Scootering flower

Dear Js,

Everything in this world is the driven by a hidden, unquenchable human desire. This desire is what dragged us so far away from caves… long after we have attained every comfort that our ancestors wished for, long after we’ve made ourselves invincible to common ailments and extended our lives past our bodies’ design. (Think about how long your teeth are supposed to last in nature, for example.)

We express this desire by buying things. This desire is the root of why people buy anything.

But still, some people get confused about what makes people Buy. The most naive think that we buy for features and benefits — that we buy a car for a car, or a house for a house. Smarter marketers understand the power of emotion. But there is a simpler reason — a fundamental philosophy for why you buy.

If you forget everything else but keep this in mind, you’ll always understand what motivates people — in almost any everyday situation, and when they buy any product or service. This is handy whether you want to understand yourself and other people better to live happier… or if you want to improve people’s lives by selling them what they need. Sure, you can also use it to get rich (but that’s not my intent in sharing this with you, because money alone won’t make you happy.)

Remember this: People buy to be happy. But what they buy can never make them happy. Otherwise, people in each generation ought to be happier than the previous generation. The fact that we’re not is the BIG clue: although the desire to buy comes from wanting to be happy, the happiness from buying is only a temporary substitute. Therefore…

All purchases are Reward Substitutions

Let me explain. First, you need to understand Reward Substitution. Reward Substitution is exchanging a long term reward for a short term reward.

For example, if you tell a chronic smoker that the reward of quitting is a longer life, that’s a weak, long-term reward. If you tell an obese person that the reward of losing weight is he won’t die of a heart attack, that’s a weak, long-term reward.

Or, tell a teenager that condoms prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancy, and they’ll remember to use them because it makes sense, right?

Rewards like “longer life”, “no STDs”, “avoid unwanted pregnancy” or any reward that you can’t enjoy right now or feel in your hands are practically worthless. They’re too far away. Too intangible. Logically, sure, it makes sense – no one wants to die by drowning in the fluid your lungs fill with when you have lung cancer. No one wants to have a heart attack and leave their children orphans. And everyone wants all the pleasures of sex but none of its consequences.

But we don’t operate by logic, do we? If we did, no one would be morbidly obese, no one would have lung cancer, and no one with a brain would engage in risky sex. You’d just have to present the facts and it’d be good enough, right? But yet, it doesn’t work that way, does it? It is because we are irrational animals.

So, reward substitution is a nifty tool to trick yourself: You know the real reward is too far away that it is useless. But yet you want to change your behavior. Maybe your life depends on it. So, you need to find other ways to reward good behavior RIGHT NOW, so you can motivate the right things and the right steps you take RIGHT NOW, instead of later.

For example, with weight loss, progress comes too slow to see. So diets make you count points. You are graded in school, because they have no other way to measure how effective the garbage you’re learning will be when you grow up.

Anyway. Now that we understand Reward Substitution, let’s get back to the pursuit of happiness, Life, and what makes people buy.

First, Happiness. The things that are meaningful and knock you over with joy are too few and far apart. Birthdays (maybe when you’re young). Graduation. First car. First kiss. First love. First job. Job promotion. New experiences. Birth of your child… and so on.

The rest of the time, most people drudge along, doing things they wish they didn’t have to, watching the clock hoping it would tick faster. Most people burn most of their lives working 8+ hours a day wishing they were somewhere else, feeling unappreciated and numb.

In general, life as an adult sucks, because you have nothing to indicate you’re winning.

And that’s what makes short-term rewards so satisfying. Life is like being stuck in a coal mine when all you see is a pickaxe and rock. This is especially true in today’s economy, where jobs have moved to be more abstract, intellectual and specialized. Most people function as a cog in a big wheel they never get to see or touch. We ache to be appreciated and reassured that we’re making progress.

Take running, for example. For Kenyan children, running is a way to go to school. In first world countries, people run with gizmos and heart rate monitors, GPS, widgets, gear and tracking apps. They use their data to optimize something or other. But have we forgotten that it is running? Something our species has done for MILLIONS of years!

Everything we buy, everything we do, is to make sense of this senseless fog of life, and to claw for anything we can use to measure ourselves. Just so we can feel a sense of progress and accomplishment. The car you drive, the house you own, the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the vacations you take. This happens to be why games are popular (real or digital). There is no “score” in real life. But games tell you your score… so you know when you are winning. Real life is vague. Games have clear goals and clear rewards.

By the way, social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest are the micro versions of Reward Substitution. The lure to post is the longing for attention. Look at me! I am doing something with my life! I am interesting. Validate me!

We do it because it feels good. But here’s what makes it’s terrible: Most short-term rewards are bad. That’s the terrible thing about Reward Substitutes: they only help you if the substitute rewards eventually lead you to your real goal. These days, the Sirens rip you in every direction, deceiving you with artificial love.

Remember: only meaningful things will make you happy.

