Activate Desperation

My cliff notes for “Desperation“:

This introduces the “three dubious virtues” and focuses on desperation, the first. Later posts cover recklessness and defiance. They are “dubious” because they can be harmful if used badly, but they have their uses.

Desperation can be used well to replace guilt as a motivator, when focused on a goal. We act desperately when something is incredibly important. There are plenty of reasons to be desperate if you allow yourself to confront darkness in the world.

By “desperation towards a goal” I mean the possession of a goal so important to you that you can commit yourself to it fully, without hesitation, without some part of you wondering whether it’s really worth all your effort. I mean a goal that you pursue with both reckless abandon and cautious deliberation in fair portions. I mean a goal so important that it does not occur to you to spare time wondering whether you can achieve it, but only whether this path to achieving it is better or worse than that path.

Most people cannot honestly say they have ever been capable of putting everything on the line, no matter the consequences. Desperation enables you to act “all out” — to act fully, completely without reservation. This is distinct from “putting in a good effort”. It truly means doing everything you possibly can. This is as powerful as it is rare.

Desperation may or may not be useful for you now, depending on what’s important to you, but at least make sure you can become desperate so you aren’t holding yourself back from your full potential when you may need it.

Most people can’t even imagine going all out even in fictional scenarios, which invites examining what prevents us from drawing on that power, so we can activate it when needed.

Perhaps social stigmas against caring strongly for something inhibit desperation. This may even be innate thanks to our evolutionary biology: Think of stigma for “nerds”, or the “sportsball” slur, and the connotation of the word “fanatic”. To care is to be vulnerable — you might suffer the loss of something you care deeply for, or be judged for caring for the wrong thing, or signal to others how they can gain leverage over you. Uncaring, and cynicism, are cool. (Confidence all the way up mitigates this.)

When we are desperate, it’s in spite of all of this. The goal matters more than social costs. Accepting these costs helps disinhibit your desperation, so that you can put it to work. Meditate on situations and identify circumstances where you could go all out, no matter the consequences. If you can’t find any, “then consider that there may be a part of yourself that you’re holding back for nothing, a part of yourself that you’re wasting”.

Once you’ve found imagined circumstances where you could be desperate, become familiar with what it feels like. Then, review your goals and values from that emotional perspective. This can unlock desperation.

Beware of desperation’s trap of un-sustainability. Activate desperation when useful, but don’t sprint if your goal requires a marathon to achieve. “(This is why I wrote about how to avoid working yourself ragged and rest in motion before writing about desperation.)”

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.