Even the most psychologically and philosophically aware among us make mistakes. As a Bright, I believe that most of us aim to behave rationally most of the time. So how come we sometimes act in mindless ways that aren’t in our best interests?
Here are some ideas for bringing daily actions more in line with a belief in rationality:
6 SILLY THINGS YOU SHOULDN’T DO:
1. Get addicted to your media. Top of the list for me personally, as I’ve just bought my first Smartphone. I love it and its capabilities. I even got my first spam message this morning (ugh). And while it’s tempting to shop for more free apps, text my kids just for the fun of it, and learn how to take good photos, these activities are not my first priority. Allow me to remind myself here, and perhaps some of you also, that there’s a time and a place for everything. Sure, those little pings (or whatever tones you’ve chosen so carefully) are intermittently reinforcing. Just like checking your email constantly on your computer (guilty!). Still, using our media mindfully makes the most sense.
2. Make rituals into work. Rituals, both the tried-and-true (or untrue) and the ones we make up for ourselves and our families, come in several varieties. Some add nothing to our lives, and some are possibly worth the effort. Creative people of all kinds develop rituals around their work (sportspeople, too, and many others). All fine. But when it comes to rituals like cooking more than you have time for around the end-of-year holidays, we ought to rethink what we’re doing. I recall a long-ago comment of my father’s, that all this ritual stuff is for children. Funny, my ex-husband said something similar about birthday parties. No need to be a wet blanket, but don’t try too hard to be politically incorrect (making a big deal out of winter solstice, simply replacing all the time-consuming rituals you used to perform with another set).
3. Try to change all your no-longer-wanted habits at once. Self-control is a limited resource. When you struggle to resist a second helping of popcorn in the evening, after a long day of using your self-control on other matters, you’re more likely to fail. Learn to manage your self-regulatory capacity in order to achieve your goals, which sometimes means making environmental changes (don’t keep stuff around that you don’t want to be tempted by, power down all your media at a certain point of the evening, etc.). Hoard your self-control for when you really need it.
4. Finish reading every book you begin. Actually, that’s a really mindless habit. According to Kim Stafford, author of The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft (University of Georgia Press), “Now I can hardly read a book to the end. If the book bores me, I put it down in a hurry, and turn my gaze, if I can, to a tree, or a distant bird, and my mind to thoughts of my own. If the book inspires me, often I am stricken with a feeling of mortality by its truth, and ask myself, ‘If I have time to read this, shouldn’t I be writing? Life’s not that long.’” Don’t read less, necessarily, but choose mindfully, and quit when you feel like it.
5. Don’t assume good-will. In fact, do assume good-will on the part of everyone with whom you share a close relationship. That doesn’t necessarily mean the guy who sold you your cell-phone plan, or anyone whose goal is to make a profit from your gullibility and loyalty. But your family and your good friends? You will rarely go wrong by assuming they mean well, no matter how their words may come out wrong (to your ears).
6. Don’t be grateful for our amazing lives. In fact, gratitude is very much called for, considering all the really grotesque problems most of us, most of the time, don’t have, especially if you’re a so-called First Worlder with indoor plumbing and more or less dependable electric power and access to more or less modern health care. Certainly, highly developed civilizations could be so much more efficient, so much more fair, so much less irritating. I’m just grateful that I wasn’t born in earlier times.
Got any candidates for things we do mindlessly that we should re-think? Please share.