Sunday, 29 March 2015

Our Two Selves

Who/What is the stronger our Want-Self or our Should-Self?

How often do you find when decisions are being made, our want-selves take over and we do things that ignore the ethical implications of our actions.

Psychologists say we have different systems for wanting things and liking things. So some of the stuff we really want, and spend a lot of time pursuing, doesn't give us as much satisfaction as we thought it would once we've got it.

This explains why children will spend weeks nagging parents to buy them a guitar or a pet but quickly lose interest once they have it.

One of the most ubiquitous problems in daily life is achieving self-control.

We need to control our natural urges to eat too much, to smoke, to drink too much, to gamble too much, spend too much, watch too much television, get too little exercise and even to work too much.

Here, again, we seem to have two selves at work: an unconscious self that's emotional and shortsighted and a conscious self that's reasoning and farsighted.

We have trouble controlling ourselves in circumstances where the benefits are immediate and certain, whereas the costs are longer-term and uncertain.

When we come home tired from work, for instance, the benefits of slumping in front of the telly are immediate, whereas the costs - feeling tired the next day; looking back on our life and realising we could have done a lot better if we had got off our backside and played a bit of sport, sought a further qualification at tech, spent more time talking to our partner/children/friends etc - are not so clear-cut.

Similarly, the reward from eating food is instant whereas the costs of overeating are uncertain and far off: being regarded as physically unattractive, becoming obese, becoming a diabetic, dying younger, etc.

As everyone who has tried to diet, give up smoking, control their drinking, save or get on top of their credit card debt knows, it's hard to achieve the self-control our conscious, future-selves want us to achieve.

"The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn."
~~ David Russell

These are a few of my small treasures on the window sill in my kitchen.