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18 November 2010 @ 01:07 pm
Earlier in the fall, vito_excalibur posted chain of foolishness, about, essentially, the difference between preparation and willpower, and how people can set themselves up to succeed or fail in life choices, really before the apparent point of choice arrives, because the actual point of choice was way back in a sequence of events. Vito refers to this excellent post by ratontheroad, which I think sums it up perfectly.

Both of the posts Vito mentioned refer specifically to cheating in a relationship, which is an obvious place that this comes up in a lot of people's lives: it's not that anyone (ok, most people) gets into a relationship thinking, "Well, I'm going to cheat on this person I think is spiffy!", but little steps and choices along the way bring them to the point of cheat or not, where it's then a matter of willpower ... and most of us - or at least plenty of us - don't have awesome willpower in that moment.

So I've been thinking about this a lot, and about how I, in particular, set myself up to behave like the person I want to be, or to fail at that. How do I today make the choice that makes my relationship stronger, even though the thing may not seem like that big a deal? But also, of course, how do I make myself make other choices I want to make?

I do this a lot, and I jokingly refer to it as tricking myself into doing what I want to do. Not owning a car is the biggest example of this in my life: I don't want to use driving as a primary form of transportation, but I know that if I had a car conveniently parked in front of my house, I would often choose to drive it to the grocery store that's only a few minutes' walk from my home, because it would be easy, and less work, and convenient. I don't want to be a person who drives to the grocery store that's less than half a mile away when I can perfectly well walk! So: I make that choice way way back a long chain of choices to make sure I do what I want in the moment of the actual choice.

And I see this in the way I and others engage in their relationships, too. It's so common to see poly couples fall into a pattern where a couple does all the life business with each other, and all the life recreation with their other partners, and then a few years later, they find themselves asking the question of whether they want to stay together. Maybe if we hadn't bought that car...?

This has been interesting to think about as I look at the choices I make today, what the foundations are for them, and the direction I hope they'll lead.

Do you think about things this way? If so, what things? Does it change how you live your life?
I'm feeling: thoughtfulthoughtful
Elizabeth Hunterlillibet on November 18th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)
I think that I tend more to internalize longterm goals and work toward them in incremental ways that add up. I was just watching Really Rosie with Alice last night and thinking how much I loved it as a kid and the ways that I have become Rosie. Similarly, I think about what I hoped for as a college student (husband, kids, nice home, theatre) and how without a lot of conscious goal-setting, I'm there. And yes, it's the result of a lot of choices I've made along the way, but there's also been a lot of luck involved and an underlying sense of what's right for me in each moment that somehow all heads in the direction I wanted to go all along.
David Policardpolicar on November 18th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
Sure. But I also think about this the reverse way.

Um. That probably needs unpacking.

Suppose I decide now that I want to go a party this evening, and I decide this evening to blow off the party.

One way to model that is "I really want to go to the party, but for whatever reason when the moment comes to go I don't do it. Clearly, I should figure out ways to constrain my behavior in the moment to conform more closely to what I actually want." This is more or less the way you're describing it, and I do in fact think about things this way.

Another way to model it is "I don't actually want to go to the party, but for whatever reason when I think about it earlier in the day I believe I do. Clearly, I should figure out ways to improve my awareness of what I actually want." This is very much the opposite of the way you're describing it, and I think about things this way as well.

In my experience, either of these might be true of me in any given instance, and various hybrid conditions are possible as well. Choosing which model of myself to identify with in any given instance is sometimes tricky, and it's not uncommon for me to come to the realization that I've been identifying with the wrong model.
vito_excalibur on November 19th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
I like both of those, actually. Though I've discovered that overwhelmingly, I want to be at the party, I just don't want to get up the activation energy to put on my nice clothes and go to the party. So if I want to go to the party for most of the day and then almost certainly while I'm at the party, it's important to figure out ways to make the going to part more painless.
David Policardpolicar on November 19th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
Absolutely agreed.
Jonathan Woodwardwoodwardiocom on November 18th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
I once ran across a related discussion about the Harrison Ford movie Witness. The writer pointed out that, when Amish Dad finds Ford and his daughter dancing, he isn't horrified because they're dancing. He's horrified because sometimes dancing leads to inappropriate sex, and his religion is Really Cautious about that. The earlier you break the chain, the better.

