Racehorses, Greek Philosophers, and Fried Twinkies

In 1990, on a hot muggy and foggy day in Louisiana horse jockey Sylvester Carmouchand and his racehorse Landing Officer crossed the finish line 195 feet ahead of the competition.  However, before they  could claim the $50,000 prize a deep suspicion immediately set in as to the surroundings of their victory.  The distance between 1st place and a very competitive racing field did not sit well with officials.  Additionally, the other racers noted that they had never witnessed Carmouchand pass them.  Later discoveries would show that the winning horse had in fact barely raced at all.  When the gun sounded Carmouchand waited in the thick fog whereas not to be seen.  As the rest of the pack came racing around the track he jumped out of the fog and into a huge lead racing victoriously to the finish line.

horse in the fog

                In part 1 – “My experience as a Tweaker” we discussed the impact of small tweaks around a few key elements – specifically Mindset, and Habits.  In part 2, we are going to cover a 3rd element – Motivations.

So what do a cheating jockey and race horse with a head start have to do with our motivations?

The philosopher Plato once wrote about our own conflict of knowing what to do and yet not always doing what we know.  Plato said it was similar to a chariot being pulled by two very different types of horses.  One horse was represented by passion – our internal urges.  The other horse by intellect, that piece of us that represents our rational mind and morals.

He saw it as our job as the driver (the charioteer) to “break” these horses and then guide them to where we ultimately want to go.

Fast forward 2500 years and what we now know through neuroimaging is that when the part of the brain that controls our pleasure-seeking actions collides with the part of the brain that functions in reason and rational our brains go into internal conflict mode.

The Odds Are Not in Your Favor

If we have 2 horses equal in their capabilities and workloads why is it that turning down fried twinkies (or the like) is so difficult?  One part is likely a matter of motivation(s), which we will cover shortly but the other is biology.

The pleasure horse, like Landing Officer has a head start in this race.  Approximately 195 milliseconds before the rational part of the brain can register the many healthy benefits of foregoing that deep fried, golden brown, future heart attack – our pleasure horse starts running.

So how do we use this awareness of the “pleasure horse” and its competitive advantage to our benefit?

While I think that it’s a good idea to sculpt the environment in your favor such as throwing out all of the junk food (or alcohol, or whatever your vice is) in your house. I believe that it is equally important to consider that these horses do not have to compete.  Rather than pulling in different directions and resulting in inconsistent and inefficient behavior why not put them both to work in your favor?

Here’s the takeaway: The stronger strategy is to position our desired outcomes in the form of “What we want to do” and not a mandatory have to or should do. 

Simple? Yes!

In fact, probably simply enough that many will overlook it.

Effective? Absolutely!

The reason being when we approach outcomes and goals as want-to we no longer have to worry about naming one horse a winner.  With this approach, we integrate our whole self into the process and we work in synchronization and not in internal conflict.

Can It Really Be As Simple As Language?

I believe and know that a changed vocabulary and the use of properly selected language is important.  But let me give you an example of that importance…..

In 2008, two Stanford professors intrigued by the impact of intentionally selected language found that by simply asking “if someone was going to be a voter next month” as opposed to “are you going to vote next month” yielded a 32% higher participation.

(I also believe that if I had asked Amber “can you marry me?” instead of “will you marry me?”  I would have probably scored a funny look – the use of language matters).

Wordsmithing Want-To Goals

Let me tell you who this approach will not serve.  It will not serve those that simply view it at face value.  I am aware that you may already unintentionally use “want-to” in regard to your goals.  The point here is to do as Harvard psychologist Susan David says, “walk your why.”

                I have personally seen countless numbers of people “walking their why”  achieve huge breakthroughs in all walks of life. They do this by attaching their goals and desired outcomes to their values and other deeply meaningful reasons.  I have not seen large numbers of people go through considerable transformation because they want to “just”  look better on the beach or simply make more money.  Results as such may happen temporarily but these have-to types of goals inevitably have a short shelf life.

Getting leverage (finding and walking your why) on yourself and your goals is vital to achieving them.  For example, I know of one woman that for years spent time being mindful of what she ate and regularly exercising in her late 30’s and early 40’s.  I imagine her motivation for exercising and proper eating was like so many of us – “be healthier and look better.”  As a result, she likely under-performed in her efforts until the day came in which her and her husband were going to bring their son into the world.  While we all want to be present to watch our children grow, this couple found themselves facing the news that their son due to a certain diagnosis would likely need support throughout his entire life.

I had the good fortune of hearing this story directly from this woman.  She went on to tell me that it was no longer about getting healthy and fit for the sake of just doing so, it was  now because she needed to prepare to have the energy and longevity to provide long term care to her son in the event that he needed it.  As you can imagine, when it was time to “walk her why” she did so with an intensity that her and those around her had never seen.

It was an absolute privilege to work alongside her daily as she went to work on her goals. There was never a time in which the grind of life and the obstacles toward achievement dampened her motivation.  To look at the person that she has become physically is impressive.  To know the person that she has become mentally is one of the proudest things I have participated in.

If we view life as a sum total of our decisions and those decisions can be tweaked resulting in large scale change, then how much could be achieved by cutting through the have-to’s and discovering the want-to’s?   What else could be available to us if we were to only suspend what we believe we are for a new experiment based on what we could become?  What if instead of being so focused on breaking old habits we tweaked the system and just started adding new empowering habits into the mix?

In closing, the small shifts made over the course of seconds, minutes, hours, and days are ultimately what result in a life that is defined by a meaningful existence, happy relationships, and even if you choose fast cars and 6 pack abs!


Now Go Out In The World And Tweak!


-Sean Z. Callahan

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