Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bad Habits Die Hard

Here's a quote from The Character of Habits Pt. I, on Don Watkin's blog (starting with a quote of former Rand associate, Nathaniel Branden):

“[Branden:] 'His emotional capacity is man’s automatic barometer of what is for him or against him (within the context of his knowledge and values). The relationship of value-judgments to emotions is that of cause to effect. An emotion is a value-response. It is the automatic psychological result (involving both mental and somatic features) of a super-rapid, subconscious appraisal.
     'An emotion is the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relationship of some aspect of reality to himself.' (The Psychology of Self-Esteem 66-67).

“This, then, is the starting point. Man is a volitional being, motivated by chosen values he experiences in the form of emotions. He needs habits in order to function, but as with values, it is of vital importance which habits he chooses to develop.”

Okay, so emotions provide psychosomatic feedback about our chosen values, presumably positive, motivating emotions when we judge the action to be “for us” versus negative, discouraging emotions when we judge the action to be “against us”. Here's my problem: All sorts of work, even the kind that I love the most, involves doing certain menial and all-around unpleasant tasks from time-to-time, and no matter how much I may love doing the work in a broad sense, my psychosomatic response to those specific tasks is negative. Sometimes my mind is as stubborn as old Number 7 and just refuses to do the work. I even get into some serious arguments with myself about it.

Am I alone in this? I don't think so. Even Ayn Rand seemed to struggle with it, at least I think so based on the tone of self-admonishment in her journals, which I mentioned here.

I don't understand all of the causes of this problem, personal or otherwise. You would think that knowing how important the menial task is to the final product would be enough to motivate me to action. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Maybe the best I can do is to just push through the work by sheer stubbornness of will. Or maybe someone out there has some good ideas for dealing with it. For example, one acquaintance in college would always start his homework by doing the thing he least wanted to do. That way he felt more motivated to get through the bad stuff in order to get to the fun stuff. I'll try that, but I think I may need bigger solutions.