Purpose at work

10 Apr 2018 | LinkedIn article

The why of our behaviours is a more powerful story that the how. Both philosophy and empirical research suggest that the higher our level of interpretation or construal, the more we will stick with it when the going gets hard.

Think about this in the context of trying to lose fifteen pounds. Maybe your doctor has told you that the extra weight is unhealthy. How might making the tough, daily decisions to maintain a healthy diet depend on your story about why you eat?

Consider your choice between a healthy salad and a pizza for lunch after the fourth day on your diet. If you tell yourself a low-level construal story of why you eat, you would focus on how your body feels. This story would focus you on your physical sensation of a gnawing tummy and the unpleasant psychological sensation of being hungry. And then you look at the salad. It looks lame. As Wharton professor, Katherine Milkman, and her colleagues say, “A low-level construal of a salad would focus on its taste and its likelihood of leaving you hungry.” If your story of why you eat centres on your body, right now, and you are thinking about the salad’s ability to fulfill your immediate physical prompts, you will likely get the pizza. And most diets end this way— unsuccessfully.

If, however, you tell yourself a high-level construal story of why you eat, you might focus on your health and your long-term goals of losing fifteen pounds. With this story, why would you put something unhealthy in your body that would add weight and make your heart work too hard? Says Milkman, “A high-level construal of a salad would focus on the salad’s healthfulness and its likelihood of increasing longevity.”

The story you tell yourself about eating changes your behavior and you are more likely to choose the salad. 20 minutes later, when your snarling belly is appeased, you feel pride instead of guilt.

When we personally understand and believe in the why of our actions, we have greater resilience and stamina when the going gets tough. Read more of this excerpt from Alive At Work.

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