Maybe it’s not romantic, but we’re like bacteria.
You know how they move?
They sense their immediate surroundings for nutrition or poison and move in whatever direction has the most nutrition or the least poison.
That’s what we do. Every moment, we choose whatever is most pleasurable amongst our immediate, momentary options. This is even true when you’re imagining past or future. Or when you make plans, set intentions, or commit to goals. It’s not primarily because you want that thing out there, but because in this moment making that commitment is the most pleasurable option you sense available to you. It’s not that you don’t want what you think you want, but you only commit to it or act on it because it feels good.
When I first realized this, it made me feel a little queasy, like I had been decieving myself.
We are complex bacteria. We decieve ourselves until we find that self honesty feels better. Even pain, when we cause it to ourselves, is chosen because we sense that there’s no better alternative.
So if you actually want to move towards your goals, then you’ve got to find a way to make each action toward it the most pleasurable option available to you. Your capacity to accomplish something you want hinges on your ability to make going for it feel good all along the way.
For example, lots of people turn their phone to airplane mode when they’re working on something important to remove the distraction of internet and texting. This makes the task at hand relatively more pleasurable by removing other things that are usually more immediately satisfying. But while this is useful, I prefer methods that increase the total pleasure of what I’m doing, rather than eliminating other more pleasurable things.
Here are some ways to do this:
- Fantasize about what you long for a lot, and make the fantasy really good. Don’t to this at the expense of actually moving on the things that will get you there, but when you get discouraged, it’ll be helpful to have a really strong desire and fantasy to turn to to give you a boost.
- Connect to the realness. Usually we make long term goals out of things we deeply want. This depth is a special kind of pleasure that we get to enjoy when we’re doing the things that get us closer to it. It feels like realness, gratitude, power, even intimacy, because you’re doing something that you know matters. Tap into that like a spring to make your efforts way more pleasurable.
- Tell friends to give you high fives when you move forward. Other people’s support (and opinions) of us can be incredibly motivating supports when we set them up to work in our favor.
There are lots of other ways: cultivating the ability to focus, choosing a suitable environment, deeply rewarding yourself with lots of pride and congratulations at the end of your successful activity, etc.
The point is that pleasure is your friend. To get the long term things you want, and make your life better in general, find as many ways as you can to maximize the pleasure of each step along the way.