Also remember: if you are selling, appeal to their ultimate fantasy/dream/goal, and provide instant improvement that aligns with their ultimate fantasy/dream/goal.

OK, I’m done with my exposition. Back to our usual programming…

Funny conversations. Remember how I fell down the stairs last week? I got a scab. And by chance, you got a scab too. You felt about your scab until I showed you mine. My scab is a handy teaching aid because we’re buddies with the same condition. Now, Scabby is your best friend:

You said, “I was pushing my blue truck and I fell.” I said “Scabby comes takes care of you when you make boo boo. When you feel better it goes help someone else.” Since then, you take care of Scabby. You clean it at bath time, rinse its soap off, and drape a towel over it when you’re done. Mama asked if Scabby is a boy or girl. You said, “No, Scabby is… Scabby.”

Then the other day, you said, “My scabby going to school with me today. He is taking care of me.” So I said, “MY scabby is going to work with me.” You said, “I’m going to sit in Circle Time with Scabby. I will hug him… make sure he doesn’t fall off! When I feel better, Scabby is going to help mama. And your scabby is going to help… Julia!” Haha I said mama doesn’t need help, she is okay.

Too much hugs? I came home the other day and hugged you til you fell on the floor. You screamed, “TOO MUCH! That’s too much for me daddy!”

On the car ride home from school with mama, you often ask mama to call Abu Vicky. She’ll say Hola Joshua… and you’ll say “NO ABU! You cannot say my name!” She’ll say “OK… Hola Julia…” And you’ll say “NO ABU! You cannot talk to Julia! She’s sleeping!” Mama says you two enjoy bickering back and forth like this. You’ll also tell Abu, “BRIDGE!” for each of the 3 bridge you pass on the way back.

Funny toddler moments. Now that you’re riding the scooter more, something funny happens right after you get off it. You take two steps as if your left leg still slides like on the scooter, which it doesn’t because you’re on the ground. So you trip and you fall on your hands. You always look confused when this happens.

Scootering at the park with your favorite friends.

Scootering at the park with your favorite friends. You also like sliding down the slide with her and her brother pretending to be a train.

Tender moments…

A pick for you J2 - on the way to the Market with Mama

A pick for you J2 – on the way to the Market with Mama

Both of you Js in bed:

J visiting J2:

Look who's visiting...

Look who it is…

J – I gave you a haircut the other day. After playing with your hair to decide if it was worth taking a weekend day to make a trip to the barber, I decided I could do it. This is the second time. You sat on the potty and said, “Cut my hair!” because you wanted to watch the pieces fall onto your book so you could sweep them away with your hands, or blow them. “Daddy! I want a big piece now!” I was surprised I enjoyed it and found it relaxing. It was mechanical and didn’t require much thinking. And I got to spend some time close to you. You didn’t mind me messing with your hair or having scissors close to your face. It’s interesting… Africa baby probably gets held and touched alot. But in “modern” world, we rarely have skin contact because we always have clothes. And although we try not to be, modern culture is cold. Check out the pictures. I think I did a good job.

Even a chatterbox can lose his tongue. We visited the mechanic last week. I got there first, dropped my car off. You were supposed to ride with me, but you abandoned me for mama. So mama came later in the other car with you and J2. We talked about it before, so I said here’s David, our car mechanic. He is a car doctor. You have your doctor, and David is our car doctor.

I took you outside to show you around. Suddenly, you shouted, “A BULLDOZER! A BULLDOZER! BDLBLDL A BZHZHZHZHZHZKTKT! DADADAA!” You pointed frantically and bounced in my arms. It was moving a mountain of dirt. It might have been 3 stories tall, in the construction site behind the mechanic’s. Then I showed you the car lifts. WHIRRRRRRRRRR… you ran back to tell mama that “it took the car UP high into the sky!” You looked up to the ceiling and raised your arm. Then you demonstrated with your toy fire truck from the Dentist. With sound effects too. Then we went back out to inspect a black car with a missing bumper and a cracked windshield. “What happened daddy?” I said, “Do you remember the other day we saw two cars bump outside your school and there were two tow trucks? This car bumped into something. Maybe it was another car, maybe it was a wall, maybe a rock. David the mechanic is going to fix it.”

It was cool that you understand enough about doctors and we took time to observe the tow trucks outside school to make all these new connections. As the dots connected in your head, you got excited and went back to tell mama everything.

We can only connect the dots that we collect… which makes everything you write about you. … Your connections are the thread that you weave into the cloth that becomes the story that only you can tell.” – Amanda Palmer

Then, you discovered the water dispenser’s button. I said if you get the water, you must drink it. You drank cup after cup. When you could drink no more, you made me and mama drink, so you could keep filling cups:

School morning updates:

J was very good today. On the way there, I hummed something. I think it was “Somewhere over the rainbow.” He said, “I like that song daddy.” Then, “Daddy, can you sing the other song?”

Err… which other song? I sang a few ones and he kept saying NO not that one. Then I thought hard and sang “THE….. grand old duke of york… he had 10,000 men…” and I saw him smile through the backseat mirror. “YES THAT ONE.”

