A key point in my book Willpower Condensed is that true pride fuels willpower and motivates self-discipline. Importantly, we must consider two different mechanisms:
- Pride experience (being prideful, being praised), the emotional reward for having done something great, conditions our will to keep aiming at long-term goals and to stay in line with our core values.
- Pride anticipation (wanting to experience pride), the emotional fuel for a pride-conditioned will, motivates our will to stay true and disciplined in spite of temptation.
Let us assume we are about to make a decision: either eat some chocolate cookies while watching YouTube videos, or eat some almonds while working on an important project. What do we want to influence our decision making: pride experience or pride anticipation?
The latter, of course! For if we already experienced pride, why would we choose to do the harder thing? We do not chase an emotion we already have. Therefore, we want pride anticipation to guide our decision making.
In an experimental study, Shimoni et al. (2016) investigated the ability of 8-year-olds to resist temptation in favor of a long-term goal and found that children who already experienced pride were less likely to delay gratification. Their pride undermined their self-control.*
If we are already proud of ourselves and feel like we have done something good, why would we do something hard and risk feeling bad? Just like a feeling of satiation eliminates our hunger, so does a feeling of pride eliminate our drive. Pride—as complacency—weakens our will.
To have a will of iron, we must have a higher standard for pride—maybe an unattainable one. Once we have had enough pride experiences to have our will conditioned to self-discipline, we must focus predominantly on pride anticipation. We shall stay hungry: hungry for pride! And we shall be grateful for our hunger’s insatiability.
Is our stomach bad because it demands satiation every day anew? No, this is just how hunger works. Is our will bad because it demands pride every day anew? No, this is just how achievement works. Let us embrace life and let us look upon achievement as the natural process of a disciplined life! Ambition need not be an obsession with goals.
Finally, let us remember that desire does not equal suffering. Rather, desire is the pleasure of dopamine flowing in our brain. Desire is the pleasure of anticipating good emotions. Desire is the pleasure of enjoying the process. Regardless of what the outcome may be.
* This result is not consistent with some other studies as, for example, discussed here.
Shimoni, E., Asbe, M., Eyal, T., Berger, A. (2016). Too proud to regulate: The differential effect of pride versus joy on children’s ability to delay gratification. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 141, pp. 275-282, doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.07.017.