Why change is mostly a simple process of cause and effect

It’s amazing how little attention people pay to the simple process of cause and effect. There’s a common saying that the best definition of insanity is, “Doing the same thing again and again, while expecting the outcome to change.” By that definition, maybe the majority of working people—and nearly all their managers —today are insane. Here’s how to recover your wits.

If you can establish a link between an action and a corresponding result, repeating the action is extremely likely to repeat the result. When the connection is positive and short-term—so people see a certain action quickly produces an outcome they like—they seem fully aware of the link and follow it consciously. But when the outcome is negative and occurs some time in the future—behaving in a certain way now could well lead to unpleasant long-term consequences—they seem to find the link harder to grasp, especially if the action itself is pleasant or comforting.

Smoking is a good example. The negative consequences of smoking are well known and factual. Yet millions still smoke. Logically, being aware of the health consequences of smoking should make any sane person give it up, if they smoke already, or refuse to start an addictive habit they are very likely to regret. It doesn’t happen like that. Instead, people admit to the insanity of smoking, then go on doing it.

The reason has to be that the pleasure is real and here today, while the threat seems theoretical and far off in the future, if it ever happens at all. Many smokers admit the danger, then quickly point to someone they know, or have heard of, who smoked heavily all his or her life and lived to be 90. You could equally logically point to someone who smoked for a week and contracted lung cancer. When you’re dealing with probabilities, any single instance is statistically irrelevant.

Choosing a game plan for life based on short-term gratification

What has all this to do with business life, work, and slowing down? The answer can be expressed in a simple equation:

Old Habits + Old Thinking + Short-term Viewpoint = Predictable Consequences

This seems to be the game plan for life and career that many people follow. It’s definitely the basis of the Hamburger Management game plan.

But if you want to build a better, less stressful business, a better, more enjoyable, and more satisfying career, or a better, happier life, you won’t do it by sticking with the way the majority think and act today: following current fashion while looking only to the immediate future.

A short-term, conservative mindset is not your friend if you want your life to change for the better. Nor is clinging to security. That was my point at the start of this post. If you stick with habits and thoughts that are comfortable and undemanding, and don’t look much further ahead that next week or next month, expecting any different outcome from what you’ve experienced up till now is so illogical it must be described as form of insanity.

A game plan for positive change

To produce slow, measured change you should try changing one, or perhaps two, of the terms in front of the equals sign in the equation above. For example:

Old Habits + Old Thinking + Longer-term Viewpoint = Potential for Different Consequences

I say “potential” because those old habits and thinking will still hold much of your life in place until the longer-term viewpoint starts (fairly slowly) to change them.

The same would be true if you changed your habits, but kept your current ways of thinking and short-term outlook. There would be some change, but your old-style, short-term thinking would keep pulling you back towards the way you’ve always reacted to events until now—and thus to very similar consequences.

To make major changes, you must change habits and thinking and viewpoint at the same time:

New Habits + New Thinking + Longer-term Viewpoint = All New Consequences

If you do that, the “law” of cause and effect will ensure different outcomes and paths through life. When people have some life-changing experience, they often describe it as having turned their lives upside down. They can’t think as they did before, nor can they bring themselves to fall back on their old habits or see the world in the old way. They have new thinking, new habits, a new outlook, and therefore their life is totally changed.

Life-changing experiences . . . on demand

Armed with this insight, you can create your own life-changing experiences. Open your mind to new thoughts, lengthen and broaden your outlook, and try new ways of behaving. You can definitely expect different results to come about if you do that. The major drawback to a short-term, conservative, risk-averse mindset is not that it’s always wrong (though often it is), but that it’s static.

When you choose to alter your life in a controlled manner, inner change precedes outer change. You change yourself and how you choose and new consequences arise as a result. When outer change forces inner change on you, it’s nearly always due to some traumatic life event. That’s what happens when you stay fat, dumb, and happy until the universe forces you to make a major course correction.

If you wait until that happens, it’s likely to be painful. Wouldn’t it be far better to choose change than be compelled to experience it through a life-altering trauma?

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