The Action Stage
Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elemental truth —
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans —
that the moment one definitely commits oneself to action,
the Providence moves, too.
The goal of the Action Stage is to get the creature you inhabit to act in accord with your interests and principles, despite the disruptive influence of stress and temptation; and, to continue to set good precedent until the path of greatest advantage has become your default path. To bring about that outcome, your Rational Processing System will have to train the impulsive, short-sited creature you inhabit to get through high-risk situations without relapsing.
As you develop the skills and faculties to respond mindfully to the things that happen, our emphasis shifts from the Action Stage to the Relapse Prevention Stage. Until then, the focus of our work is developing the procedural skills and philosophical orientation that enable you to cope with the crises that you are bound to encounter.
At this point, you should have an appreciation of the addictive trap most worthy of your attention. If you have not already done so, please review the traps and take the Trap Detector Test. If you send me your scores — email author — I would be happy to respond with feedback and suggestions.
The Puppy Training Section — coming up next — will help you develop a healthy, working relationship with the creature that will soon have to bravely cope with some intimidating challenges. It is important to help the puppy develop courage and confidence, and so the most important advice is to be very nice: Be gentle and patient with the puppy!
Understand This : The greatest threat to good outcome is a puppy trainer whose harsh or critical attitude makes the puppy want to abandon this demanding undertaking. This creature you inhabit is going to need a lot of retraining. Your job, as the rational entity responsible for the actions of this creature, is to do all you can to make this process as painless as possible and enhance the puppy's confidence and eagerness to learn.
The Law of Practice
With sufficient repetition a behavioral sequence becomes progressively easier to perform — eventually becoming autonomous. Puppies eventually learn where to pee and to come when called. Typically, the acquisition of the skill is slow and erratic, sometimes including periods of regression. But if the trainer is consistent and patient, the change is inevitable and irreversible.
Adults who have become vegetarians or exercise buffs experience a gradual development of their default path with practice. What initially seemed awkward and unpleasant becomes progressively more familiar, comfortable, and easy to perform. Eventually, avoiding meat or exercising becomes autonomous and requires no conscious effort. In fact, once the change has occurred, it may require conscious effort to revert back to the original lifestyle.
A Challenge Worthy of Your Respect
Mountain climbers competent enough to have survived the dangers of their sport teach inexperienced climbers the basic skills required to cope with the predictable challenges. Novices have sufficient respect for the difficulty of their challenge to invest the time and attention to develop the skills required to cope with the situations they are likely to encounter. Because their respect for task difficulty motivates them to be well prepared, most people who attempt to climb mountains become successful at it.
In contrast, few people who attempt to escape an addictive trap achieve good long-term outcome. Paradoxically, the dismal outcome is not due to the impossibility of the challenge, but to its apparent simplicity. After all, what could be easier than acting as you intend to act.
Adhering to your own intention to abstain from or control your incentive use seems so trivial a challenge that it should require little effort to master. Because many people believe this, they do not invest the energy to prepare themselves for the unexpectedly difficult challenges they are certain to encounter. The Personal Research Section is dedicated to developing the practical skills you will need to perform well during crisis — even though your Rational Processing System will not be available to you then.
Puppy Training Strategies
The Pathology Section describes general strategies to guide your response to the challenge of escaping an addictive trap:
- The Impeccable Path (once you pre-commit your future behavior, you can permit no exceptions)
- The OPEN Path (you are open to choices in real-time, and can learn about cause-and-effect by observing their consequences).
- The Enlightened Path, a Middle Way, which is a synthesis of the other two. Like the Impeccable Path, once a commitment is made, no exceptions are permitted . . . except when they occur, and then they are handled in a forgiving way, and taken as evidence that your understanding of cause-and-effect was insufficient. You must use this new information in the service of problem solving, rather than as a bludgeon to beat yourself with. Instead of demoralization and ruminative self-focus, unexpected or unwanted information must be accepted and utilized to bring about a more accurate understanding of cause-and-effect.
The Soul Illusion is what makes acting as intended during high-risk states so much more difficult than most people expect it to be. You cannot fully appreciate the challenge of over-riding the influence of local stressors and temptations until you attempt to do so during a crisis. The only thing you can be certain about in advance: Your state-dependent faculties — e.g., perception, appraisal, motivation — will be biased by different filters than they are now. Choices that seem stupid now may seem quite compelling then; desires that will be salient and influential then cannot be appreciated from your current dispassionate perspective.
Certain motivational states put you at high-risk of relapse. To prevent relapse, the version of you in that motivational state has to be prepared to perform the intended coping response. Direct participation in the experiential exercises is so important, because you must become familiar with your high-risk states, and well practiced in performing the intended coping tactic in that subjective environment.