe) the other person is simply unaware of the impact of their actions on you, and, being a good person, would certainly wish to change their behavior once they became aware of it. You could say something like: “When you tell me my suit reminds you of wrinkled old curtains, I feel hurt. Criticizing my clothes feels like an attack on my judgment and makes me feel incompetent.” If you can also suggest what you would wish to hear instead, so much the better: “I wish I could feel more often like you believed in me. It would really feel great to hear even something as simple as, ‘I think that color looks good on you.’ Anything, as long as it was positive.”
The key is to communicate your feelings in a way that invites and encourages the recipient to consider new ways of behaving, rather than suggesting they’re a schmuck and it’s too bad there’s nothing they can do about it.
– Give Them Room to Change. Help them understand you. Ask them to paraphrase back. Ask how they see it differently — and why.
– You can reframe anything. The ‘you-me’ and (I can try to understand you and you can try to understand me). It’s always the right time to listen. Be persistent about listening. It takes two to agree. Gather information and test your perceptions. Say what is still missing. Say what would persuade you. Ask what (if anything) would persuade them. Ask their advice. Invent options. Ask what standards should apply. The principle of mutual caretaking. If you still can’t agree, consider your alternatives.
– Putting It All Together. (See below checklist for more details). 1: prepare by walking through the three conversations. 2: check your purposes and decide whether to raise it. 3: start from the third story. 4: explore their story and yours. 5: problem-solving.
– Expression: Speak for Yourself with Clarity and Power. Orators need not apply. You’re entitled (yes, you). Failure to express yourself keeps you out of the relationship. Feel entitled, feel encouraged, but don’t feel obligated. Start with what matters most. Say what you mean: don’t make them guess. Don’t rely on subtext. Avoid easing in.
– Don’t Make Your Story Simplistic: Use the “Me-Me” And. “This memo shows incredible creativity, and at the same time is so badly organized that it makes me crazy.” In your attempt to be clear, you say, “Your memo is so badly organized it makes me crazy,” or worse, “Your memo makes me crazy.”
– Problem-Solving: Take the Lead. Reframe, reframe, reframe! You can reframe anything. The “you-me” and (“I can listen and understand what you have to say, and you can listen and understand what I have to say.”). It’s always the right time to listen. Name the dynamic: make the trouble explicit. Now what? Begin to problem-solve. It takes two to agree.
– Gather Information and Test Your Perceptions. Propose crafting a test. Say what is still missing. Say what would persuade you. Ask what (if anything) would persuade them. Ask their advice. Invent options. Ask what standards should apply. The principle of mutual caretaking. If you still can’t agree, consider your alternatives.
– Difficult conversation checklist
Step 1: Prepare by Walking Through the Three Conversations
– Sort out What Happened. Where does your story come from (information, past experiences, rules)? Theirs? What impact has this situation had on you? What might their intentions have been? What have you each contributed to the problem?
– Understand Emotions. Explore your emotional footprint, and the bundle of emotions you experience.
– Ground Your Identity. What’s at stake for you about you? What do you need to accept to be better grounded?
Step 2: Check Your Purposes and Decide Whether to Raise the Issue
– Purposes: What do you hope to accomplish by having this conversation? Shift your stance to support learning, sharing, and problem-solving.
– Deciding: Is this the best way to address the issue and achieve your purposes? Is the issue really embedded in your Identity Conversation? Can you affect the problem by changing your contributions? If you don’t raise it, what can you do to help yourself let go?
Step 3: Start from the Third Story
– Describe the problem as the difference between your stories. Include both viewpoints as a legitimate part of the discussion.
– Share your purposes.
– Invite them to join you as a partner in sorting out the situation together.
Step 4: Explore Their Story and Yours
– Listen to understand their perspective on what happened. Ask questions. Acknowledge the feelings behind the arguments and accusations. Paraphrase to see if you’ve got it. Try to unravel how the two of you got to this place.
– Share your own viewpoint, your past experiences, intentions, feelings.
– Reframe, reframe, reframe to keep on track. From truth to perceptions, blame to
contribution, accusations to feelings, and so on.
Step 5: Problem-Solving
– Invent options that meet each side’s most important concerns and interests.
– Look to standards for what should happen. Keep in mind the standard of mutual caretaking; relationships that always go one way rarely last.
– Talk about how to keep communication open as you go forward.
