making and doing happy things

Self-control in an age of excess

My Delusion: I cannot control myself in the face of excessive marketing, anger, or other challenges.
My Truth: Self-control is a muscle that you can build or manage with forethought.

I’m extremely susceptible to product marketing.  I admit it; I’m that average joe who marketers are able to manipulate into wanting their product.  I actually went through this phase where I really wanted the Reebok Realflex sneakers because their commercials made me feel like I could actually like running if I just had those sneakers.  With 76 running buddies, who wouldn’t want to go running?!  It’s a daily problem at the supermarket or any other store.   I probably make at least one impulse buy each week. I’m a schmuck.

Does that make me weak-willed?  And is being weak-willed a problem I cannot control?  In Daniel Akst’s book We have met the Enemy, there may be some truth behind self-control being somewhat hereditary through the dopamine receptor DRD2.  There also appears to be a connection with the size of our prefrontal cortex.  But apparently you can also manipulate your self-control if you or a third party “threatens” your future self with a penalty.  Whether the penalty is the promise of going to hell or a substantial financial amount, they play a part in our “self”-control.

So…which is it?  Can or can’t we control ourselves?

My experiences say we should be able to control ourselves, especially when we’re controlling ourselves from harmful things.  I’m not sure about others, but I personally feel good when I can stop myself from indulging in destructive behavior.  It’s like, “That was a close call.  Glad I avoided that one!”  When self-control comes to “positive things” like purchasing a pair of running shoes, I think it depends on the definition of “positive”.  Yes, it appears like a positive thing – I’m going to go running! – but I think you’d just have to know yourself… If I buy these sneakers, then I’m not really going to go running.  If I treat myself to this donut, I know I’m not going to cut out other calories from my diet today.  If I go on this vacation, then I won’t have enough in my savings account for that worst-case scenario.

That’s where doing things ahead of time and building good habits is invaluable.  If I “penalize” myself for every running session I miss, I’ll probably get myself outside for at least a quick jog.  If I get in a habit of working out in the morning, then it’s ok to treat myself to the donut (there’s a fallacy in the “ok” logic I use for this example, but whatever).  If I automatically withdraw money and put it in a Savings account before I see what goes into my spending account, then I never get the opportunity to mess around with that money.

What we have to be careful with is any unintended effect that self-control has on us.  For some, exerting self-control can feel…good…in an addictive way.  Anorexia is one extreme example.  Even something as simple as wanting to be frugal and save money because you know you need to be can turn into things like extreme couponing or hoarding.

Be conscious of your actions and how it impacts the life of you and others..


OkCupid Mis-Adventures: First Impressions Matter

Yes, first impressions count.  Assumptions and biases are all formed in the first few seconds of meeting someone whether you like it or not.  If humans didn’t do that, then we’d be horribly slow decision makers (there are some things in society that bring that out of us already…*coughCheeseCakeFactoryMenucough*).  I think I had mentioned that I can actually decide whether I’ll actually gel with someone (either platonically or if there’s an attraction) within just a few instant messages back and forth.  It’s all about enthusiasm and personality.  Enthusiasm is generally characterized by speed of responses, exclamation marks, and paying attention to my profile.  Personality, for me, is generally witty humor and genuine interest.  I might have already mentioned this, but I can usually tell how successful a conversation or meeting will go based on the first few messages back and forth.

OkCupid Mis-Adventures: Multiple Conversations

It’s always exciting to get messages.  Nothing quite like opening the website and seeing that X number of people thought you were cool enough to message and start a conversation.  It’s kind of like opening presents on your birthday.  You get some really thoughtful gifts and some are your standard socks.  Frankly, you’re going to get more excited for the more thoughtful gifts than the standard socks.  And naturally, you’re going to be more excited for any gift from someone you find attractive than even a really awesome gift from someone you find yourself less interested in.  I am certainly not above admitting that I am more likely to make an exception for a “sock” conversation from a very physically attractive man who also has an awesome profile.  On the other hand, I’ve also continued conversations with someone who I was so-so attracted to based on the photos and yet their first comment was very appealing (in terms of wit or thought).

So basically, I was responding to a lot of people.  I found that I was spending a lot of time each evening on my computer just instant messaging users. It was definitely fun because it reminded me of the days of AIM (whuuut, do my readers even know what this is?!).  Talk about nostalgia.  Anywho…  At some point, I was forgetting certain things I had talked about with each person and I just knew that my current situation wasn’t working.  I get anxious when I’m not doing well at things or if I feel like I’m not paying enough attention to people who I think deserve it.  It’s a respect thing.

So last Friday – May 1st – I disabled my OKC account.  I told a couple people who I wanted to keep in touch with my cell phone number so we could start texting.  Then I shut that shit down.  It’s been working pretty well.  It’s like really getting to know a stranger.  You no longer have the profile/cheatsheet to refer to for conversation ideas or to remember who that person is or what they look like. You already confirmed that you find that person attractive or at least interesting, so hopefully the conversation holds successfully.  I’m currently chatting with 4 individuals and it’s been a lot more manageable and genuine.

