Self-Defeating Behaviors – Continued…
Don’t have time for the future because you are too busy with the present!
The more primitive parts of our brain conspire against our thinking about the future. Our amygdala is designed to be hyper alert to signs of threat, but only immediate threat. At the same time, we are powerfully pulled to immediate gratification, even if it’s undermining our own long-term well-being.
The Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Saul Perlmutter puts it: “We are limited by being human. We want results fast, and we discount the future.”
Consider how this applies to business leaders. The factual arguments for investing in their employee well-being — so that people can bring more of themselves to work every day — are astounding.
A meta-analysis of existing research, in HBR, shows that the savings from wellness programs in organizations averages $3.27 for every dollar spent.
If that is the case, how much time, energy and money do business leaders invest in insuring that their employees are healthier and happier? Nearly all of CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies agree the answer was very little.
The value of investing money and time in taking care of employees, rather than simply trying to get more out of them, can seem hard to measure. Also, because it doesn’t produce instant results, it may seem at odds with the urgent aim of getting more done, faster, right now.
When we are run by the more primitive parts of our brain — and we are far more often than we recognize — we become myopically short-term in our perspective.
So what’s the antidote? It’s to rely more on our pre-frontal cortex, which allows humans alone to imagine the future consequences of our actions. Too often, instead, we use our pre-frontal cortex after the fact, to rationalize and minimize our short-term and ultimately self-defeating behaviors.
People don’t always act what is in their best interests. I teach at Rutgers School of Business and I see this all the time with professionals who sign up for executive programs to learn and excel for thie future. However, within one week of starting the program, they fall behind because they are fighting fires at work, stressed out and can’t concentrate on studies.
We don’t lack for potential solutions to our problems so much as we do the willingness to intelligently sacrifice in the short term, in the service of generating more value in the long term.
To do that, we need to learn to better regulate our emotions, which begins with gaining more control of our attention. That’s the next great evolutionary leap, and it’s on the horizon.
I have written earlier about the research results of Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin and Tania Singer of the Max Planck Institute — who have demonstrated that our brains have extraordinary plasticity. It’s possible, for human beings to systematically train the regulation of negative emotion and to increase our capacity for calm reflectiveness in the face of high stress. MRI scans can measure, brain activity associated with empathy and compassion — and people can cultivate those attributes through deliberate practice.
We can learn to be far more conscious and intentional in our behavior, and less self-centered and short-term in our perspective. Doing so requires deliberate practice and focusing on highly specific rituals — behaviors and practices that eventually become automatic and serve sustainable well-being and effectiveness.
To transform the world, we must first transform ourselves.