How To Tackle Uncomfortable Problems…
Instead Of Delaying Them Until They Snowball
You know you need to make that call, tackle a critical decision or have that awkward conversation. You put it off.
“I can deal with it next week. Nothing horrible will happen if I put it off.”
How do sales and marketing experts convince us to buy solutions to problems we never thought existed? It’s a simple tactic you can use on yourself. Sometimes we come across problems we know we should address immediately. We delay because quick action can be painful, annoying or uncomfortable. I will show you how to overcome the natural human desire to avoid short-term pain and motivate yourself to act.
First, a quick (hopefully funny) story to give you perspective.
I was on the phone with a client. He noticed the distress in my tone and asked what was wrong. I had discovered an issue with my car just before the meeting. He mentioned he was a car guru and asked me to elaborate.
“The check-engine light is on,” I said. “And the car is only two years old. I’m in no mood to deal with it.”
“It’s probably nothing,” he said. “Just put a piece of duct tape over it. It’ll cost you much less than a mechanic.”
Who knew? I could save hundreds, potentially over a thousand dollars by placing a piece of duct tape over the offending light. A roll of duct tape is $4.99. It’s no wonder auto mechanics denounce this simple and inexpensive fix.
I’m kidding, of course. I’m an educated adult, so I know that hiding a problem doesn’t make it go away. Ignoring issues only exacerbates the problem and costs more in money and hardship.
Why Do We Ignore Problems?
Warning lights and signs of trouble appear all the time. The typical reaction is to push it off to a later date. We know that ignoring a problem will only worsen the effects down the line. It’s unfortunate, but humans rarely make decisions based on logic. Any sales or marketing professional will tell you the same thing.
We make decisions based on emotion. We construct rationale later to justify our emotional decision.
In the early days of my sales career, a mentor gave me advice that I still refer to twenty years later.
The only two things that motivate people to buy are pain and pleasure. Pain is a far more powerful motivator. We will do anything to avoid it. Pain in the present is the most powerful motivator of all.
What did he mean by pain in the present? Compare these two short narratives, and you’ll see the difference.
Let’s pretend you go to the doctor today for an annual checkup. He tells you that you should get your diet under control and exercise more. “It’s not a problem now, but in twenty years it could be.”
How will that change your behavior today? Most of us would not make any radical and immediate changes to our lifestyle. You wouldn’t quit your job or put off an expensive vacation.
Compare that to getting this message from your doctor.
“I saw something concerning on your bloodwork. We need to do some follow-up tests. How soon can you meet me at the hospital?”
The question, how soon can you meet me at the hospital implies that there is an immediate danger. That question communicates pain in the present. Almost anyone would drop whatever they were doing and get their ass to the hospital. It wouldn’t matter what deadlines you had at work or whether you had expensive tickets to a concert in a few hours.
That is the power of pain in the present. It influences our actions far greater than pain in the future. Yes, pleasure is a motivator too, but nearly as much as pain avoidance.
Framing a problem as a present pain extends beyond a pure sales and marketing tactic. We can use this quirk of human nature to motivate ourselves into taking action.
Exploit Your Desire To Avoid Pain
We all face instances where we know we should do something. It’s in our best interest. We know that delay will worsen the cost, pain and difficulty. Despite our clear understanding of a problem’s potential impact, we still struggle with taking action. The threat of a future pain lacks the punch to overcome inertia.
Inertia and the desire to conserve energy restrains us. This logic makes sense. There’s no immediate danger so why expend energy unnecessarily? We can reason that it makes sense to take action now, but without the emotional response, it’s hard to follow through.
How do we exploit our desire to avoid pain in the present and use it as a motivation technique?
Let’s return to check engine light on my car. What’s the typical reaction?
“If I don’t get this checked out, it could worsen and result in a more expensive repair and serious inconvenience.”
That is how we typically frame the problem. Notice the word could. It implies the possibility of something happening in the future, lessening the visceral response that would trigger action.
I might reason that I’d need to get my car checked out in the next few days or weeks. And then I might become complacent when the worst-case scenario fails to materialize causing further delay.
Reframe And Visualize
How do you convince yourself to act now?
Reframe and visualize.
I’ll continue with the check engine light example.
What are likely worst-case scenarios?
My car won’t start. My car will die while I’m or while my wife is driving.
Visualize plausible worst-case scenarios and describe how you feel.
I’m driving home from my office in Newark. The engine gives out. It’s dark out. I pull over to the side of the road. I wait and wait for a tow truck, while pissed off drivers blare their horns at me.
Or, my wife is driving the car with our two kids. She gets stuck on a highway and waits with the kids for assistance on a narrow shoulder. The kids are hysterical crying. I then have to live with the guilt of knowing it was in my power to avoid the problem.
That’s enough for me to act fast. I brought the pain in the present by identifying the likely worst-case scenario and visualizing it in the present tense. Using a likely worst-case is essential. It needs to be plausible.
Notice how I included my feelings of guilt. Emotional pain like guilt, embarrassment and shame influence us far more than we like to believe.
Reframe in the present tense and visualize a plausible worst-case scenario. Feel the negative emotions. You’ll be more likely to take action.