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Second-Order Effect

Dr Jeff Stoker

What we do has an effect, this is called cause and effect, though the question really is; in doing what we do are we also ready to accept the consequences?

The second-order effect means that every action has a consequence and each consequence has a subsequent consequence too.

The effect your action has on your environment and everyone else is called the second-order effect. The important thing to consider is that if you start walking down another path is that you will also leave another path behind, you will leave behind familiar territory, and often you will leave others behind that are stuck on that old path too.

Every solution to a problem creates new unsolved problems – Karl Popper.

It’s a natural trait to adapt to our surroundings in order to survive, though if we want new surroundings we also need to adapt to that new ecosystem too, the problem for many is the second-order effect also dictates that you may no longer fit into your old ecosystem anymore.

Some people are not willing to accept second-order effects and that’s why they fail, in coaching we talk about doing an ecology check, and as part of helping a person make a decision, we also ask them if they are willing to accept the consequences of their planned action.

So is what you want really acceptable to you, can you fit with the consequences of that action, take yourself into your future self, who and what have you left behind, what sacrifices have you made to get there and can you live with yourself. You need to have congruence with the effect your actions will have because the second-order effects are something you may not have always bargained for.

I want a better job you might say, but are you willing to get up and go to college every day, are you willing study for hours, are you willing to start from the bottom and work your way up to get that great job. Are you really willing to put yourself through all that hard work, years of training, and commitment, because I’ll let you into a fact, most people aren’t really prepared to do what it takes.

Running a three-hour marathon or a sub 10 ironman sounds great, but the second-order effect is the training, the hours on a bike and the sacrifice of other things especially the people in your life. Life is complex, sometimes the second-order effect dwarfs the first-order effect, and when we make decisions in life we don’t always think of the consequences.

If you stand on your tiptoes to get a better view before you know it everyone in the crowd is doing the same, in life we don’t always bargin for the effect the second order effect has on us and also our surroundings.

I’m writing this blog sitting in the airport reflecting on a great weekend where I’ve just seen people go through amazing transformations in their lives, but success, as Henry Kissinger once said buys an admission ticket to a much more difficult problem.

So to all my new friends who I met at Phil Quirk’s Training, take off and start that journey and be sure you are also really ready to face your new goals too.

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About the author

Dr Jeff Stoker

Clinician, writer, educator, speaker, and problem expert. Helping people to think better, to solve problems, and get their lives unstuck.

Winner of the Coaching and NLP in Healthcare Award at the 2018 ANLP International Conference.

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