Just read 'Willpower' by Roy F.Baumeister and John Tierney, a pop-science self-help book collecting the recent research on willpower and where it comes from.
Long story short, its your blood sugar. Have something to eat.
I can't tell if I hate this book at not. I think I don't hate it but I want to slap it in the face.
Reasons to slap this book;
- Handy celebrity commentary, Oprah! Amanda Palmer! Drew Carey! Eric Clapton! David Blaine!
- Studies say studies say studies say. Studies speak like fucking delphic oracles apparently. These sentences are all from different chapters;
"..researchers in Finland went to a prison to measure the glucose tolerance of prisoners about the be released"
"..the group with the proximal goals outperformed everybody else.."
"Suppose, as a story telling exercise, you finish that story about Joe any way you like."
"Suppose you are a married man who is the Governer of a large state in the American northeast."
"In one experiment, people were invited to choose which, if any, of several items they'd like to buy."
"In an experiment one halloween, some of the trick-or-treaters who visited the home of a psychologist were aske their names, directed to a side room, and told to take one - and only one - piece of candy."
".. as demonstrated in experiments by Ayelet Fishbach of the universty of Chicago."
"To score well you had to ignore the jokes and the laughter, focusing instead on the boring squares"
"In another part of the experiment, however, the men were instructed to answer the questions while they were masturbating and in a state of high arousal."
"The researchers, led by Carlo DiClemente of the University of Maryland, measured a large assortment of psychological variables and then tracked the men intensively for several months to test a variety of hypotheses, many of which didn't work out."
"Before his famous marshmallow experiments with children..."
Most or many of the things you can do to test for willpower are also tests for submission to authority.
If you test a child or an undergraduate for willpower you are, to some extent, also testing their willingness to do what they are told by you, an authority figure.
There is almost no way to test someones willpower in a scientific setting without also testing their relationship to authority because even the kinds of people who turn up will be decided by that and once they arrive there has to be a person there to set rules, hand out forms and tell them whats going on.
Even when you use tricky bullshit like 'oh you thought you were being tested for your taste in cheese but in fact it was WILLPOWER, then the subject is still inside a structure set by someone else.
How do you measure anti-authoritarian or just non-authoritarian willpower?
Conversely, how much impulsivity is tied to rejection of power or just wanting something other than what is offered?
We only find out about the good things that come with high willpower. Are any bad things linked to high willpower? If high willpower is closely linked to obedience to authority and a disinterest in questioning social norms, might we find high levels of willpower in societies with hierarchical and conservative institutions?
What if impulsivity correlates strongly with rejection of power structures or hyper-individuality, is it a cause, a consequence or both?
- Creativity and Feeling
Decision fatigue is strongly correlated to both impulsiveness and risk-avoidance. People who are decision tired seem to both make rash immediate-pleasure choices yet also put off hard choices till later, or simply refuse to decide, going with the flow
But decision fatigue also makes you feel more. Both good and bad emotions are more deeply felt,
How does this relate to art? To make art you need to feel. Many of the things I have made have been driven by deep feeling and I was often lead towards them by feeling rather than cold analysis.
But to make art you also need to get stuff done, and for that you need self control, and self control is somehow opposed to deep feeling and perhaps to intuition. Its predictable and seems to mimic or follow the pattern of the world.
I have had a bunch of strange and interesting ideas when I am tired. Sometimes I have had good ideas in the emotional lee after a really unpleasant day at work. Which shouldn't be the case. Being stressed doesn't make me creative, it kills me inside.
But, sometimes if I am stressed, or at least driven without being emotionally dis-stressed, then have a period of calm and not-doing-much, an original idea can kind of flow out of me almost fully formed, as if it was being constructed all along inside my head without me knowing and then just kind of gave birth to itself.
So maybe art requires periods of 'not-art' to work. Or a cycle or circle of self-control to get stuff done and attain known goals, then decision fatigue to feel deeply and be driven by unexpected and unpredictable intuition.
Are people with strong willpower somehow 'less creative'? Did anyone look into anything like this? Are people with high willpower bad at anything? Did anyone think to ask?
People with good willpower are more altruistic, or at least they _do_ things for other people more. Or maybe people who are more altruistic have more willpower?
The most interesting part of the book is about the explorer Henry Stanley and one of the darkest and strangest parts of that is when Stanley leaves behind a rear camp of high status europeans in the jungle who, after he leaves, go total fucking Colonel Kurtz.
But Stanley never seems to;
"I have learnt by actual stress of imminent danger, in the first place, that self-control is more indispensable than gunpowder, and, in the second place, that persistent self-control under the provocation of African travel is impossible without real, heartfelt sympathy for the natives with whom one has to deal.
The writers say that willpower is useful for empathy because it helps you suppress darker urges, they see it as a tool but they don't say much more. Does empathy help you conserve willpower? Does empathy somehow create or sustain willpower or change your moral relation to the people around you?
- Intellectual Mediocrity
I made a brief list of things the guys who wrote this book don't seem to have any meaningful understanding of;
Genuinely believing in anything outside yourself as anything other than a tool.
'-' "Have willpower."
'o' "To what end?"
'-' "To get a good car and a career and a house and a wife and a nice circle of friends."
'o' "Ok but why want those."
'-' "Those are the definitions of happiness and success."
'o' "But what if they are pointless?"
'-' "If you think that then you won't get them and you won't be successful!"
Like maybe all self-help books its boostery and kind of closed in around its own furious rationality and staring at the world through a toilet tube. To some useful effect, but still. There's nothing that can't be pulled into the book, held up for an example or a handy epigraph for a paragraph or two, then just as quickly cast aside. The entire history of religion, for instance, was apparently a primitive way of helping to focus and control willpower, and....
and probably there was other stuff to do with religion as well but we don't really go into that, we've got online self-quantifying programmes now that will tell you how many eggs you have had.
I'm talking about this book like I hate it. I don;t hate it, I just want to slap it.
Its one up from a Malcolm Gladwell book at least.