Restraint Bias is our (inaccurate) belief that we can control natural urges more than we really can.
But even beyond that, we often TEST ourselves just to prove we can.
Except, we typically CANNOT.
“Oh, I don’t need to prep so I won’t get defensive when they challenge my hold-backs at the upcoming budget cut meeting.”
“Oh, I don’t need an agenda for my next staff meeting so I don’t ramble on. I can just wing it.”
“Oh, I don’t have to write down what I just agreed to do. I won’t forget (again).”
“Oh, I can hit the snooze button (one more time) and still get to work on time.”
“Oh, I can eat just few potato chips (and not end up inhaling the whole stinkin’ bag).”
“Oh, just one more drink…”
You see when it comes to urge- and temptation-management, THINKING about avoiding something – if we even raise it to the level of conscious thought – is significantly easier (and substantially less challenging) than ACTUALLY avoiding it.
Because we routinely forget how tempting an urge can be when we’re not actually being tempted by it.
And that fools us into thinking that THIS time (or NEXT time) will be different, oh, just you wait and see.
But, realistically – and more likely than not – it won’t be.
Research on Restraint Bias
Turns out that Restraint Bias is a pretty common thing.
Per Researcher Loran Nordgren, et al:
Students who rated their ability to overcome mental fatigue more highly than others, also thought they could leave more of their coursework until the last week of term.
People who felt they could resist eating their favorite candy bar better than others were actually more likely than others to eat that candy bar.
Those promised a greater cash reward for challenging themselves to fend off greater temptations were more likely to lose to those challenges.
People in a ‘quit smoking’ program who claimed more impulse control than others were found more likely to relapse.
And those were just the scenarios tested.
So How Best to Restrain Restraint Bias?
David DiSalvo said it best in a Scientific American Mind magazine:
“When you’ve made progress avoiding your indulgences, and that little voice in your head tells you it’s okay to start exposing yourself to temptation again — ignore it.”
There is a tempo of business. Back-to-back meetings, impending deadlines, sudden twists and turns. All part of the mix. All part of a cadence that can sometimes feel a bit awkward – a bit out of sync with your natural pace. Not unlike trying to run upon a stretch of railroad ties spaced 7/8ths of a stride apart.
Having to keep up can feel relentless, at times, for sure. Like a never-ending challenge. Sometimes even overwhelming. And just when you think you’re making headway – good headway – some unforeseen new priority changes everything. A new crisis du jour…everyjour! You can count on it.
Too Much? Or Not Enough?
The thing, though, is this: Work can be wonderfully exhilarating, too! Each day can usher in something incredibly new and different. Each conversation has the potential of providing some exciting (and enticing) new insight, disclosure, or piece of information.
It happens. It’s thrilling. It really can be.
For some, it’s unexpected face time with the boss’ boss (or a ‘mentoring moment’ with your own boss). For others, it’s more about the chase. For others still, it’s the glad-handing and hero-recognition that comes from successfully ‘firefighting’ that can’t be beat.
There’s an adrenaline rush to it. Perhaps you know it. (I suspect you do.) And when it happens, it’s more energizing and uplifting than a caramel macchiato, double espresso, Red Bull, or whatever your super-charged caffeinated liquid of choice happens to be.
Going faster. Working harder. Being busier, more vibrant. Feeling essential. It can really stay with a person, can’t it?!
❝Please, sir, I want some more.❞
Behind the More
But this is not a plea for better work/life balance. There’s no such thing, really. (If you disagree, why then does the concept insist on giving ‘work’ top billing. Is it a coincidence? I think not.)
Nor is it an attempt to dissuade you from work hard/play hard, either – even if that has a habit of all-too-easily morphing into work hard/feel exhausted as we get older.
No, it’s really about what you might be losing sight of when you focus too intently on the here-and-now: that is, your longer-term goals and objectives.
Maybe it’s a form of ‘productive procrastination’. Maybe it’s just a variation of Covey’s ‘urgent versus important’. But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that if we let the pace of business hijack our attention, we’ll likely never get to what needs to be done until, at best, the last possible moment – which doesn’t leave much room for any real strategy, creativity, or uniqueness, in what we do.
A Reconcilable Conundrum
Fortunately, all is not lost. And the path is surprisingly simple. All you need to do is some front-end planning. With that in place, you’ll be far more ready (and able) to see the opportunities to move things forward as you’re attending to more pressing matters. You’ll be far more ready (and able) to act upon those opportunities in increasingly decisive and meaningful ways, notwithstanding what else is going on.
