No, you could not have

My cliff notes from “Where coulds go”:

Willpower is scarce, and doesn’t work the way we think. When we find ourselves seemingly unable to stop a behavior we’d prefer to avoid (e.g. choosing to watch just one more episode of that show you’re binging on, long after you planned to go to bed), and think next time will be different — we’ll try even harder to stop — we give willpower too much credit.

Our real choice to stop, where we can focus more effective effort to change our behavior, occurs earlier, when making a choice to start down a path that test our willpower. If you have to apply willpower, you’ve already missed the choice to change.

A tool: Pretend you don’t have any willpower. Assume you won’t make the right choice when you start down a path where you know you’ll have trouble.

This requires awareness of patterns of behavior that lead to situations requiring willpower. Look for triggers leading to temptation to make choices you’ll regret.

I don’t treat myself as if I “could” stop binge-reading a good book, and therefore I don’t feel terrible if I binge. Instead, I say, “ah, I see, I binge-read engaging books; I will treat ‘read an engaging book’ as a single atomic action that takes five to twenty hours, with no choice nodes in between.” Where others are berating themselves for failing to complete an impossible task (“stop binge-reading halfway through and get back to real work”), I am learning what I am and am not capable of, and learning where my real action nodes are.

Our “coulds” are broken, in other words we often can’t make the right choice when we think we could. Our better judgement does not rule our behavior. Addiction, our lizard brain, being tired, our emotions — many things work against it. If you repeatedly make the wrong choice in a situation, that reveals that “you could make the right choice” in that situation is incorrect.

But we can win anyway, by “experimenting and identifying which action nodes work”. Make the choices that you succeed at, before facing the difficult decisions.

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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