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Here’s a great article I just read (actually a transcript of a presentation), written by a scientist about how to think: Extreme Thinking.
This article suggests three principles for making a contribution to society:
- Define a meaningful purpose for your work (the why).
- Develop a long-term vision (the what and the how).
- Create social roles that reinforce the behavior you desire.
I’ve written previously about the first two at length. The third principle is something I’ve always used without even thinking about it. It means that you can improve your performance by imagining yourself in a social role that reinforces your behavior more strongly. For example, if you want to learn faster and retain better, pretend that you’ll soon be teaching others whatever it is you’re learning. Whenever I read personal development material, I’m always looking for ways to combine it with my existing knowledge base and come up with new insights I can share with others. Even as I read the article, I was silently asking myself, “What can I learn from this that might be of benefit to others?” I think this helps me retain what I learn much better because I’m telling my brain, “Pay attention and focus — this is important.”
There are many ways to apply this idea to improve your performance. How could you use your imagination to role-play in such a way that you’re more likely to perform well at a given task?
Beyond using your imagination, you can also create a new role for yourself in reality. For example, by launching this web site last year, I’ve taken on the role of personal development blogger. That’s more than just being a private person with an interest in his own growth. By doing this I’ve put myself into a role that increases and supports my commitment to grow, so consequently I’ve worked harder on this part of my life in the past year than I ever have before.
What new role could you create for yourself in the real world that would reinforce a positive new behavior?
Of course, the reverse is also true. If you assume a role that will reinforce a negative behavior, then your performance will be poor. How motivated are you to learn something new when you adopt the attitude, “This is pointless — I’m never going to use this stuff?” How likely are you to succeed at starting your own business if your entire social network consists only of lifelong employees?
Btw, I got both the card game and the bar game correct in the article. How nerdy of me….