(Now to think about this in the context of me and the mistakes I've been making lately.)
B.K. DeLong: familybkdelong on November 18th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
Having "bought that car" and now dealing with the answer to asking that very question that follows years later, I can say no, I don't think of things that way. Or at least, I didn't. ;)

I certainly will be looking at things going forward with a little more forward-thinking.

That being said, people change over time...and can change a lot. Relationships change - marriage can follow stereotypes in many, many ways if a couple lets it. Sometimes those who are poly can strike a balance and I've seen other cases where additional relationships become "recreational" (as you so aptly put it) almost to escape dealing with the lack of intimacy, closeness or other things missing in the marriage or primary relationship.

I really have gone through life, relationships, parenting, and work taking things as they come. Holding on to an ethos that I hope will keep me from making any serious mistakes in the process. It doesn't necessarily prevent me from always taking the "easy way out" with what I deem to be some of the smaller things but it certainly prevents me from making overall big mistakes that will land me flat-out in crazy land.

But I like the idea of thinking in this more proactive way that engenders a future preparedness for the unexpected. As I navigate through this (albeit quite good and amicable) morass of a life-change, I'll definitely need to be thinking ahead in all areas of my life - for my kids, my partner, my friends and (of course) me.

Very thought-provoking post - thanks.
harimad on November 18th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
I don' think I've done this for major life decisions but I do set myself up to make the proper decision in smaller things. For example I know that it's hard for people to break habits. Therefore I try to form the habits I want to have.

Here's an example of habits gone spectacularly well. I spent several years flying between two cities on a weekly basis. On Fri eve upon arrival I could spend about $3 to take public transportation home in about 80 min, or I could spend $45-50 to take a cab home in about 40 min. So I consciously formed the habit of taking the subway. After a few months the habit was so strong that I couldn't break it even when I was dead tired.

Here's a quotidian example of setting things up so they turn out right: I try to make daily life easier by getting enough sleep and waking up early.

drwex: WWFDdrwex on November 18th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
Very timely post
I've been thinking about this a lot, though not necessarily framed in terms of willing choices, but rather in terms of chains of consequence, particularly relating to how my being horribly underslept for 3-4 weeks of illness has led to all sorts of stuff.

I should think about it in a more volitional manner.

And while typing this I thought of something your housemate and I discussed some years ago which related to the gap between how people described themselves and how they acted. Her point was that people ought to work to bring their self-image and voluntary actions into better alignment. I think that's a similar point in that if I think of myself as a person who does X (or does not do Y) then setting myself up for a situation in which I'm likely to do the opposite is a form of either self-sabotage, cognitive dissonance, or both.
Chance: sexmiss_chance on November 18th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
vito_excalibur asks (in reference to the Christian Blogger's dilemma) And yet, Jesus fucking Christ, how do you even - what is the chain of consequence that starts from getting a ride to the airport and ends at getting busy with the random poor stranger who might have drawn the short straw to have to sit in LA airport traffic with you?

I think that's an excellent question... One that I would like answered before my next trip to the airport! :) :) :)

Edited at 2010-11-18 07:25 pm (UTC)
vito_excalibur on November 19th, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC)
Well, that is another way to look at it. :)
Rowan: Fallmzrowan on November 18th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
A few things leap to mind, ordered from small to big:

1. Having a large stock of quick, easy, healthy, tasty ingredients for dinner at hand in my chest freezer and pantry. Ordering delivery food for dinner wasn't ever a big part of my life but it's something that doesn't even occur to me now.

2. Living and working in an urban location. This cascades to innumerable things that I know you're well aware of. ;-)

3. Talking to my partner(s) about whatever happens to be going on in my head and heart at the time, whether it seems important or not. Being in the habit of sharing helps my partner(s) know me better in all situations, and therefore reduces the opacity that leads to sudden shocks and hurtful confusion, not to mention the disconnection that is one of the steps towards "oops I accidentally fucked someone I shouldn't have".

4. Being mindful of what's going on in my head and heart -- in other words, taking time to check in with myself and also working to improve my meta-awareness. This one occurred to me as I was writing #3 above, since it's really a prerequisite. I guess it's ultimately the foundation of the entire concept, actually. If you're not aware of what you're thinking and feeling in the moment (and honest with yourself about what's going on, no matter how much you may not like it), you have no chance of breaking the chain of foolishness.
funner'n a sack a weaselsmoominmolly on November 18th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
I try to do this whenever it occurs to me. It felt like a triumph to first take a job (at BU) where biking fit into my current lifestyle... and then modify that, to taking a job where biking was the EASIEST way to get to work. Now that biking to work is quicker, cheaper, healthier, AND more fun than either taking the bus/train or driving, I do it all the time, and my life is better.

