Well, this is slightly awkward. I’ve broken yet another promise to myself. Good thing I can’t break up with me, otherwise, I’d be having a serious conversation with myself right about now. Why can’t I follow through with the things I say I’m going to do?
I don’t suppose I’m alone here. We all make promises to ourselves, only to break them and regret it later. What I’ve been trying to understand lately is why. Why do we say or feel one thing and do another?
In Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast And Slow, he discusses how our brains use two thinking systems. E.g. if you look at a problem like 2 + 2 = ? you can immediately fill in the blank, without exerting much mental effort (System 1). Now, look at something like 23 x 18 = ? You most likely aren’t able to spit out an answer with the same ease as the first question (System 2 thinking).
Do life decisions work the same way? Some life choices are automatic. Eating, sleeping, cleaning, seeking fun, these come natural. Hungry? Look for food. Tired, take a nap, etc. But what about something like exercise? Or taking online courses?
You see, I’m conscious that I should work out every day. No question about it. But, some days, it just doesn’t happen. Not enough time, too tired, pick your favorite excuse. In other words, my rational self doesn’t correlate with my feeling self. Thus, this is the root of my problem.
Mastering the “feeling self” isn’t easy, but I know it can be done. Few people enjoy waking up for a 6:00AM flight, yet thousands of people do it every day - they just suck it up and go because the pain of missing that flight is worse than the temporary discomfort of getting out of bed. Marathon runners want to stop half-way through, but they’re able to push their bodies beyond the pain to complete the race and achieve something worth the discomfort.
The division between these two “selves” is like split personalities. The body wants what’s best for it immediately (YOLO philosophy). The mind wants what’s best relative to our universe as a whole. E.g. we’re able to force ourselves to study so we can succeed in school or pull an all-nighter to impress our bosses, etc. Living rationally requires tremendous discipline, the proverbial mind over matter delima.
Why Rational Is Better
Some would argue it’s wrong to deny yourself the pleasures of the moment. I know I’ve rationalized my broken promises before with that type of thinking. “Don’t worry about it, it’s just this once. Just enjoy life!” The major problem with this kind of thinking is that it’s a dangerous and slippery slope. Just one cigarette might lead to another, just one drink can catalyze an entire downward spiral. QED, the risk of the exception isn’t worth it.
Another strong argument for living rationally is that, in the long run, it is actually better for you. Suppose instead of going out as usual on Saturday night, you decide to stay in and catch up on sleep. When Monday comes around, you’re way more rested than your colleagues and can perform with more energy and concentration. Or, how about savings? Socking away money each month and living frugally sure isn’t fun. BUT, over time, you will be thankful. I repeat, you will be thankful. That’s thinking rational, not giving in to present urges, in hopes of a brighter future.
Emotions are deceiving. We think because we have them, they speak truth, but many time’s they’re just a reaction to the present environment. Slip on a banana peel? Better get angry, because who could be so inconsiderate to leave a banana peel on the ground? I mean, honestly. But, does it do us any long-term benefit to get upset? Absolutely not. The damage is done and the ensuing emotion is what causes us pain.
My Ongoing Effort
Step one is acceptance. In attempting to train myself to live more rationally, I’m now increasingly aware when I break even the smallest promises to myself. I mindfully acknowledge that I’m going against my rational mind, and can sometimes stop the offense immediately. Alas, it’s still a constant struggle for me, one that I want to continue to work on. Why bother? Because, my rational mind tells me I should listen, and I know from experience that it’s right, whether I feel like it or not.
Deep down I believe we’re all capable of amazing achievements. But I also happen to think we’re our own worst enemies. What we tell ourselves largely impacts how we feel, and how we perceive the world. I know that keeping my rational self stronger than my feeling self will help me get out of my own way. Here’s hoping I can learn to follow through.