160) From Shitty-ness to Well-ness, Part 16: The Final Step to Rational Self-analysis; Sub-section 1: Give Up Your Willpower

This Final Step, is actually the most important.  It’s where you learn to actually “make it so”.  It’s where you push the Action Button.  It’s where you take all your goals and values and all that abstract shit, and you make it Real.  It’s where the rubber hits the road.  

Without this Final Step, all the “value clarification” and “goal setting” and “self congruence” work you’ve done can easily go out the window.  And then you’ll feel like you failed….again….and that’s not much help for taking another step forward.  Instead, you will likely stagnate, or worse, backslide and fall back on the coping strategies that you’ve used thus far, and which are what you were trying to move past in the first place.

I need to drive this point home, before we continue, because otherwise, most people will still overlook how important this is.  And that’s not a mere belief of mine; it’s been well researched.

You see, most people’s general theory of their own behaviour, is that it follows from their intentions.  You intend to do something, and then you do it.  And sure, it’s easy to come up with examples of that.  A few minutes ago, I decided “I’m going to make a coffee”.  And then you know what happened??

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, I MADE A COFFEE!!!!! WOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!  Intentions rule!!!

INTENTIONS ———————————————>    BEHAVIOUR

But if/when the behaviour doesn’t happen as intended (ever tried to stick to an exercise or diet plan?  lol…..), what do people do?

They set intentions again.  

“THIS TIME, it’s really going to work.  I’m really going to do it!  I just didn’t try hard enough last time!  But I’ve learned my lesson.  Let’s DO THIS!!!”

And all fired up with the ephemeral but convincing motivation of enthusiasm, they set more intentions, set more goals, and ……probably fail again. 

I mean, ok, sure, it’s not like “FAILURE” all the time.  I’m being overly dramatic to make a point….  Of course, people do succeed some of the time.  And people partially succeed at things, so that over time, they DO make progress.  We’re obviously not all stuck in neutral for our entire lives; we move things forward!!  And, based on the steps we DO take, we therefore reinforce our beliefs — that we are running the show, that when we set our minds to something, we get it done (i.e., the power of Intentions), and that all we need to do is discipline ourselves enough, structure ourselves enough, dig down and find enough motivation, and we’ll succeed at our goals.  

In other words, we fail, by not really reaching the goals we set, and then we convince ourselves that our paltry, partial successes are, in fact, successes, and we are still awesome and we don’t need to challenge any of our underlying assumptions….just carry on!

But this is still failure.  Lowering your standards over time because you ….have to?  That does not sound like maximal goal success….

The implicit theory of human behaviour that leads to this sad cycle, is the belief that the key to following through on intentions is MOTIVATION.  


If you’re not acting on your intentions, then you just have to TRY HARDER.  Be more committed.  Make a vow!  Set your intentions AGAIN!  Write them down!! Put them on your fridge!!  YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!!!


No.  Wrong.  This theory of human behaviour is shit.  Increasing motivation is, while not completely irrelevant, a disappointingly weak predictor of behaviour change.  ESPECIALLY behaviour change that is sustained over the long term. 

This is very hard for people to wrap their heads around.  (Psychology do be like that; in some key ways it throws your understanding of human behaviour upside down.)

But YOU have experienced this lots of times.  My fav example?  Inspiring movies.

You know how many times I’ve seen some underdog success story, or some martial arts dude go through his training montage and become an ass-kicking superhero, or a tale of a great humanitarian and how they changed the world, etc.?  Or even just a rocking action flick where the heroes are super bad-ass and awesome!

Maaaan, you walk out of that theatre, your heart elevated, your eyes a little more open, your mind spinning with visions of your future awesomeness.  You are READY!!  Like, tomorrow, as soon as you wake up, you are STARTING.  Success is YOURS.  RRRRAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!

If you do actually do manage to “start” the next morning, if the movie-glow lasts even as long as a single night’s sleep, then I would still bet a large sum that you’re not still at it 10 mornings later.  That epiphanic, overwhelming, light-from-heaven-knocking-you-off-your-donkey motivation that was exploding out of every cell in your body last night…kinda fades.  And you carry on, pretty much the same person as you were before you watched the movie.  

(e.g., I never became a ninja.  Fuck.)


One nugget of truth in Conservative thinking (which isn’t really Conservative thinking, per se, but just common sense that everybody shares, but Conservatives pretend that it’s exclusively part of Conservative thinking, and use that as a way of delegitimizing people who don’t agree with other parts of Conservative viewpoints….

Personal Responsibility — This is so incredibly, in-your-face obvious, that it spins my mind right around when I confront just how much MONEY the traditionalists, the Ayn-Randian, Jordan-Petersonian, part of the ideological spectrum, have siphoned from their audiences, for telling them literally the same thing that their parents and grandparents told them their whole childhoods, and that literally every person over, like, 10, knows.  Take responsibility for yourself, get off your ass, and strive for the best you can strive for, because THAT leads to the best life.  

(And it’s great if you emphasize ethics and compassion and lovingkindness and stuff like that too….but then again, a lot of our parents weren’t super-great at that either.  So maybe it’s understandable how much it gets overlooked by the aforementioned parts of the ideological spectrum….although, while understandable, I would argue that it should not be overlooked itself.)

So, again, I want to acknowledge, so that there’s no misunderstanding here — things like willpower and grit and determination and sheer “digging into your inner strength” and all that ARE TRUE (kind of…).  They ARE an important part of ANY process of self-improvement or personal growth.  Ok?  

BUT, because the willpower-things get pretty much all the attention, I would like to set them aside here, and look at everything else that affects us.  Because, it turns out, “the rest” IS more important, in a sense, than willpower and self-discipline and all that.  Like, WAYYYYYY more important.

I promise, as best I can, to unpack the subtleties of this, over a series of posts on exactly this topic, eventually.  Because it is subtle.  Both are true.  Willpower is important.  “The rest” is important.  “The rest” is more important, in a functionally practical sense.  Although Willpower is nevertheless foundationally necessary.  It’s a causal interdependency, with multiple streams of causal interplay.  And because of those multiple streams, the amount of “effect” one has on the other can be stronger or weaker in different ways, while overall they are still in an interdependency in which each is necessary.  —  An extreme example is a parent and a baby.  They are both necessary, in order to be “they”.  But the parent has a heck of a lot more causal control over how everything goes, much of the time, than the baby.  But, the baby certainly has their own mechanisms of control, and in certain instances, those mechanisms of control can be more powerful than the parents’!  ….hehe…..**memories**…..**shudder**….

I hope it’s clear by now that I do believe that “willpower” is important, and digging into your inner strength and all that motivational speaker shit that pumps people up to tackle their goals, IS important and does have a place. BUT, it’s not the whole story, and over-focusing on it, which is what I believe people like Jordan Peterson do, ends up telling quite a severe mis-truth, one that over-attributes responsibility to people, induces unnecessary shame, and ironically, sets them up for long-term failure.  Because it paints a picture of how people work, and how society works, that just isn’t true, and, if applied, leads to really shitty outcomes for people.  Especially at the large scale.  

The moral of the story is, we spend way too much time and energy focusing on motivating ourselves (or others!), convincing ourselves that we just need to see how important it is, we just need to believe in it strongly enough, we just need to commit!  But it’s a wild goose chase.  

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