Draw intrinsic drive by confronting the terrible

My cliff notes for “See the dark world“:

We frequently, when frustrated by the world, invent reasons to make it seem tolerable — not to judge things as good, but acceptable as they are, even though they may be bad.

[U]pon seeing that the world is broken, people experience an impulse to explain the brokenness in a way that relieves the tension. When seeing that the world is broken, people reflexively feel a need to explain…

Maybe our we gave our best (even though it wasn’t good enough). Maybe something — famine, war — is terrible, but beyond our control (we aren’t responsible). Maybe we wash our hands spitefully (because we didn’t get what we wanted).

These are all strategies to make things tolerable — fundamentally acceptable as-is — which eases the tension when something is unacceptable. This is called tolerification. It is a human reflex — we all do it, and do frequently. It is seeking an explanation of the dark state of our world that relieve us from the pressure of action or responsibility.

Even cynicism, I think, can fill this role: I often read cynicism as an attempt to explain a world full of callous neglect and casual cruelty, in a framework that makes neglect and cruelty seem natural and expected (and therefore tolerable).

For example: The actuarial market value of saving a life is approximately $3,000. This is reprehensible. Two ways to tolerify it are to (1) reject that markets can make value a sacred life entirely as a ridiculous, rejecting this fact out of hand; or to (2) conclude cynically that actually lives aren’t sacred, after all, and thus not worth saving (or worrying about). Both approaches relieve pressure. Both approaches deny that there is a market value of life, and lives are invaluable. That world — our world — is a dark world. It is unacceptable, so we impulsively tolerify it.

Now that we’ve removed guilt and obligation as a motivator [in previous posts in this series], we are motivated intrinsically. By relieving pressure, tolerification saps our intrinsic motivation.

To preserve and strengthen your intrinsic, be mindful of tolerification, and instead, focus on the dark world. (This is, obviously, incredibly grim.)

A tool to help with this: Pose yourself a “what if” question: What if _____ (something bad) is the case, and it is unacceptable (in other words, whatever you’ve found to tolerify it is invalid)? What would I do then?

The nice thing about the “what if” question is that I don’t need to believe that that’s the actual world when pondering the “what if”. I don’t need to acknowledge that I am [for example] unqualified for the job, I can simply ask what would do if I were

The answer might require self-improvement — say, improving some skill or attribute that isn’t good enough yet) — or realignment of your life or believes to address some injustice or hard apparent truths…

There is no one right answer to the “What if the world really is so dark?” question, but asking it should generally lead to two things consistently: First, a sense of despairing over unfair, unacceptable, things. None of this is easy! But second, it also leads to a sense of resolve, because avoiding the pressure relief allows you to face what needs to be done, and to act.

People say they need to tolerify, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to handle the intolerable world.

But that’s false. Acknowledging that the world is unacceptable will not kill you; the world is already as unacceptable as it is. Remember the litany of Gendlin.


Let the world be not okay. Live in that space, where you feel cold resolve, fury, determination, even despair, and can be powered by those things. This kind of intrinsic drive comes from bearing the truth, which is exactly the opposite of the common wisdom that we need fantasies to bear the truth.

I say, if you want the intrinsic drive, drop the illusion. Refuse to tolerify. Face the facts that you feared you would not be able to handle. You are likely correct that they will be hard to bear, and you are likely correct that attempting to bear them will change you. But that change doesn’t need to break you. It can also make you stronger, and fuel your resolve.

This post is part of the thread: Replacing Guilt Cliffs Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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