Why is it so hard to do the right thing? (Day #22)
Yes, we’ve all been there. We know what’s right for us, but we still do the opposite. Are we mad? This has been discussed for eons. Let me introduce you to the concept of Acracy, from the Greek Akrasia, meaning “lacking command.”
“Akrasia is described as a lack of self-control or the state of acting against one’s better judgment.”
Another way of seeing it through the cognitive dissonance theory:
“Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values.”
I’ve experienced these effects for a long time. As someone that follows something akin to the Buddhist path, it can become something of a curse.
You meditate on certain things, you can see the solution, you can touch it. Your mind, not only grasps the concept, it knows how it can be untangled. You know you have to let go; you know you need to stop clinging. You still do. And the worst of all, you’re acutely aware of it. Your mindful eye clearly sees how you’re going to fail, despite knowing what the good path is.
I’m aware of how hard it is to walk the talk.
I talk with plenty of people about how they could stop suffering. How can they move on, how they should accept their responsibility in their lives. Still, I’m aware of how hard it is to walk the talk.
Words can make you feel better; they can help you understand it, work it through. But you need to have the mental strength to execute on it. That’s always the hardest part.
As I wrote before, I fail every day. I know what I need to do, I just don’t know how to force my mind into doing it. I watch it striding away from what’s right for me. Slowly crawling away, like a mischievous kid. One step at a time, looking around to make sure no one is looking, before opening the cookie jar.
To avoid this, I started running a series of mental exercises to try to get my mind back on track. The obvious one is meditating. The more you meditate, the calmer the mind is.
I’m a big believer in what Ramon y Cajal once said: “The brain is a muscle that needs to be trained and flexed.” The more you meditate, the more you flex your brain, the easier it is to build the mental strength to stop yourself from sliding down a hurtful path.
Despite this, we’re still humans and, except if you become an expert meditator, for most of us, it’s still not enough. I complement my meditation with trial and error approaches. I set myself challenges and measure myself. If I don’t perform as I should, I analyze what failed, step back and try again.
When I try the next time, I’ll change my approach. Sometimes I make the challenge smaller, so it’s easier to reach. I’ve experienced that overly ambitious goals tend to fail miserably. I would rather go for a “good enough” point, and then iterate and make it better than try to climb Mount Everest on the first run.
Another thing I try is to change the approach. The writing challenge is a good example of this. My first attempt at writing consistently was setting a day of the week where I should post an article. I had my chief editor chasing me for the article for days. I always missed the deadline. It was evident it wasn’t working.
I would wake up at 6:30 am and write something. It worked for like three days.
My next attempt at this was creating a morning routine to reserve some space to write before the kids woke up. I would wake up at 6:30 am and write something. It worked for like three days. Then I had trips, changes on my schedule, sick kids, and the writing slot faded into oblivion.
“Ok Alex, you can do this,” I told myself. I realized that trying to do it in the morning was insane. For starters, my brain was just dead in the morning. It was also clear; there were just too many variables in the morning for me to do it consistently.
So I switched to the afternoon. I created a routine with the fantastic Fabulous app (If you haven’t tried it, take a look at it, it’s worked miracles for me). The new approach worked marginally better. I managed to write for a week.
I discovered that I tend to write good stuff when I write about what I care, not what I need to.
I went back to the drawing table and tried to figure out why it wasn’t working. I came to the conclusion that there were several problems I was having. The first one was that I was forcing myself to write about a particular topic, in this case, storytelling. It’s not that I don’t like writing about my job. But I discovered that I tend to write good stuff when I write about what I care, not what I need to.
I needed to start smaller, to make it easier for me to go from blank page to a live post.
So, mixing work with emotional wasn’t really working. I removed that barrier by telling myself I could write about anything. Then I realized I always tended to write very long pieces (like this one, by the way, irony). Writing a long piece, researching it, editing it and posting it was taking me a long time. I needed to start smaller, to make it easier for me to go from blank page to a live post.
Last, but not least, I needed some motivation. So after watching the Internet go haywire with all these Ice Bucket Challenges, Mannequin challenge, _insert_the_name_of_your_challenge_here challenge, I decided to give it a try.
I don’t need social pressure to do things, but in this case, I was willing to give it a try. After all, science backs this for a reason.
Sometimes I write bad stuff, stories that don’t flow, other times they pour down my fingers like water from a cascade.
And so, here we are, 22 days into the challenge. I haven’t missed a single day, and it gets easier to write every day. Of course, finding a topic is the challenging part, but still, I get plenty of inspiration. Sometimes I write bad stuff, stories that don’t flow, other times they pour down my fingers like water from a cascade.
Analyze why you’ve failed before, iterate, try things and more importantly, don’t get discouraged.
My point with all this is that you need to find your way of doing things. Analyze why you’ve failed before, iterate, try things and more importantly, don’t get discouraged. It’s ok to fail. If you didn’t try, you wouldn’t fail. But learn from your trials, change things, be brave and explore different ways of achieving the same goal. After all, this is about learning to know yourself better.
I’m done now; you can go and get those cookies. I know you want one.