I also try to make choices that privilege my (aweseome) relationship with dilletante, but that doesn't feel like it takes work or willpower. So maybe it's cheating to mention.

Oh, food! I try to set myself up to make good food choices by having delicious impulse snacks that aren't bad for me. And money - I try to automate as many financial decisions as possible. When I stop doing that, it is obviously and consistently catastrophic. :)

veek on November 18th, 2010 09:11 pm (UTC)
I do this all the time! Let's see...

...Well, so for me this often involves a LOT of essentially trying to convince myself of things. I like to think of it as "reminding" but it's really convincing. If I do that on a regular basis, on a particular subject, that creates a sort of latticework on which to hang my behaviors.

That metaphor didn't work.

Anyway, walking from Central Square to work is one of those things. There are many more, but I've now been writing this for half an hour and getting distracted by work. So I should go work.
D. Fennelfennel on November 18th, 2010 09:19 pm (UTC)
I definitely realized, at some point a few years ago, that putting myself in a situation where I'd need lots of willpower to succeed was just likely to mean screwing up.

Sometimes I do it anyway, but even then, I have realistic expectations-- I'm less likely to torment myself over how I've once again failed to live up to my past self's image of me.
Words of Fire on the Surface of the Worldinfinitehotel on November 18th, 2010 10:56 pm (UTC)
For a long time, I thought leaving a door open made the pressure to take it less. That is, if you had the freedom to consider the option against what you had (as opposed to a binary "If I do thing X, thing Y is over) love and logic would win out in the end. I still believe that to some extent, but now I think it only works if everyone agrees to what having the door open means, which gets into being able to express your needs clearly and being with someone who can hear that. (And more to the point, cares enough about the relationship to factor that information into their choices.) Defining the much-abused word "need" (note the four letters) is a whole 'nother kettle of fish though. Willpower doesn't mean much in the face of sufficient rationalization.

So, to use your example, I guess I think it's okay to have a Zipcar membership. Everything is spelled out in the contract, the terms and commitment are very specific, and when you badly need a car, it's there for you.

Edited at 2010-11-18 10:59 pm (UTC)
Co-conspirator of Squeemuffyjo on November 18th, 2010 11:16 pm (UTC)
I was struck by ratontheroad's comments that they were not interested in learning how to change the behavior pattern, only to be doomed to repeat it and therefore not interested in starting it. I find that part a bit sad and hope they see what they've said as a first step towards meaningful action as in, learning what their triggers are and then actually doing something meaningful to make those triggers go away instead of simply trying to avoid them.

I hate believing TV Sitcoms, that all men are going to hit on me, that all women will try and scratch my eyes out when I befriend "their man". I like to think that we're all a bit more mature than that and that life is not a TV drama. So no, I don't avoid those circumstances in order to avoid temptation.

As for the question, I do try and plan ahead. I try to think about whether or not I'm setting my life up for happiness and security. So, to those ends, I do think in that fashion, but I don't let the petty thoughts steer me around the potholes, I try and use my ability to slow down and peer into them for depth be more of my guide.
ruthless compassion: thinkyaroraborealis on November 18th, 2010 11:34 pm (UTC)
Hm. I didn't see it this way. I think that an important part of helping myself be the best person I can be is to recognize those places where I'm weak, and avoiding them. Try to strengthen them? Sure. But I will always have weaknesses, and to me, acknowledging those and working within my limits is ... well, I think it's the only way FOR ME to succeed if I have long term goals.

I'm confused about the TV sitcom analogy. Can you help me understand how it relates here?
Co-conspirator of Squeemuffyjo on November 19th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
We may be agreeing from different sides of the same idea. I figure, there is no one in the whole world who can change me but me. Short of shock therapy, I suppose. And if I find something difficult about myself, that is a weakness, I think finding ways of owning it and learning to get through it or to use it as a superpower.

Take my craving for ice cream. I used to be weak around it, I could not have it in the house or I'd finish the whole pint in one sitting. And so I worked hard at concentrating on my craving for it and figuring out what parts mattered. At first I modified my response to...I'll only eat quality ice cream with real ingredients (it must actually melt into a puddle if left overnight on the counter). That made it a more costly experience and changed my enjoyment of it. Then I bought lots and lots of it. Put enough in the fridge for ice cream non-stop for a while...and I realized...I didn't crave it anymore. Today, there's been two pints of ice cream in my fridge since this summer. I could have simply said "I'll never bring ice cream into the house again!" but then I would have missed out on some amazing ice cream.

