A Blog about Career Changes, Madness, and My Awful Brain

Friday, April 8, 2011

You're impotent. Mostly. Well, part of you is.

In the last entry, I wrote about how you, the "voice" reading this, is a complete asshole, and was getting in your way.

Today, I also want to talk about how impotent it is too.

Let me give you a list of all the things I did today.

-I spent my entire morning networking and calling people who could help me get a job
-I spent an hour running on the treadmill, and an hour doing ab excercises.
-I wrote 5 cover letters and sent them, along with my resume, to businesses I am interested in working for.
-I only spent 5 minutes of facebook and useless surfing.
-I cleaned the entire house, did the dishes, and cooked a nice, healthy supper.

Actually, let me be clear. These are the things I would have done if the little voice in my head had absolutely any control over how I spent my day. Shoulda, woulda, coulda......

And here is the point...the little voice in my head is absolutely useless in making me do anything. No matter how much I want to do, the fact is, I don't usually do things until I either have to, or until I actually want to.

So not only does it LIE to me "Dan, nobody really likes you, they just think you are a clown", it's also shitty at getting me to do unpleasant things. "Dan, you need write your cover letter...now...why are you so lazy".

Instead, my brain does what it wants (surf the internet!)...and then the asshole voice just justifies my laziness "Oh yeah...I deserve a break.". Great job, Dan's voice.

"But Dan, it's just because you have no willpower. I did all of that and more today."

Welll...number one, I hate you and hope you get rickets. Number two, BULLSHIT. The big news concerning willpower is that, in human beings and animals alike, willpower is a limited resource. I give you this NY Times article that gives a brief review


"The brain’s store of willpower is depleted when people control their thoughts, feelings or impulses, or when they modify their behavior in pursuit of goals. Psychologist Roy Baumeister and others have found that people who successfully accomplish one task requiring self-control are less persistent on a second, seemingly unrelated task.

In one pioneering study, some people were asked to eat radishes while others received freshly baked chocolate chip cookies before trying to solve an impossible puzzle. The radish-eaters abandoned the puzzle in eight minutes on average, working less than half as long as people who got cookies or those who were excused from eating radishes. Similarly, people who were asked to circle every “e” on a page of text then showed less persistence in watching a video of an unchanging table and wall.

Other activities that deplete willpower include resisting food or drink, suppressing emotional responses, restraining aggressive or sexual impulses, taking exams and trying to impress someone. Task persistence is also reduced when people are stressed or tired from exertion or lack of sleep."

Happens in dogs too: http://www.miller-mccune.com/health/dogs-offer-clues-to-self-control-10928/

"But according to newly published research, the same mechanism that regulates human self-control also operates in canines.

The study, in the journal Psychological Science, confirms the notion that self-control is a limited resource, one that can and does get depleted. It also suggests this is not “a uniquely human process.”

A University of Kentucky research team led by psychologist Holly Miller conducted two experiments with groups of canines, observing how much persistence they exhibited when given a task. The first experiment featured 13 dogs (two Belgian Tervurens, four Australian shepherds, a Hungarian Vizsla and four mutts) who had been trained to sit and stay at their owners’ command."

So basically, if you got a lot done, it's because you WANTED to. Now go choke on a wad of your crumpled up To Do list, keener.

Alright, so what does this mean for the rest of us low willpower ants? Well, ladies and gents, it basically means that we can't conciously control what we do...not by beating ourselves up or trying to motivate ourselves with fake buzz words and platitudes. So basically, we're fucked, right?

Not so fast. In my (VERY) limited experience, there are a couple of ways that we can get ourselves to do those things....they work for me, anyhow. Before I give you my paltry advice, I'm going to go ahead and admit that I am awful at getting myself to do things I don't want to do. For example, I don't have a job, and there are a lot of things that I need to do. Look for work. Apply for work. Talk to people. If I'm lucky, I can force myself to do each of those things once a day (who am I kidding...once a month, lol).

Furthermore, just like our brains can do awesome things when our little voice gets out of the way, it can also do awful things (voice or no voice). Mine, in particular, is really bad at dealing with job related activities. I expect it's got a lot to do with my horrible experience at my last job. Even though I think I'm over that noise, and my voice tells me it's in the past, my brain doesn't necessarily accept it. Think about it....animals don't have that little voice. Yet, somehow, they learn to stay away from food that makes them sick, or learn that touching that electric fence is a bad idea.

A mouse tortured by a researcher in an electrified maze doesn't think to himself, "Oh dear me...that fence has a current running through it. I sure would like a spot of cheese, but that dastardly fence is wicked. I shall stay away from the cheese...you shall burn me twice, wicked fence, but not thrice!" I suspect human beings are somewhat the same...it doesn't matter what I (the voice) wants, my brain is smarter than me and it keeps me away from things that hurt. For me, jobs hurt.

So am I doomed to be penniless and living on the street as a hobo? Yes. Wait, no. Like I said, there are some ways to get things done. I'm no psychologist, so take my post with a grain of salt, but I think there are three ways to get things done.

1)Force yourself until it becomes a habit. Habits are powerful things...I know this. I go to the gym almost everyday now, and when I don't, I feel like something is missing. You've got a limited number of willpower points, its true, but if you use your daily allotment to force yourself to do ONE thing a day, you might be able to make it a habit. Make it a habit, and it no longer takes willpower.

2)Make yourself WANT to do it. This is much harder, and I have trouble with it, but I have had limited success. This is what I did with Toastmasters. I didn't really WANT to go, but I made myself do it just once, and promised myself I would do what it took to enjoy it. I introduced myself and was very friendly....I felt so welcome, I WANTED to go to the next meeting. I gave a good talk once, and I was hooked. Hooked on something I used to be afraid of. I also have some success with this when it comes to doing dishes. I HATE doing dishes, but I just picture how awesome it feels to have a clean kitchen....and it makes me WANT to do dishes. Not because I like doing dishes, but because I like a clean kitchen.

3)Give yourself no other options. This is what I usually rely on. It's what we do when we procrastinate. By the end, we have no other choice but to finish something. This only works when the alternative is worse than the task itself. Sorry, but it's not going to work if you tell yourself to finish by this date...or else. Or else what? The "or else" matters. I'm going to do my taxes by this day or I'm going to go to jail. Now that's motivation. I'm going to write this paper or I'm failing this class. If you care, that will do it. I'm going to go to the gym today or...uh...I will be forced to sit here comfortably and watch tv. Not so much...

So the voice in your head (basically, YOU) is an asshole AND is impotent? Yep, tough to swallow huh? Just remember, underneath that criticizing little tyrant who is always trying to make you do stuff, is a big ball of awesome. The real you...the part of you that feels and thinks and IS, is great....you just gotta cut out the yappy middleman and motivate it in other ways besides beatiing yourself up.

And when you learn how, let me know. My voice is the biggest asshole I know

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