Friday, June 26, 2015

Enjoying the Process

There is a strong conflict between our short term desires and the the view from the top of the elephant of where we want to be. Change happens very slowly but what we see, feel, smell, taste, and hear is right here and now. One proposed definition of happiness is an alignment of short and long term incentives. A story that makes sense. In 'The Happiness Hypothesis', Jonathan Haidt looked at professions where the aspects of something being a job (what you do to survive), a career (something you build) and a calling (something you value) align.

He looked at Journalists and Geneticists. The Geneticists felt like they were in a golden age. The work they are doing is rewarding in and of itself, it is valuable to society, and the financial incentives reward good work. They don't feel like they have to 'sell out'. The Journalists on the other hand were getting more and more frustrated. Anyone could sit and home and write a blog in their underpants. Formal media has become more of a big machine and more polarised. This is who they are competing with or working for. The sexy, scandalous, violent or shocking is where the (decreasing) reward is. Often in small, repetitive, digestible soundbites. Many would have been drawn to journalism as a founding pillar of democracy. A deep belief that free speech will keep people honest. A desire to bring the research of people on the boundaries of human thought back to the man in the street. The noble goals then get out of line with the short term realities and things fall apart.

We aren't very good at doing the things that are good for us in the long term if they conflict with the things that make us happy in the short term. It seems we know this and it bugs us. The trick seems to be to somehow get coherence. How can the small, achievable, daily goals that add up over time become something we do for their own sake. Some of us are heroes. The rest of us have to do the hard work and in truth, it just isn't going to happen. Just do it. Um, ok. Tomorrow.

If there was an effective diet that consisted of sitting on the couch eating fat, salt, and sugar while binge watching our favourite TV series - we would all be rippling muscle machines. The Rider can train the Elephant but I don't think it can be done without incentives. We can summon little bits of will power to make little changes here and there. Big changes compound over time and need sustained habit formation. For that, we need to enjoy the process.

We have to remember the Elephant is the boss.
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