As for the sitcom comment, I like to think that people are less likely to make the awkward mistake that you know is coming in a sitcom and more likely to be a little more thoughtful.
Chance: waldenmiss_chance on November 19th, 2010 03:33 am (UTC)
I was struck by ratontheroad's comments that they were not interested in learning how to change the behavior pattern, only to be doomed to repeat it and therefore not interested in starting it. I find that part a bit sad and hope they see what they've said as a first step towards meaningful action as in, learning what their triggers are and then actually doing something meaningful to make those triggers go away instead of simply trying to avoid them.

Yeah, I was thinking that, too. I kept thinking about the theater-tickets example today. I mean, does that mean forever choosing between quitting smoking or quitting theater? Why not say, Okay, whenever I buy theater tickets, I'll also pre-order a lunch for that day from Foodler at the same time, so that I'm not hungry and cranky when performance time rolls around?

I'm all for looking for weaknesses and patterns, but I guess I struggle most with the length of the chain there. Sure, having a car might make one drive more than one wishes... but the kind of chain in the initial posts would go be more like saying "I set myself up to drive too much when I learned to drive, then when I got a driver's license."

I guess for me I would say I look at chains like that and look for some opportunities to prevent the temptation and for other ways to keep flexible and able to find new ways to respond to old inputs.
vito_excalibur on November 19th, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC)
I don't agree that it's sad, though. We have limited energy, and we choose what to spend it on. Rat could certainly choose to spend his energy on breaking the connection between theatre and smoking. I can see places where it would be vulnerable: for example, he says he skips lunch, so that could be addressed by taking time the night before to pack a lunch.

OTOH, that's time in the evening that then, say, he doesn't get to spend putting his kid to bed, which might make him shorter on sleep or cause issues with his wife. Of course there's ways around that, but the point is, it's kind of zero-sum so you take it from somewhere. I don't think there's anything wrong with allocating your resources and saying, Okay, this is an area in which I'm not going to go for perfection; I'm just going to work around it.

Especially because so very much of our behavior is affected by these kinds of chains of consequence.
sarahshevettsarahshevett on November 19th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
smooth sailing
Maybe I'm missing something, but to me this is so very simple.
I have always had a vision for what I wanted in my life.
And I have it. I pretty much have always had it. Certainly, there was a bit of luck in there, but most of the time I was driving. And there were bumps in the road, but moving forward towards the goal was always the driving force.
All decisions have led me here; what to learn, where to live, who to friend.
Since my vision is a pure product of me, all decisions are sincere to myself and to that end.

As far as my relationships go, all decisions follow the golden rule. It's that simple. Cheating doesn't come at the end, it comes at once. Cheating is "in the heart" as Jimmy Carter once said. I don't think someone "finds" themselves in a situation they don't recognize. I believe in owning your decisions.

Like in "The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin", we are who we are, even if we get the chance to do it over. I think being honest with yourself and knowing what you want and what you are capable of is all that is needed. Get to work!

With a vision it has been so easy for me. "Willpower" has never been a problem. (it seems pretty much all the comments on willpower have to do with eating)

It also seems that you don't want a car because you don't want to be the "kind of person who has a car"...
Statistical Outlier in All  Studies: heart handschaiya on November 20th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
I try to operate using The Pink List. (Filtered, but I'm pretty sure those who read your posts and are on my flist are on this filter.)
born from jets!!!: surgerycatness on November 20th, 2010 03:53 am (UTC)
Heh. I do a lot of things unconsciously. Like work 16 hours straight while failing to notice I haven't gotten up out of my chair or had food or water. Then I'll be burned out, hungry, thirsty, and too mentally and/or physically thrashed to have the ability to get myself fed, watered, and rested. I *still* *do* *this*, even though in the past few years I've had to learn how to strategize almost everything in my life so I can accomplish unbelievable tasks like getting up a flight of stairs or out of my car without help.

I consider myself a pretty strong-willed person, but I absolutely fall victim to this chain of foolishness with regard to my own health maybe 2-3 times a week, each instance having full- or multiple- day consequences. These consequences affect everything in my life from health to job to music. And I'm perpetuating one *right* *now*.


Oh, so yes... I think about things this way. Evidently, it doesn't change how I live my life often enough. WEAK! :)