So take 15 minutes and on a clean sheet of paper, write out your key work goals for the year. (Hint: Your boss’ year-end review of you is a good place to find them.)
Then, bullet-point the key steps needed to actually make them happen. Don’t go crazy, three, four, or five steps are all you need for each. Then calendar when you want to start and finish them, with all the necessary reminders you think you’ll need. (Don’t leave it to memory – or chance.)
If you want to really WOW! yourself (and others) take a few more moments and consider what would be needed to increase the impact of your bullet-points tenfold. It’s often helpful to do so in terms of people, processes, and unintended consequences. Some questions to help you get started:
People – Who do you need to be on board? To what extent? How best to obtain (and align) their commitments sooner rather than later (or not at all)? Who will advocate on your behalf in your absence?
Processes – What workflows need to be changed, added, or eliminated (or disregarded or better respected) to facilitate your efforts? What do you realize is essential that others may not, and vice versa? What conversations around that need to be had with whom about all that?
Unintended Consequences – How might things go wrong, notwithstanding your best efforts? How might you alter your plans so they don’t go off the rails in those ways? How can you best identify (and mitigate) any other risks that you and your intentions and actions might face?
Embracing – and Planning for – More
Think of it this way: To get the recognition and reward you, no doubt, feel you need, you must make things happen that would not otherwise happen by themselves. So unless you focus on more than just the here and now, they will not happen.
At year-end, you may be able to explain away your culpability for such non-events. But wouldn’t you rather know you played a central role in accomplishing some truly game-changing results?
In other words, the train’s leaving; are you on it?
Here are 10 reasons why leaders make things unnecessarily complicated for themselves and those they work with…
Too many leaders don’t handle conflict particularly well – What is leadership, after all, but the ability to get smart, capable people to want to to stop working on their priorities and work on yours, instead? And that, my friends, is often all about conflict.
Too many leaders think that leadership is only about managing ‘down’ the chain – But try getting something truly meaningful done without the full, ongoing support from your boss, peers, and others inside (and out) of the organization. In all probability, you can’t. Not if it’s something really worth doing, anyway.
Too many leaders fail to hold themselves accountable as they would others – Sure, they may think they do, they may even pretend they do, but we know differently. We see differently, don’t we?
Too many leaders don’t give nearly enough attention to their own leadership skills – Leadership development doesn’t happen by osmosis, it takes both intention and attention. As it says on my business card, “Becoming a better leader is an intentional activity.”
Too many leaders fail to connect their actions to their company’s core business metrics – Sure, they’re busy, but what are they really achieving that’s above-and-beyond the basic responsibilities of the job?
Too many leaders insist they don’t have time to further educate themselves – The latest Wall Street Journal tagline really nails it: “People who don’t have time make time to read The Wall Street Journal.” Too, there’s always Leadership Haiku, my book. It’s my attempt to creatively, engagingly, and thought-provokingly demystify the art, science, and practice of exemplary leadership – 3 lines and 17 syllables at a time.
Too many leaders measure their success with the wrong criteria – Money? Power? Prestige? Sure. But how much fun are they having? How aligned is what they do with their core values? How grateful are they to be able to truly make a difference in other people’s lives? How physically, emotionally, creatively, and courageously fit are they? And, of course, how vibrant are their relationships at home and outside of work?
Too many leaders work on the wrong things – I call it ‘productive procrastination’, when we confuse the work we happen to be doing with the work we really need to be doing. Similar, maybe, but more often than not, decidedly different. (Examples: Catching up on your emails during a conference call, instead of actively contributing; firefighting the latest surprise news instead of creating channels to learn about the priority changes being considered.)
Too many leaders rarely say anything interesting enough for people to even want to follow their lead – Years ago I heard a great description of middle managers: “Store and forward devices, with filters.” Anyone who just apes the company line without first making sense of it is missing a huge leadership opportunity.
Too many leaders are not resilient enough – Stress is a non-optional part of most jobs, but how we handle stress, and the strain we do or do not feel as a result – that is, our hardiness, resilience, and ability to manage crises – can most definitely be learned and better managed.
What to DO about this?
If you recognize any of these affects in the leaders around you, buy them a cup of coffee (or a beer) and engage in a little downtime. Just getting to know them a little better can go a long way. Why? Because people are sometimes so stuck in their roles that they forget to be human and increasingly isolate themselves, from others, which further exacerbates the dysfunction. But when someone reaches out to them, there’s often a wonderful humanizing effect that kicks in. It’s worth trying to help make that happen.
