Day 640: Self Control & Temptation

In this discussion, Dan Ariely describes, essentially, that most of us are seriously lacking in self control (ie discipline). This is nothing new - on some level we all know it, but it can be quite difficult to admit to yourself that you're not as fantastic as you thought. The jist of it is that we tend to be ruled by our immediate impulses and instant gratification - delaying gratification (even when the reward will be better) is not something that most people are willing to do when faced with the temptation of getting something immediately.

Dan applies this lack of self control and foresight to our apathy in terms of global warming - there is not enough of a negative consequence happening right here and now to motivate us to go to the lengths required to ensure our continued comfortable survival. This really is a funny thing when you put it into words: we don't do anything to change our lifestyles now because we don't feel like it, even if that means that the state of the planet will continue to decay and continue to become more extreme and dangerous, possibly until it kills us all. It really doesn't make sense when you put it that way.

Dan proposes 2 possible solutions to our weakness when faced with temptations and dealing with future problems:
  1. Reward Substitution: Connect the act of the solution (doing the thing that you don't really want to do) with something you do want to do - for example: on the days that you take a drug regiment that may or may not cure you, but has unpleasant side effects, do something you do like, like watch a few movies (Dan's example in the Talk).
  2. Make a contract with yourself: Set specific guidelines for achieving a goal and punishments for when you do not follow those guidelines. 
I agree that these are tools that you can test for yourself to see how effective they are for you - but these are certainly the only approaches that are available to you. The biggest obstacle that I see in achieving self discipline and in developing the ability to look clearly into the future is that so many people do not truly understand the nature and extent of the consequences of their choices and actions. Yes, you know what will probably happen, but you keep it away from your conscious thoughts, you deliberately do not spend too much time really thinking about what your actions will bring in the future. Dan touches on this concept briefly: you do not regard the you in the future in the same way that you regard the you here in the present. You also tend to assume that 'everything will work out' - even when you haven't done anything at all to ensure that outcome. This unrealistic expectation causes a lot of grief in people - but the sad truth is that it is self made.

An example of this disconnected future self is this one that Dan described in the Talk: Liver cirrhosis is a pretty huge issue when it is immediate - when it's here in this very moment you'll do anything and everything in your power to get your liver healthy again to ensure your continued survival - but when you're thinking about 40 years down the line, it doesn't really seem like such a big problem anymore and you are less likely to take any measures to prevent it from happening. In reality the experience you will have in 40 years time when you get liver problems is exactly the same as it would be if it was happening right now. The key is to realise that 'future you' is no different from present you, and that you will dislike problems in the future just as much as you dislike them in the present.

In truth, I don't want to live with my main goal in life being problem avoidance or scuttling around trying to fix problems. I want to be able to live in a peaceful environment, within me and around me - don't you?