Amazingly, this posting is my 100th. I would guess that there are very few, if any, who have read every one. My ego, of course, likes to think that my contributions to blogdom have been great and far reaching, that people’s lives have changed for the better because of the insights they have found in my ramblings. Realistically, the best I can hope to have achieved is a few minutes distraction for a handful of people a couple of times a week.
However, for my 100th entry I’ve pulled out all the stops. This is the post that could change your lives forever if you sit back and reflect on what I’ve written here today and how relevant it is to your own behavioural patterns.
Then again it is a long one, so you might want to just read the first couple of paragraphs…
…you’ve left already haven’t you? Curse you “next blog” button…
It dawned on me the other day that my entire reward system is based around failure, thus I am doomed before I begin anything. A strange thing to realise after 39 years, but then I think many people never realise it at all.
A reward is a fulfilment of a desire based upon an action. This could be money, fame, respect, satisfaction of a craving, a sugar-rush or caffeine-high, an assured place in heaven, attention from a parent, a sense of achievement, or the dulling of a pain. Our lives are led by the idea that if we do the right things, say the right words and perform the right actions, then we will be rewarded either with a better life or a better after-life.
But our desires come in all shapes and sizes and frequently our wishes are conflicting: the immediate craving for chocolate is often far stronger than the long-term desire to lose weight; the extra money spent on better quality toilet paper is more tangible than saving for a holiday next year; the instant gratification of the cigarette is more real that the potential avoidance of cancer in the indefinite future.
What we desire at any particular moment is dependent on a whole raft of physical and emotional states of mind, beliefs and objectives. Oftentimes our long-term goals are just too distant and ethereal, so it’s easier to fulfil our more immediate aims instead. The clearer and more tangible our desire, the more likely we are to seek to realise it, as the more immediate cravings are far easier to satisfy than vague long-term ambitions. If I think about the chocolate, I can almost taste it – it is very real – but the idea of walking around with a fit and healthy physique feels more like fantasyland.
So what happens when I’m feeling low is that rather than think about how I can set about changing my life for the better, which is neither easy nor quick, I just want to dull the pain in the fastest, most effective way possible and will resort to my drug or distraction of choice. For some this could be a physical drug such as cannabis, alcohol or glue sniffing, for others it might be an act to induce the body’s own endorphins such as extreme physical exercise, sex or self mutilation, and for others it can be distractions such as watching TV, excessive Sudoku or blogging.
The upshot of all this is that over a long period of time I have managed to fulfil far more immediate desires than long-term ones. My success at self-fulfilment has been at it’s strongest when I’m low and miserable. It is only when I am feeling lousy that I do something to make myself feel good – treat myself to sugary-salty-fatty foodstuffs, watch too much TV, blog gratuitously. At the time I am indulging, I feel better, but do I feel good after doing these things? No, I feel like I’ve wasted a few more hours of my life, never to be regained. Does that stop me doing it? No, it just makes me do it even more: I feel wretched, so I seek to blot out the pain with the drugs and distractions all over again.
But what happens when I achieve great deeds? To be honest, I don’t do much. It’s wonderful if someone else notices and tells me I’ve done well, but if there isn’t anyone to say anything then the moment passes without being significantly marked. When you’re self-employed for example, no one will give you a pay rise or stick your picture on the employee-of-the-month board, or pin a medal on your chest. If you’re lucky your client will pay you on time, and pass your name on to one of his friends, but it’s hardly throwing a party in your honour.
So what we end up with here is a way of life that rewards things going wrong, and ignores things that go right. Is it any wonder that while I am fantastic at coming up with ideas and getting things started I have a problem completing things, or that I can so easily get overwhelmed with a sense of failure? Of course not – if things go wrong then I can retreat into my comforts. In fact it begins to make me wonder just how much in my life I have subconsciously, but deliberately, sabotaged in order to retreat into the warm comfort of depression, where it’s OK to eat tubs of Ben & Jerry’s Choc-Chip-Cookie-Dough ice cream, lie listlessly on the couch and not have to deal with anyone else’s problems.
I don’t know about you, but to me this is a real revelation and potentially explains a great deal. And it opens up the chance to change.
Simply put, we need to reward ourselves for success and deny ourselves our comfort rewards for allowing things to go wrong. Simply put maybe, but I’m under no illusion that it’s going to be easy: I have a lifetime of conditioning to overcome. I have to stop depression from being safe and dependable, from being the easy option.
Instead, I need to create a system that rewards success, and positive thinking; I need to look at how to frame actions in a constructive light; I need to find ways to affirm living. If I want life to be good, then I need to retrain myself to be rewarded when it is, that way I will strive for the positive and cease sabotaging myself: everything from acknowledging when I make a nice cup of tea through to publishing my first best seller.
So now Maggie and I are going to draw up a plan of action, a list of rewards to attach to set goals, while we try and build a new set of habits; a new way of life that focuses on achievement and feeling good rather than feeling lousy.
A new life begins.