Foreword by Roger Fisher
1 Sort Out the Three Conversations
Shift to a Learning Stance – The “What Happened?” Conversation
2 Stop Arguing About Who’s Right: Explore Each Other’s Stories
3 Don’t Assume They Meant It: Disentangle Intent from Impact
4 Abandon Blame: Map the Contribution System
– The Feelings Conversation
5 Have Your Feelings (Or They Will Have You)
– The Identity Conversation
6 Ground Your Identity: Ask Yourself What’s at Stake
– Create a Learning Conversation
7 What’s Your Purpose? When to Raise It and When to Let Go
8 Getting Started: Begin from the Third Story
9 Learning: Listen from the Inside Out
10 Expression: Speak for Yourself with Clarity and Power
11 Problem-Solving: Take the Lead
12 Putting It All Together
A Road Map to Difficult Conversations
A Note on Some Relevant Organizations
Conversations With God – Book 3 by Neale Donald Walsch
– This book will have Concepts dealing with other realms, other dimensions, and how the whole intricate weave fits together.
Act as if you are, and you will draw it to you. What you act as if you are, you become. In other words, “Fake it until you make it.” Therefore, whatever you choose for yourself, give to another.
– No one is more ill-equipped to raise children than young parents. And no one knows this better than young parents. Most parents come to the job of parenting with very little life experience. They’re hardly finished being parented themselves. They’re still looking for answers, still searching for clues. They haven’t even discovered themselves yet, and they’re trying to guide and nurture discovery in others even more vulnerable than they. They haven’t even defined themselves, and they’re thrust into the act of defining others. They are still trying to get over how badly they have been misdefined by their parents. In most advanced races and societies, elders raise the offspring, nurture the offspring, train the offspring, and pass on to the offspring the wisdom, teachings, and traditions of their kind.
– How men created a male God and Satan because women had power back in the day.
– Death, souls, afterlife, microcosm and macro intertwined.
– 3 choices you have:
1. You may allow your uncontrolled thoughts to create The Moment.
2. You may allow your creative consciousness to create The Moment.
3. You may allow the collective consciousness to create The Moment.
– Think of the Cosmic Wheel as that CD-ROM. All the endings already exist. The universe is just waiting to see which one you choose this time. And when the game is over, whether you win, lose, or draw, the universe will say, “Want to play again?” So if you think it would be interesting for the doomsday predictions of the psychics to come true, focus all your attention on that, and you can draw that to yourself. And if you think you would like to experience a different reality, focus on that, and that is the outcome you can draw to you.
– Who You Are is love. What love is, is unlimited, eternal, and free. Therefore, that is what you are. That is the nature of Who You Are. You are unlimited, eternal, and free, by nature. Now, any artificial social, moral, religious, philosophical, economic, or political construction which violates or subordinates your nature is an impingement upon your very Self—and you will rail against it. What do you suppose gave birth to your own country? Was it not “Give me liberty, or give me death”? Well, you’ve given up that liberty in your country, and you’ve given it up in your Jives. And all for the same thing. Security. You are so afraid to live—so afraid of life itself—that you’ve given up the very nature of your being in trade for security.
– The institution you call marriage is your attempt to create security, as is the institution called government. Actually, they are both forms of the same thing—artificial social constructions designed to govern each other’s behaviour. It is the ultimate announcement of fear. If marriage allowed you to be unlimited, eternal, and free in your love, then it would be the ultimate announcement of love. As things are now, you become married in an effort to lower your love to the level of a promise or a guarantee. Marriage is an effort to guarantee that “what is so” now will always be so. If you didn’t need this guarantee, you would not need marriage.
And how do you use this guarantee? First, as a means of creating security (instead of creating security from that which is inside of you), and second, if that security is not forever forthcoming, as a means of punishing each other, for the marriage promise which has been broken can now form the basis of the lawsuit which has been opened. You have thus found marriage very useful—even if it is for all the wrong reasons. Marriage is also your attempt to guarantee that the feelings you have for each other, you will never have for another. Or, at least, that you will never express them with another in the same way. Finally, marriage as you have constructed it is a way of saying: “This relationship is special. I hold this relationship above all others.” If Who You Really Are is a being who says, “This one relationship—this single one, right over here-is more special than any other,” then your construction of marriage allows you to do that perfectly.
Yet you might find it interesting to notice that almost no one who is, or has been, recognised as a spiritual master is married. It’s because masters cannot truthfully make the statement that your present construction of marriage seeks to make: that one person is more special to them than another. This is not a statement that a master makes, and it is not a statement that God makes. The fact is that your marriage vows, as you presently construct them, have you making a very un-Godly statement. It is the height of irony that you feel this is the holiest of holy promises, for it is a promise that God would never make. Yet, in order to justify your human fears, you have imagined a God who acts just like you.
Therefore, you speak of God’s “promise” to his “Chosen People,” and of covenants between God and those God loves, in a special way. You cannot stand the thought of a God who loves no one in a way which is more special than any other, and so you create fictions about a God who only loves certain people for certain reasons. And you call these fictions Religions. I call them blasphemies. For any thought that God loves one more than another is false-and any ritual which asks you to make the same statement is not a sacrament, but a sacrilege. Religion and marriage the way you have constructed them is what we are talking about here.
