Tuesday, July 03, 2018

A Long, Slow, Obscure Developing Crisis

I was and remain skeptical of the notion that will power (self-regulation, putting-off-the-marshmallow, whatever you want to call it) is trainable, and I still find it difficult to imagine what the mechanism of that "training" might be, but I don't know how else to explain the steady progression in my self-control. There were changes in my life a year and a half ago that substantially reduced my stress, and which made bringing my eating under control possible, but those were one-offs, and this development seems to keep going. There's all kinds of ways in which I can self-regulate now, all kinds of planning I can undertake and carry out. Eating, spending, exercise, social media fritter: they're all becoming workable.

I suppose an explanation that doesn't involve the will being generally trainable would simply be that when you've got more will available, you construct new daily routines, and as those daily routines become habitual, the will you used to construct them becomes available for new construction. That would account for the appearance of steady progression. It looks like more and more self-regulatory power, but actually it's just that the steady finite surplus "accumulates" in the form of habits.


There also of course is just an enormously increased sense of self-efficacy. But none of this quite explains how easy it now feels -- how progressively easier it feels -- when I encounter a temptation, to shrug my shoulders and say, "sounds nice, sure, but I'm not someone who yields to temptation any more. That's not who I am."


On the other hand, I am in a long, slow, obscure developing crisis: the grandiosity of my former self -- the flip side of yielding to temptation -- has also been going away, and it leaves me up against my limitations and my mortality, in a particularly bleak way. In the last third of my life (assuming luck), what can I do that's of any use to anyone? How can I serve? I don't know. So many of my basic assumptions are dissolving, in this corrosive political atmosphere. I need to find or make a compass: I need to wake with a purpose. Eating right and exercising are well and good, but they're instrumental goals, not ultimate ones. The point of maintaining a car is that you eventually mean to drive it somewhere.

6 comments:

Jo said...

Dale, the sense of gratitude and relief I felt when I read your body essay will stay with me forever. I don't think you need to feel in crisis about not contributing. I believe it's ok live a small life, and make your little 4 square feet around you a good place in whatever way you can.

Dale said...

xoxoxo Oh, thank you, Jo!

N. D'Arbeloff said...

"...I need to find or make a compass: I need to wake with a purpose. Eating right and exercising are well and good, but they're instrumental goals, not ultimate ones. The point of maintaining a car is that you eventually mean to drive it somewhere. "

I hear you. Hear hear!

Anonymous said...

In thinking about your contributions, I suspect you underestimate the positives for others of all varieties of your writing. And your massage activities.....?

ceci

Sabine said...

So who put that expectation into our minds and souls, to be of service, to be useful, to strive for change, to have a purpose - whatever? Always active, be active, contribute by being active?

A long time ago, I whispered to my daughter, who was searching and feeling lost:

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work or whatever, the next chapter is going to pop right up.



Dale said...

Thanks, Ceci. I've been thinking a lot more about this, and yes, what about the massage? Why am I discounting that, and the Foundation work, and the writing, all three? Mulling that over.

:-) -- And thanks, Sabine. Yes, it wouldn't need to be active, and in some ways choosing a path forward is not what actually happens -- often one's feet are already on the path one's going to "choose." I do feel the lack, though. I was browsing through some writing on happiness (as an academic field of psychological study) and one of the basic components was "meaning" or "purpose." (Not sure how many people grasp the philosophical difficulties of these concepts, but leave that aside, for the moment.) Thinking about my life, it seemed obvious to me: this is something I have had at times, but don't have now -- what happened to it? Is it recoverable, or replaceable?