DRMacIver's Notebook

Desire as a driver of growth

Desire as a driver of growth

I wrote before about how safety is the enabler of growth: The thing that allows you to grow is to be safe to experiment, so you can learn new ways of being.

This is true as far as it goes, but it has a big problem: If you're safe, it's very easy to just stay where you are. The possibility to grow exists, but you have no particular reason to take it, so you don't.

You can see this in the stereotype of the spoiled rich kid (although often they're not exactly in safe environments either, so this is weak evidence. Consider it an illustrative example).

The basic problem is that growth is hard work. You have to want to do it. You have to actually desire to grow.

One key to doing this is what I wrote about in life as an anytime algorithm: Designing goals so that you gain partial benefits as you go. This ensures that you're getting feedback on growth as you proceed, and it doesn't feel like a long hard slog with hopefully a reward at the end.

This isn't enough, because it depends on what type of progress you're making. In particular, I reliably find that progress that just makes things less bad doesn't have the right shape. The nagging urge is always there to backslide and just fall back to the old ways. The old ways weren't good, but they sure were easier, and stable, and stability is comforting.

In order to create a desire for growth you need the changes you see to be an actively positive thing. It makes you hungry for more, and the work feels less like work and more like achievement.

Two examples where I have encountered this:

You need to clear out the negative stuff too (more of my emotion work is on anxiety than joy, but the two feed into each other). It's important not to overfocus on the positive, but without the positive to drive growth you will often give up, and that means you end up doing less work on the negatives in total.