Love has no requirements. That’s what makes it love. If your love for another carries requirements, then it is not love at all, but some counterfeit version. That is what I have been trying to tell you here, It is what I have been saying, in a dozen different ways, with every question you’ve asked here. Within the context of marriage, for example, there is an exchange of vows that love does not require. Yet you require them, because you do not know what love is. And so you make each other promise what love would never ask. (Neale and Nancy’s declaratio to each other – http://everything2.com/title/Uncommon+wedding+vows)
– You have bastardised the Word of God in order to justify your fears and rationalise your insane treatment of each other. You will make God say whatever you need God to say in order to continue limiting each other, hurting each other, and killing each other in My name. You have invoked My name, and waved My flag, and carried crosses on your battlefields for centuries, all as proof that I love one people more than another, and would ask you to kill to prove it. Yet I tell you this: My love is unlimited and unconditional. That is the one thing you cannot hear, the one truth you cannot abide, the one statement you cannot accept, for its all-inclusiveness destroys not only the institution of marriage (as you have constructed it), but every one of your religions and governmental institutions as well. For you have created a culture based on exclusion, and supported it with a cultural myth of a God who excludes. Yet the culture of God is based on inclusion. In God’s love, everyone is included. Into God’s Kingdom everyone is invited.
– If you terminate a pregnancy, We terminate a pregnancy. Your will is My will.
– You’re approaching the same point in human history again. It’s vitally important that you understand this. Your present technology is threatening to outstrip your ability to use it wisely. Your society is on the verge of becoming a product of your technology, rather than your technology being a product of your society. When a society becomes a product of its own technology, it destroys itself.
– Because guilt and shame is something which is imposed on a being from outside of itself. It can then be internalized, no question about that, but it is initially imposed from the outside. Always. No divine being (and all beings are divine) ever knows itself or anything it is doing to be “shameful” or “guilty” until someone outside of itself labels it that way. In your culture, is a baby ashamed of its “bathroom habits”? Of course not. Not until you tell it to be. Does a child feel “guilty” for pleasuring itself with its genitals? Of course not. Not until you tell it to feel guilty. The degree to which a culture is evolved is demonstrated by the degree to which it labels a being or an action “shameful” or “guilty.”
“THERE’S A STRONG ASSUMPTION STILL THAT EXERTING SELF-CONTROL IS BENEFICIAL … AND WE’RE SHOWING IN THE LONG TERM, IT’S NOT”
Studies have found that trying to teach people to resist temptation either only has short-term gains or can be an outright failure. “We don’t seem to be all that good at [self-control],” Brian Galla, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, says.
If we accept that brute willpower doesn’t work, we can feel less bad about ourselves when we succumb to temptation. And we might also be able refocus our efforts on solving problems like obesity. A recent national survey from the University of Chicago finds that 75 percent of Americans say a lack of willpower is a barrier to weight loss. And yet the emerging scientific consensus is that the obesity crisis is the result of a number of factors, including genes and the food environment — and, crucially, not a lack of willpower.
If we could stop worshiping self-control, maybe we could start thinking about diluting the power of temptation — and helping people meet their goals in new ways with less effort.
The case against willpower
Many of us assume that if we want to make big changes in our lives, we have to sweat for it. But if, for example, the change is to eat fewer sweets, and then you find yourself in front of a pile of cookies, researchers say the pile of cookies has already won.
“Our prototypical model of self-control is angel on one side and devil on the other, and they battle it out,” Fujita says. “We tend to think of people with strong willpower as people who are able to fight this battle effectively. Actually, the people who are really good at self-control never have these battles in the first place.”
This idea was crystallized in the results of a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study tracked 205 people for one week in Germany. The study participants were given BlackBerrys that would go off at random, asking them questions about what desires, temptations, and self-control they were experiencing in the moment.
The paper stumbled on a paradox: The people who were the best at self-control — the ones who most readily agreed to survey questions like “I am good at resisting temptations” — reported fewer temptations throughout the study period.
To put it more simply: The people who said they excel at self-control were hardly using it at all. Psychologists Marina Milyavskaya and Michael Inzlicht recently confirmed and expanded on this idea. In their study, they monitored 159 students at McGill University in Canada in a similar manner for a week.
The students who exerted more self-control were not more successful in accomplishing their goals. It was the students who experienced fewer temptations overall who were more successful when the researchers checked back in at the end of the semester. What’s more, the people who exercised more effortful self-control also reported feeling more depleted. So not only were they not meeting their goals, they were also exhausted from trying.
“There’s a strong assumption still that exerting self-control is beneficial,” Milyavskaya, a professor at Carleton University, tells me. “And we’re showing in the long term, it’s not.”
