Learning to Steer

We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves
after a journey than no one can take for us, nor spare us

- Marcel Proust

In George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, the Devil asks Don Juan why he expends effort to learn about himself and what motivates him. Don Juan replies: "Why, to be able to choose the line of greatest advantage instead of yielding in the direction of the least resistance. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift, to be in heaven is to steer."

If you do not steer, your course will be determined by the cause-and-effect principles that define the path of least resistance rather than by your interests and principals. 

A Competitor of Your Will:

The Problem of Immediate Gratification [the PIG] refers to the principle that a small but immediate payoff has a greater influence on experiential phenomena such as appraisals and motivation, than a much larger but delayed payoff. The bias favoring the immediacy of a payoff at the expense of its magnitude can cause you to knowingly act counter to your own interests.

Some people trade what is dear to them [health, wealth, relationships] for the trivial but immediate payoff of using an addictive incentive, not because they are defective or have a disease, but because the PIG is more influential than "the important things in life." Appreciating the corruptive power of the PIG is the first step in escaping its trap.

Intention & Action

Mousetraps are effective, because the mouse's behavior is determined by its desire for immediate gratification rather than by its understanding of the long-term consequences of its action.  Humans who appreciate how mousetraps work are less likely to be taken in by them. 

Once you appreciate how a trap works, you are less vulnerable to it. Mousetraps are easy to understand; the cause-and-effect sequences produced by the mechanical mechanisms are pretty obvious to most of us. Even the most intelligent of us is vulnerable to the invisible [abstract] addictive traps that destroy our lives.

Another Competitor of Your Will: The Imp of the Perverse

Consider weight-loss dieting: A large body of scientific research shows that the intention to lose weight by dieting is much more likely to result in weight gain than weight loss! Veteran dieters repeatedly fall into this trap, and each time they put out the effort they fail again. Why don't they learn?

They are repeatedly taken in by an illusion that results from looking at the same situation from different perspectives. When a person intends to restrict their caloric intake they are motivated by abstractions such as being successful, healthy, etc. They are not aware of the perverse consequences of forbidding, or restricting access, to a pleasurable incentive, but when experiencing temptation they are. See Counter Regulatory Motivation.

The Paradox of Control

It's not easy to cope with raw experience. Discovering an incentive that provides access to pleasure or relief gives us some control over subjective experience. The irony is that the more we practice this kind of control, the more we lose control over incentive use. The Karma of using the incentive in response to stress or temptation is that it becomes so effortless and automatic that it requires willpower to interrupt the automatic sequence that lead to incentive use.


Internal Vs. External Control > >
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