"Life would be swell if all the selves inhabiting a single mind worked as a team, pulling together for a common goal. But they clash, and sometimes this gives rise to what we call addictions and compulsions. The iconic image, from a million movies and cartoons, is of a person with an angel over one shoulder and the devil over the other. The competing selves are not over your shoulder, but inside your head: the angel and the devil, the self who wants to be slim and the one who wants to eat the cake, all exist within one person."
It's Saturday morning. I'm sitting at the kitchen island being lazy. Not slug lazy---but my version of lazy---drinking coffee and reading a totally fascinating & cool article by Paul Bloom in a year old issue of The Atlantic. Like all looooonnnnggg Atlantic articles, I've got to summon up my "better self" to concentrate & read it thoroughly. That's my compulsion.
But wait...this article--as cool as it is--is sounding strangely familiar. Oh, now I remember. I read something like this two weeks ago. Bingo! It was Bloom's provocative September 15, 2009 essay, "The Long and Short of It" in the New York Times "Happy Days" blog.
It's way shorter than the Atlantic piece (but really the Atlantic article is worth reading!). Here's a snippet:
"Do you live a good and happy life or do you satisfy your immediate appetites? Is it better to be Happy Socrates or Happy Homer Simpson?"
"You can see this as an internal battle between two individuals residing in the same body: one who wants to be thin, sober and chaste, the other who wants to eat, drink and fornicate. It’s the long-term self who is probably reading this now; this is the self that chooses to go to the therapist and read self-help books, working to thwart the short-term self when it comes to life in the presence of temptation. We shouldn’t underestimate the short-term self, though. It is not necessarily evil and not necessarily stupid. Sometimes the long-term self should stay out of its way.
....sometimes we deprive ourselves of perfectly good pleasures, including those involving love and companionship, because of the decisions of the long-term self. Think of the workaholic who never sees his children, or the anorexic who denies herself the pleasure of food.
What motivates the short-term self? Some of its pleasures are easy enough to explain: sex and food and friendship are evolutionary no-brainers, we enjoy them because they motivate us in adaptively useful ways. But others are more mysterious...
...This doesn’t mean that we should be indulging in them—perhaps there are better things to do today than go to a horror movie. But it does suggest that we should hesitate before dismissing such desires as selfish or irrelevant.
Perhaps the good life doesn’t require constant warfare. Perhaps people are better off if their multiple selves establish a truce, respecting one another’s different strengths, and working together to satisfy shared goals".
So quit feeling guilty about taking a nap today---you need it. Quit feeling guilty about not cleaning the house and going for a hike in the woods with your friends---you're building alliances & succumbing to the natural impulse to be outside. Quit feeling guilty about watching college football games on TV all afternoon---this one I have no explanation for--it falls into realm of the mysterious.
And a snippet from Bloom's Atlantic piece:
"An evolving approach to the science of pleasure suggests that each of us contains multiple selves—all with different desires, and all fighting for control. If this is right, the pursuit of happiness becomes even trickier. Can one self bind another self if the two want different things? Are you always better off when a Good Self wins? And should outsiders, such as employers and policy makers, get into the fray?"
...."The economist Thomas Schelling, another Nobel laureate, illustrates the concept (of our multiple selves) with a simple story:
As a boy I saw a movie about Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition and was impressed that as a boy he had gone outdoors in shirtsleeves to toughen himself against the cold. I resolved to go to bed at night with one blanket too few.
That decision to go to bed minus one blanket was made by a warm boy; another boy awoke cold in the night, too cold to retrieve the blanket … and resolving to restore it tomorrow. The next bedtime it was the warm boy again, dreaming of Antarctica, who got to make the decision, and he always did it again. "
"Examples abound in our own lives. Late at night, when deciding not to bother setting up the coffee machine for the next morning, I sometimes think of the man who will wake up as a different person, and wonder, What did he ever do for me? When I get up and there’s no coffee ready, I curse the lazy bastard who shirked his duties the night before."
Twice this week my "practical industrious thoughtful self" showed up before bedtime to get the coffee pot ready, clean up the kitchen at night, pack my lunch for the next day, get my gym bag ready, and mix up a Green Smoothie to take to work.
I love that self! I sure wish she would show up more often!
I wonder which personality is going to win today. Will my long-term practical self finally put through the order for the much needed replacement windows & finally make a decision on the bathroom project that I've been putting off for years--and I promised myself I absolutely must do today?
Or will I chuck it all for a nice walk & curl up on the sofa with my new favorite book: "Olive Kitteridge"?
From Paul Bloom:"We benefit, intellectually and personally, from the interplay between different selves, from the balance between long-term contemplation and short-term impulse. We should be wary about tipping the scales too far. The community of selves shouldn’t be a democracy, but it shouldn’t be a dictatorship, either."
Three Huge Things I Learned This Week
1. Take out my contact lenses as soon as I get home from work. The contacts go in at 6:00 am, & since I'm a creature of habit--and can get used to discomfort--I'd always just leave them in until bedtime. Here's what I learned: take them out before they start to get scratchy and annoying!
This is a metaphor for how I approach everything in life. I push the envelope. I try to pack in too many activities everyday. Or do too many errands in a day--thinking, "I'm already out--why not?"
Revelation: Stop sooner rather than later--before I make myself annoyed & cranky.
2. If the mattress is uncomfortable, and there's a one year "Satisfaction Guarantee", get a new one! We had convinced ourselves that the plushy pillow-top mattress we bought last December was heavenly. It wasn't. I pride myself on my adaptability--I can get used to anything. And besides, it's too much of a bother to return it. Wrong. This new "lower cost" version (which we just got this week) is so much more comfortable.
Another lesson for life. If something is uncomfortable--physically or emotionally--"Don't just sit there. Do something." Sometimes being adaptable isn't such a good thing.
3. Mix things up. Change your schedule. It can bring welcome surprises. I've had the same work schedule for over 20 years and 2 weeks ago I decided to switch my work days. In return I got to be at work on the day of my hospital's amazing weekly Farmer's Market. I got to go to 2 different, surprisingly good exercise classes. And, I was able to stop on the way home from work & pick up a home cooked vegan dinner made by a vegan chef who only cooks on Wednesday--which was a day that I usually did not work. Do you know how wonderful it is to not have to prepare dinner when you get home at 7:30 pm?
Moral of the story: Switch things up sometimes. Try something new. Be ready for surprises you might not have imagined.