Perception and Maslow’s Hammer

15 March 2010, by A. Cedilla

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail…”
Abraham Maslow

Today we’ll be using this old saying as a jump-off point for this 2-part article on changing your perspective. I hope after you’ve read the article that follows, you can come away with different tools — other than a hammer — with which you can use in making your life better. Ready?

How we deal with things (goals, problems and issues, to be more specific) are usually decided after we file them under one of the following general classifications: Things You Do Not Want (DNW)and What You Do Want (WYDW). We tend to avoid one, and welcome the other.

Do you have an idea of what your current DNW’s and WYDW’s are?

Get 2 different colored pens and a blank sheet of paper, a big one.

Set your timer for a minute and a half. Free associate, doodle, scribble, jot, whatever, just capture your DNW’s first, using one color of ink.

  • You don’t need to make an orderly list-list, you’re not going to the supermarket — you can write all over the page, just leave space between every item.
  • You don’t have to censor yourself, nobody’s watching. And ignore the hecklers in the back of your head.
  • You have 90 seconds to catch your DNW’s, big or small. Go.

Done? Set for another 90 seconds, get the other color pen, and use the same paper. Catch your WYDW’s, and this time, try to place them near their counterparts, if they happen to have one. If they don’t, it’s okay. Same deal, get them down, big or small. Go.

Once you’re done, put it aside and leave it for a minute or three so you can mentally detach from what you did. Bathroom break, anyone?

Oddly enough, it often happens that people have a better idea of what they don’t want that what they do want.


In our hard-wired pain avoidance mechanism (the one built for survival) we’re quicker to identify DANGER! (Death! Possible pain source, avoid!) than opportunity, because…well, DANGER.

You can’t enjoy opportunities if you’ve been eaten.

Now, even with the saber-tooths gone, our danger-spotter has been overlaid with an all-purpose discomfort radar more adjusted to today’s challenges, one as exquisitely sensitive as the original. Thus: we’re scared of almost everything.

Go back to your paper. See what you wrote? That’s what’s on your radar. That’s what pings your attention, even subconsciously (as niggling irritations) or surfacing as vivid, frequent daydreams (getting enough money not to work again, ever, or having the time to settle in with a good book, or just finishing today’s To-do’s).

You’re looking at a rough outline of the things you avoid, and things that attract you. At the very least, you want less of one group, and more of the other. Guess which group needs more action?

Think about this.

The 3 most common approaches to getting stuff done can be stated simply:

  • Doing DNW’s first before doing WYDW – which is getting the hard stuff out of the way so you can do what you want to do.
  • Doing less of the DNW’s and more of the WYDW’s – which makes you focus more on what you find satisfying, and act towards getting more of it.
  • Not doing DNW’s — do only WYDW’s – in which you micro-focus on what you want, and let others deal with the rest.

When people find a way that works for them, they tend to stick with it, and other ways are moved to the back. Take a look at your history of how you solve problems and deal with issues.

  • Do you notice a trend when it comes to dealing with the things you really want versus the things you don’t want to do?
  • What about the smaller things that don’t matter much either way?
  • Look at the results over time; what kind of trends do they show?

Let’s illustrate the situations more vividly:

  • How many times did your habit of keeping your nose to the grindstone blot out small details and dampen relationships that could have helped make the job easier for you? How did this work for you: eg how did it affect your health/your family, etc.? What are the things you’ve been told or have heard about the way you work? Over time, were the returns worth it?
  • What usually happens after you cleared out the small stuff on your list? If your energy peters out just when you’re facing the heavy jobs, what do you usually do? How do you feel? How do you psych yourself up to the tasks, and what were the results?
  • If you work as part of a team, which tasks do you ask for if you’re not happy with the ones assigned to you? Why those?
  • What’s the first thing you think to do when you’re suddenly faced with a big project?

Keep these questions in mind and spend some time with the answers. Part 2 will be up soon.

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