What we can learn from people who are good at self-control
So who are these people who are rarely tested by temptations? And what can we learn from them? There are a few overlapping lessons from this new science:
1) People who are better at self-control actually enjoy the activities some of us resist— like eating healthy, studying, or exercising.
So engaging in these activities isn’t a chore for them. It’s fun. “‘Want-to’ goals are more likely to be obtained than ‘have-to’ goals,” Milyavskaya says. “Want-to goals lead to experiences of fewer temptations. It’s easier to pursue those goals. It feels more effortless.”
If you’re running because you “have to” get in shape, but find running to be a miserable activity, you’re probably not going to keep it up. That means than an activity you like is more likely to be repeated than an activity you hate.
2) People who are good at self-control have learned better habits
In 2015, psychologists Brian Galla and Angela Duckworth published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, finding across six studies and more than 2,000 participants that people who are good at self-control also tend to have good habits — like exercising regularly, eating healthy, sleeping well, and studying.
“People who are good at self-control … seem to be structuring their lives in a way to avoid having to make a self-control decision in the first place,” Galla tells me. And structuring your life is a skill. People who do the same activity — like running or meditating — at the same time each day have an easier time accomplishing their goals, he says. Not because of their willpower, but because the routine makes it easier.
A trick to wake up more quickly in the morning is to set the alarm on the other side of the room. That’s not in-the-moment willpower at play. It’s planning.
This theory harks back to one of the classic studies on self-control: Walter Mischel’s “marshmallow test,” conducted in the 1960s and ’70s. In these tests, kids were told they could either eat one marshmallow sitting in front of them immediately or eat two later. The ability to resist was found to correlate with all sorts of positive life outcomes, like SAT scores and BMIs. But the kids who were best at the test weren’t necessarily intrinsically better at resisting temptation. They might have been employing a critical strategy.
“Mischel has consistently found that the crucial factor in delaying gratification is the ability to change your perception of the object or action you want to resist,” the New Yorker reportedin 2014. That means kids who avoided eating the first marshmallow would find ways not to look at the candy, or imagine it as something else.
“The really good dieter wouldn’t buy a cupcake,” Fujita explains. “They wouldn’t have passed in front of a bakery; when they saw the cupcake, they would have figured out a way to say yuck instead of yum; they might have an automatic reaction of moving away instead of moving close.”
3) Some people just experience fewer temptations
Our dispositions are determined in part by our genetics. Some people are hungrier than others. Some people love gambling and shopping. People high in conscientiousness — a personality trait largely set by genetics — tend to be more vigilant students and tend to be healthier. When it comes to self-control, they won the genetic lottery.
4) It’s easier to have self-control when you’re wealthy
When Mischel’s marshmallow test is repeated on poorer kids, there’s a clear trend: They perform worse, and appear less able to resist the treat in front of them.
But there’s a good reason for this. As University of Oregon neuroscientist Elliot Berkman argues, people who grow up in poverty are more likely to focus on immediate rewards than long-term rewards. Because when you’re poor, the future is less certain.
Researchers want to figure out if self-control could feel effortless
The new research on self-control demonstrates that eating an extra slice of cake isn’t a moral failing. It’s what we ought to expect when a hungry person is in front of a slice of cake. “Self-control isn’t a special moral muscle,” Galla says. It’s like any decision. And to improve the decision, we need to improve the environment, and give people the skills needed to avoid cake in the first place.
(Berkman argues that the term “self-control” ought to be abolished altogether. “It’s no different than any other decision making,” he says.)
The new research isn’t yet conclusive on whether it’s really possible to teach people the skills needed to make self-control feel effortless. More work needs to be done — designing interventions and evaluating their outcomes over time. But it at least gives researchers a fresh perspective to test out new solutions.
In Berkman’s lab, he’s testing out an idea called “motivational boost.” Participants write essays explaining how their goals (like losing weight) fit into their core values. Berkman will periodically text study participants to remind them why their goals matter, which may increase motivation. “We are still gathering data, but I cannot say yet whether it works or not,” he says.
Another intriguing idea is called “temptation bundling,” in which people make activities more enjoyable by adding a fun component to them. One paper showed that participants were more likely to work out when they could listen to an audio copy of The Hunger Games while at the gym.
Researchers are excited about their new perspective on self-control. “It’s exciting because we’re maybe [about to] break through on a whole variety of new strategies and interventions that we would have never thought about,” Galla says. He and others are looking beyond the “just say no” approach of the past to boost motivation with the help of smartphone apps and other technology.
This is not to say all effortful restraint is useless, but rather that it should be seen as a last-ditch effort to save ourselves from bad behavior.
“Because even if the angel loses most of the time, there’s a chance every now and again the angel will win,” Fujita says. “It’s a defense of last resort.”