Friday, June 28, 2019

Solidifying the Future

Knowing, or at least having a working assumption about, what other people are going to do nearly always enhances your life. Inverted, this means that you can enhance the lives of others by planning and sticking to your plan, or promising, and keeping your promise. Aside from sharing an intention, this two-way sharing of future behavior (and sharing its description, which is the promise) is the essence of cooperation.

This shows up as advertising ("We will trade away our product for your money"), agreements ("You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours"), contracts (written agreements that can be published to punish a party who breaks one), promises, plans, group discounts, limit orders, vows, etc.

The benefits of sticking to what you said you'd do include benefits to yourself.  For example, there will be some positive chemical change in your brain if you decide that after reading this paragraph, you will do something, like maybe get up and stretch, and then, when you're done reading this paragraph, you actually do that thing.  It will increase your self-esteem, at least a little bit, in addition to positively altering your brain chemistry.  You may have been too excited to make that decision before reading this far, but if not, consider this the end.  If so, here are a few extra filler sentences for you so you have time to decide.  Oh, and a call out to ask why you're still reading and not taking a moment to consider doing what I proposed.  Plus this funny reprimand to myself for ending the paragraph with two sentence fragments before the final instruction.  Don't forget to do that thing you decided to do after checking that this instruction was preceded by two sentence fragments!

Feel better?  I do.  I was actually hungry and made myself a smoothie and I've been kind of giddy ever since.  Let's solidify the future a bit more, or at least examine the benefits of planning things and then doing what you said you'd do, or at least letting those you believe might be affected by your not doing those things know that you might not be following through, if, in fact, there's a chance you won't be following through.  If you can't keep your word, at least honor it.

I have another exercise for you now, if you're game.  If not, at least, since you're still reading, it'll be in your memory so you can try it later.  You have to have a dollar.  A five works, but that makes it more difficult and reduces the return on your investment.  Take your bill to someone, a stranger or someone you know, it doesn't matter.  Ask them if they would like a dollar.  You may have to explain what you're doing, so tell them, and I will absolutely appreciate it if you tell them to check out because that's where you got the idea.  If it turns out that they would like a dollar, give it to them.  If not, thank them for entertaining your offer.

I just did that and ended up giving my youngest daughter and her boyfriend each a dollar.  Then I told them, "This cost me two dollars, but what did I get from it?"  Brennan said "Ooh, that's deep," which made it a little deeper for me. He also mentioned reading my June 11th post in which I mentioned writing about how I floss without providing a link to it.  I was lazy then, but A) I just updated the post to B) add this link which you can read without going to the other post, but if you haven't read the other post, maybe you'll check that out too.  And thanks for reading!

When we're young, we learn the value of making promises and usually don't notice the consequences of being sloppy with them.  This is why asking for forgiveness is recommended over asking for permission.  If you meet awesome enough people, they will help you understand that it's good general advice, but not with them.  An awesome person will expect you to make up for all the problems you caused by doing something you should not have done without first getting permission.  They will also nearly always grant you permission.

As we evolve, we will get better at recognizing the two sets of consequences that result from making promises.  Our brains currently only handle the first set because we so recently developed language and the ability to communicate with many people we don't know.  We evolved in tribes where saying you'd do something generally put you in a position where you had to do it, and most people who tried getting the benefits of promising without having to pay the price of delivering could not get away with it.  That's not true any more, but our cognitive evolution hasn't yet caught up.  Oops!  There I go saying things as if I know they are true when I don't actually know it.  It's my best guess and I'd LOVE it if you add comments that might refute that guess.  The first set of consequences from a promise are the benefits that come from the people who want you to keep your word, who will feel and show gratitude even if you haven't yet done it.

The second set of consequences from a promise are the results produced when it's clear to others whether or not you've kept the promise.  Since we like to be positive and avoid being judgmental, these results are often hidden if the fact is that you didn't keep your promise.  People will trust you less, without saying so. When you are less trusted, you will have less opportunity, fewer friends, and less joy.  We often don't notice this kind of downtrend in our lives, but in many cases it can be traced to some past failure to keep a promise, even a promise to oneself.

Go ask someone you know if there's any promise you made that they feel you haven't kept, and be open to fixing whatever they come up with.  I'm going to go do that now because it will solidify my future and my wife's future a little bit, and we'll both be happier for it.  Even if she doesn't come up with anything, it will enhance the trust she puts in me, and perhaps the inverse will happen too.

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