I probably could have just ignored everyone on OKC and focused on the same individuals to achieve the same result.  But, is that really something I could do?  Is it fair to anyone?  I would be getting distracted by more options (and more options is not always the most desirable situation) and I would be ignoring many other people who still think my attention is available.  Attention is a limited resource.  There’s only so much memory and time in a day to dedicate to new people without completely ignoring your current friends and relationships.

I wonder where this will go…

Work and Personal Life Boundaries

My delusion: I am good at separating work and my personal life.
My truth: I am no good at separating work and my personal life.  Not even a little bit.

I work the number of hours that I need to work.  This typically falls between 8am and 5pm Monday through Friday, with some social breaks.  When I leave work, I rarely ever sign back onto my computer.  I’d rather stay a little bit later at the office, get it all done and completely turn off my laptop.  Likewise, when I’m at work, I try to limit any personal errands/texts/distractions.  I considered the strict 8 hour work day as work/life balance.  While that accounts for the distribution of time I physically spend at work or home, sometimes my mind will wander to the other.

I’ve always known that I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I thought I worked on my poker face sufficiently for work.  Being distracted by work is usually one of the best ways to get over personal life issues.  But on those rare occasions where my personal life is actually the distraction from my work… That one time I cried at my desk because a coworker was critical of my work (in hindsight, not anymore than I would expect a coworker to be – but I was a newbie intern so I didn’t know any better).  And there was that time I was crying in the lobby of my office building with my manager (at the time) because I was having boyfriend issues.  Actually, that happened twice, once with two different managers.  I also admit I’ve taken a total of 3 days off from work in the past 2 years due to emotional breakdowns.

I usually don’t like to think about work outside of work, but there will be occasions when work will get me so “worked up” that I just need to vent in a different venue – which unfortunately tends to be to people who I care most about.  I should thank my friends, roommate, and loved ones more often for how often I vent to them.

I don’t know if I necessarily want to actually separate the two.  I think i had read that women are typically less successful than men at “compartmentalizing”.  Regardless of truth behind gender difference, I think it’d be nice if I could be less obvious about my feelings, but not denying them.  Does that make sense?

OkCupid Mis-Adventures: Self-Esteem

The interesting thing about social media is that you typically add a photo to associate to your profile.  It’s a must-have for OKC.  I firmly believe that you have to be physically attracted to your partner and a picture is a quick way of determining who is or is not a match for you.  That said, there’s always the personality/chemistry/compatibility multiplier effect.  Nothing is more attractive than a person who you just gel with.  But let’s discuss the deeper stuff another time.  This post is about the shallow end.

As I might have mentioned in the first post of this series, I posted 3 photos of me immediately. I consider them pretty wholesome photos.  I’m dressed conservatively with some very genuine smiles because I was having fun.

  1. Doing the human flagpole in a subway cart – main photo
  2. Hugging a statue-like thing
  3. Shoulder-up shot of me and some pretty background

The response was tremendous.  Messages ranged quite a bit.  I’d say roughly 50% of my messages at least mentioned something about my physical appearance. I also just realized and am quite pleased that a large majority of messages did not objectify me (to my understanding of the words).  I guess I don’t elicit adjectives like “hot” or “sexy”, or at least the gentlemen who messaged me chose not to use those words.  In general, I got a lot of “pretty” and “beautiful”.  I also got quite a few people mentioning my smile or my human flagpole skillz.  It was nice to get those types of comments.  That’s dozens more strangers who normally wouldn’t say that to strangers.

I won’t lie, it felt really nice to get those compliments.  When I first started my OKC account, my self-esteem wasn’t in a great place .  However, the moment  you realize that people do think…or at least say that you are attractive, then…it kind of perks up your day.  I think most people have had their ups and downs with self-esteem.  In general, I think I’ve followed a really typical trend.  Insecure as a teen, secure during my first real relationship, insecure during my difficult relationship, and still feeling a bit insecure coming out of that difficult relationship.  So, coming out of that difficult relationship, hearing some positive commentary on your appearance is nice.

Yes, I’m not above the super shallow comments.  In fact, I’m just glad I haven’t turned so cynical where I can’t take a compliment.  I also like to think that I dole out compliments pretty openly as well.  The Internet is a funny place.  Putting a screen between you and another person somehow brings out confidence or good feelings.  This is a great reminder to everyone… If you have something nice to say, just say it.  Making others feel good, in turn makes you feel good.  Just do it.  What’s the worse that will happen?  You’ll make someone feel good?  You’ll make someone feel defensive?  That’s their loss.  Tell them to just say thank you. =]