Is there a better me?


Is there a better me?

Friday, June 7, 2019

Phil McSweeney MA MBA is a highly experienced Executive Coach and Mentor. In this article, he provides insight into making long-term behavioural changes

There are lots of contradictions in life for people who think too deeply (and I, for one, can be guilty of that trait).

A contradiction that often crops up is this: there’s a shedload of pressure to improve myself, but this can be countered by the advice to accept that ‘I am enough’. This contradiction can be tough to deal with and it makes me wonder what effect is has on people.

To get a handle on what one should do in this situation, I’ve devised a grid. It shows a range of behaviours with both positive and negative outcomes within a timeframe. I’m going to assume we all want good outcomes from our behaviours, and we want them both now and in the future, so the top two rows are most relevant.

I’m sure there is a ‘better me’ somewhere. But finding the ‘better me’ requires future focus. And it also requires that I change something about myself with some consistency over time. So, to use the grid above, I’d want to complete activities that fit into the top right-hand box.

As an example, let’s say I’ve managed to go for a 15-minute walk twice a day for several months, and I listen to a favourite podcast while I’m going. I feel better about myself for taking exercise, and I’m learning something along the way. That positive feeling is motivating, so I repeat that behaviour and continue to feel good about myself.

The discipline of delayed gratification

This is a good opportunity to mention the concept of delayed gratification. It refers to the process that someone undergoes when they resist the temptation of an immediate (usually small) reward in preference for a (usually large or more enduring) reward later on.

When it comes to positive outcomes, there’s ample research to show that those who practice delayed gratification are generally more successful in life. Although it tends to be a life skill learnt in childhood, there’s no reason you can’t learn this skill as an adult.

I know that making a sacrifice now for the promise of a future ‘better me’ can be difficult though; it’s a dilemma. I could commit more to my education, invest in my health, develop relationships with others, but there’s too much I want to do now. I don’t have the time, I don’t have the energy, so I procrastinate and my behaviours remain in the left-hand column.

So, what motivates us to change?

While researching the barriers to change, I recently read that fear of a negative outcome is a strong motivator for action. In my opinion, this is a common misconception and needs qualifying.

My experience indicates that fear only has temporary power. This is exemplified by the number of people I’ve cared for who have given up smoking after a severe heart attack, only to find the ‘fear’ lasts for a few weeks and then they’re back smoking again. Over the long term, the fear is overridden by a cigarette, which is instantly gratifying.

A lot of the time, instantly gratifying behaviours, like retail therapy, can be driven by external or extrinsic motivations, such as wanting to show our friends a new outfit. They are less good at satisfying inner emptiness. Plus, these behaviours, like gambling, can have a negative impact over the long-term unless we can practice self control.

Intrinsic motivation outcomes, on the other hand, tend to ally with delayed gratification e.g. the pleasure of learning to play a musical instrument well.

In conclusion, the art of long-term behaviour change is in finding a blend of instant and delayed gratification, as well as in doing things for ourselves that give us pleasure – ensuring those behaviours stick over time.

Of course, happiness can also come from resisting the pressures to compete with everyone else. So I suggest you feel free at any time to sit back and say 'Today I am enough. thanks.'

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Friday, June 7, 2019




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