Sunday, October 15, 2017

Avoiding Guilt & Effort One Game At a Time

I’ve been off the last few weeks. I wrote about my struggle in my essay A Walk. A Talk. Things just haven’t been clicking the way they had been, no matter what I’ve tried. Blood sugars have been bouncing all over the place, I’ve gained back a few pounds, lost some energy and been depressed over the fact that cobwebs seem to be the only thing multiplying inside my wallet. Can you relate?

This week, I caught some information about Dr. Richard Thaler, this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics winner, that drew my attention. I hope I’m interpreting his thoughts correctly.

As stated in a CNBC announcement of Dr. Thaler’s prize:

“In his award citation, the Academy said his research had harnessed psychologically realistic assumptions in analyses of economic decision-making, exploring the consequences of limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control.”

It sounded like his work might offer some explanation or advice to me personally, for I felt I was being less than rational and lacking self-control. I dug deeper and rediscovered Shankar Vedantam’s 2016 The Hidden Brain Podcast with Dr. Thaler. It’s a very entertaining listen that I encourage you to try out if you haven’t before. Mr. Vedantam describes Dr. Thaler as “ economist who studies why people predictably don't act the way traditional economists say they will.” This podcast goes over some of Dr. Thaler’s key research points in real life scenarios and it’s almost scary how well I related to them.

We operate in 2 emotional states: hot and cold.

When I wake up in the morning, I’m totally pumped to eat well, exercise and do all kinds of work.  I’m emphatic about how I will avoid certain pitfalls because I’m in the cold state of fairly decent logic. By the end of the day, however, I may find myself with 2 loads of laundry only partially done and an empty box of granola bars beside my computer with my to-list barely touched. The hot state took over as I fell into the fun of creative writing.

Self-control is work.

Those 2 brain states have 2 different levels of difficulty. The colder one is harder to maintain- it’s a rational rule-follower. The hotter one likes to just run by itself- it’s effortless and fast. Finding myself at the end of the day with little to offer my family as proof that I provide something to the household, or seeing that blood sugar level in a bad zone, I feel guilt at not maintaining that cold state.

We like to avoid guilt.

So, I go back to the drawing board and try to develop games for myself that will motivate me to do what I don’t want to do. I divide the day up into sections. I set alarms. I offer myself rewards to meeting certain requirements. That all relates to a subject Dr. Thaler wrote an entire book about with Cass R. Sunstein in 2008. It’s the Nudge. We can nudge ourselves to better places, especially when we believe there’s an expectation (default option) and a motion that’s already heading that way (inertia). I was bemused to see that I even used that exact word “nudge” in my own essay that I referenced at the start of this one.

No wonder Dr. Thaler won the Nobel Prize for Economics this year. Dang it.

My nudge to you.

Time for me to get back to some things I should do. I’ve decided it’s what I should do. I might not really want to do it, but it will help me, my family and my circles of influence in the long run. How about you?

We’ve got this. Together. Guilt-free.

I wrote about how things are never done- and that's better than OK- in my book, Dear Teachers. We're always working, failing and trying again. If you haven't gotten a copy for yourself or a teacher you know, please consider it today!

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