The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

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What Is 'Conservation of Energy'? (Psychology)

Conservation of Energy means that we've evolved to avoid expending energy unless it's necessary.

Unless a Reference Level is violated, people will generally Conserve Energy by not acting.

Sources of information that change your Reference Levels are valuable in prompting action. By learning of other choices that you can make, you may acquire different Reference Levels.

All you need to know is that something that you want is possible, and you'll find a way to get it.

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Conservation of Energy'

Here's a universal truth of human nature: people are generally lazy. The critical insight is that being lazy is a feature, not a bug.

Think what would happen if one of your ancient ancestors ran around all day for no good reason until they collapsed from exhaustion? If a predator or enemy appeared, they'd have no reserves left to respond to the threat-a very bad situation.

As a result, we've evolved to avoid expending energy unless absolutely necessary, which I call Conservation of Energy.

Over the past several decades, researchers have studied marathoners and ultramarathoners (people who regularly run 50-100 miles a stretch) to learn more about how the body responds to pain. Here's what they've found: when you're so tired that it feels you're about to kick the bucket any second, physiologically, you're not even remotely close to actually dying. The signals your brain is sending to your body are a ruse that serves as a warning, prompting you to keep some energy in reserve, just in case energy is needed later.

Unless a Reference Level is violated, people generally will Conserve Energy by not acting.

Think of two roommates who share different standards of household cleanliness. To one, the presence of dirty dishes in the sink is a problem-in their mind, any dishes at all is "out of control," which prompts action to fix the situation. To the other roommate, the situation may not be out of control until the sink is overflowing, at which point they'll expend some energy washing dishes.

Different Reference Levels, different actions.

If you think your weight, health, and physique are just fine, you probably won't change your diet or start exercising spontaneously.

If you're comfortable with your social circle and confidence, you probably won't do much to improve your social skills or expand your circle of acquaintances.

If you think you're making enough money, you probably won't do much to earn more.

Conservation of Energy explains why some people stay in marginally satisfying, dead-end jobs for decades, even though they know the position isn't great. If work is okay, the bills get paid, and the job never becomes stressful or frustrating enough to violate expectations, people generally won't go out of their way to get a promotion, find another job, or start a new business.

People only start to expend effort if their Reference Levels are violated in some way, so if their expectation aren't violated, they simply don't act.

Sources of information that change your reference levels are valuable in prompting action.

One of the things that prompted me to build courses and offer consulting related to the Personal MBA was the knowledge that business authors and coaches were able to spend all day learning and helping others, and be paid very well for their expertise.

That was enough to violate my Reference Levels about work at the time-if they could get paid for doing what I loved to do, why should I have to spend all day in a day job that was just "okay"? The more I learned about what people did to make this possible, the more I wanted to do to make it a reality for myself.

Before Roger Bannister's record-breaking performance in 1954, running a mile in under four minutes was considered a physical limitation of the human body. After Bannister proved it was possible, the psychological barrier was broken: by the end of 1957, sixteen runners had accomplished the feat. The only thing that changed was the Reference Level: these athletes knew it was possible and wanted to do it, so they did.

Good books, magazines, blogs, documentaries, and even competitors are valuable if they violate your expectations about what's possible. When you discover that other people are actually doing something you previously considered unrealistic or impossible, it changes your reference levels in a very useful way.

All you need to know is that something you want is possible, and you'll find a way to get it.

Questions About 'Conservation of Energy'


"Whenever an individual or a business decides that success has been attained, progress stops."

Thomas J. Watson, former president of IBM


From Chapter 6:

The Human Mind


https://personalmba.com/conservation-of-energy/



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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

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