I said “It’s the “Duke of York song. DUUUUUKE OOOOOFFF YOOOOOORRRRK song.” So hopefully next time he’ll save me the trouble of having to sing 10 other songs first.

His punchline for that song is “… they’rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre… NEITHER UP NOR DOWN. HAHAHAHAHAHAHaaaa… Daddy can you laugh?” I say, “Okay…” and he shouts “NEITHER UP NOR DOWN! Daddy can you laugh?”

There was a long line of cars outside CCLC, so I said we were going a different way. I parked in the other lot and walked him over. I explained what was going on and he kinda got that we were trying to save time because there was a long line.

On the way in, I saw 4 raisin buns left. Every time there’s a few left like this, when I come back they’re all gone. So this time I was smart and I grabbed one and put it in J’s Whole Foods bag.

At class, we said GOOD MORNING FRIENDS. He was in a good mood this morning. He smiled and jumped up and down. I asked him “What’s that in there?” He said, “Ice.” Hi Jaya. Jaya was drawing. I showed him the blocks behind him.

We were a little late, so when we sat down for snack, Ms Gina was leaving for potty trip. She asked “Joshua do you want to come for potty trip? And J lowers his head and looks down. Then when she says “Okay” and asks the next kid, J pops back upright and continues eating. I give him some space as usual.

“Daddy, what are you looking at?” I said I was looking at the drawings on the wall. Ms Ditte sat next to him at the table. I went and hugged him, kissed him, said goodbye… then grabbed the raisin bun from his bag in the cubby. I am so smart. He turned to look at me as I was leaving this time. His eyes didn’t tear up so I could tell he was okay. I gave him a flying kiss and I think he was thinking about doing it.

And… your imagination is peeking out its shell:

When I brought J to the car in the garage, he put his hand on the door said… it looks like a train… but it is not a train.

I said, “It CAN be a train…”

He said, “It’s a train!” I said yes, we’re going to School Station. We’re at Garage Station now. The doors are opening. Jump in. Sit down, put on your seat belts. He says, “Daddy can you go DING DING?” DING DING!

On the way to school, he sang a medley of songs, including his current favorite, Duke of York. Then he said, “DADDY something is bothering me!”

I asked where, and he said, “in my backkkk.” So we counted and sang songs to wait until the car stopped. When I took him out, I didn’t find anything bothering his back. Maybe it was just his t-shirt bunched up. He said he wanted to tell his friends he rode his scooter on the train today.

He touched the lanterns with his head on the way to class. We opened the door and said GOOD MORNING FRIENDS. Jacob ran to us and I said Good Morning Jacob. Then Arjun. Good morning Arjun. Then Natalie, “Good morning daddy.” Good Morning Natalie. “I have milk.” She showed us her milk bottle that said Natalie Johnson. His friends seem to be happy when we arrive. I guess because I say good morning to them and talk to them. Ms Ditte said good morning. “Good morning Ms Ditte.” Ms Marissa said good morning. “Good morning Ms Marissa”

The stereo was playing “Sticky sticky bubblegum” and J giggled. He sat down right away for his snack. I had to put his things away myself. He wanted milk with his snack.

I gave him his space and walked around. The song’s next verse was “Sticky sticky peanut butter… smoosh it… spread it…” Jaya was dancing on the circle and showing me the dance and hand motions. He seemed okay, so I went over to say bye. His little bread thing today looked delicious but I resisted stealing one from the next plate. I asked him if he wanted another but he said no. He didn’t fuss. He was actually replying to my questions when I was saying bye. Usually he stays silent.

As I opened the door, Ms Marissa looked at me and I waved bye. She looked at J, concerned that he could be crying because she was helping another kid and Miss Ditte was out with Jaya/Jayden to visit the office. Then she saw that J was happily eating and smiled. She looked back at me and back at J another time maybe because she was surprised. J didn’t look up, but I think he was okay.



P.S. – Mama pitched her Breastfeeding Answer Booklets to the pediatricians yesterday. Why a pediatrician’s office? Because “Other people’s customers.” It’s expensive and inefficient to create new customers just for your business. For whatever business you’re in, there is already another business that, by luck or by design, is attracting a healthy stream of customers to it. Find those businesses that serve your ideal prospects. Then, tap into their flow of customers by offering something valuable that leads them to you. Hence, pediatrician’s office; Answer Booklets. This is a formula. Pediatricians offices are a start. Here’s a quiz for you: where else might these lead-generation magnets make sense? We have plans for other places to leave the bait. Tune in next time to find out. By the way, note that pediatricians are doctors. An endorsement from an authority figure with a white coat is one of the most persuasive forces on the planet. I can’t remember the source or the exact figure, but I want to say 90% of patients act on their doctor’s recommendation without doing any extra research.

P.P.S. – This is what my notebooks look like. And yes, there’s always space for you two: