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May 24th, 2019
When the monkey presses the right sequence of buttons, the monkey gets a tasty treat. It would be easy and wrong to label the tasty treat as the reward in this little experiment.
The tasty treat is an ephemeral aspect of the situation, one that is quickly digested and dissolved by it’s nutritional value. The tasty treat is gone almost as fast as it arrived, and yet there is a reward that lingers beyond the nutritional flicker of the tasty treat.
The true reward for the monkey is understanding the cause and effect relationship between the buttons available to push and the hunger the monkey feels. A specific code of behavior stitches them together, allowing a systematic behavior to effectively address the hunger.
The reward is the conceptual theory learned that can be applied again when the issue of hunger arrives.
We can take a different sort of monkey and replace the tasty treat with something a little more subtle: Let’s say the situation is a grown adult in the middle of a tense and difficult conversation with a loved one. The tasty treat that is poised to be grasped at the end of this engagement is a calm resolution instead of a worse situation that balloons to take up more time and exhaust more energy and emotion. The ‘sequence of buttons’ here most likely has something to do with an exercise of patience. If our adult manages to glide through the interaction without letting anger overwhelm their words and behavior, then the tasty treat is a better outcome, one that does not need to be cleaned up.
The real reward here is discovering a method of behavior that doesn’t make life worse. Whereas the tasty treat arguably makes life better, the reward here is not dealing with a life that has been made worse. The reward is not necessarily a net-positive in this case, but one that keeps life a net-even, so to speak.
Though, beyond this net even, there is still the reward of discovering a method and system of behavior that keeps things from getting worse. What superficially seems like a situation that results in no positive or negative ultimately has a positive influence on our life because we preserve the resources and time of our current situation, allowing such time and resources to then be devoted to other puzzles that result in overtly positive outcomes as opposed to spending that time and resource cleaning up from unmitigated disasters.
By adding these systems of behavior together that simultaneously preserve the good we have amounted in life, safeguarding that life from devolving and add to the good of our life, we create compounding virtuous cycles that inevitably allow us to Level-Up.
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