If, on the other hand, you’ve started to recognize some of these attitudes and behaviors in yourself, buy yourself that coffee or beer – yes, you’ll want to do something about your ‘peeling paint,’ but you also deserve to celebrate this important moment in your self-awareness, too.
Sure, I get there should only be ONE #1 Priority. And yet…
… from the Ask An Expert forum at the Mentor’s Guild1 …
Question: How to prioritize when everything is Top Priority?
“After a long corporate career, I have moved to a smaller organization in my industry. I work on several simultaneous projects and report to the CEO. I have fewer staff and more responsibilities, which I was expecting. However, I am quite surprised by a culture where everything seems to be Top Priority…all the time. What’s the best way for me to bring this up? I want to understand if this is a passing phase or the organization’s culture.”
Your situation is not atypical for those moving from larger to smaller organizations. Therefore, let me take a slightly different approach than my colleagues have and encourage you to look at what improvements YOU can make in how you juggle priorities.
Some suggestions for becoming a much better juggler:
• Accept that any frustration or productivity loss you’re experiencing when shifting between priorities is self-imposed.
• Refuse to grouse about how inconvenient and disruptive the sudden shifts are — your job doesn’t allow for the luxury of self-pity. Oh well. When priorities are plentiful, know that the effective utilization of your time is what’s really #1. Your time is a scarce resource; use it more wisely and powerfully. (Instead of taking 60 minutes for a meeting; finish in 45; instead of asking 5-7 questions to get what you need, ask 2 or 3; instead of focusing on activities, focus on desired outcomes; etc.)
• Envision your job less linearly — more like a program manager responsible for multiple projects (all at once) rather than a project manger responsible for only one (at a time).
• Get significantly better at shifting more seamlessly between priorities by studying what those who do it better than you are doing that you are not. Study, too, what they are not doing that you are. Then take those best practices and make them your own.
• Shift from a priority-based focus to a time-based focus, meaning, start with a time interval (say 15 minutes), determine what you can do to move this priority meaningfully forward within that time frame, and do that. Then repeat the process for the next time interval/priority, etc. Challenge yourself to achieve increasingly meaningful outcomes in decreasing amounts of time.
Is it easy? No. Is it important? Absolutely. Be proud that you get to report directly to the CEO, that your job is to keep things moving for him/her and the company, and that this quicker tempo is something you’re working to master.
The best intentions will rarely, if ever, outweigh the deepest of motives. That is, your intentions may be honorable, but they’ll only be as real as your underlying motives allow them to be.
And thinking otherwise is just an illusion.
What Are Motives?
A motive is defined as “something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing.” They are extremely powerful, and what’s more, we’re often totally unaware of what our true motives really are! So let’s take a closer look at them.
According to one of my all-time favorite self-help guru’s, Napoleon Hill, there are 9 basic motives that (often secretly) influence a person’s mind:
the motive of self-preservation
the motive of financial gain
the motive of love
the motive of sexual urge
the motive of desire for power and fame
the motive of fear
the motive of revenge
the motive of freedom (of mind and body)
the motive of desire to build and to create in thought and in material
More on these in a bit.
What Are Intentions?
Intentions are the “purpose or attitude toward the effect of one’s actions or conduct.” That’s somewhat similar, but as you will soon see, decidedly different from one’s underlying motives.
A leader may, for example, intend to treat his/her direct reports with the utmost respect and regard, but his/her behaviors may be altered from that intention based on an underlying motive. Consider:
the motive of self-preservation may result in that leader throwing a direct report ‘under the bus’ when pressure from on-high starts to build
the motive of financial gainand the motive of desire for power or fame may result in that leader stealing the limelight from his/her direct reports instead of sharing the credit they duly deserve
the motive of fear may result in that leader playing it safe instead of doing what’s right
the motive of freedom (of mind and body) may have that leader insure his/her own work/life balance at the expense of the work/life balance of his/her staff
Motives versus Intentions
It’s great to have good intentions. But it’s essential that you understand the motives that (secretly) drive you. That’s because how we want to behave is driven by our intentions, but how we actually behave is driven by our motives – and our motives are driven by our unmet needs. Yet we often fail to realize how our motives really run the show.
How clear are YOU on your underlying motives? How clear are you on how your unmet needs are driving you?
It’s in your personal and professional best-interest to know.