Thursday, October 4, 2007

No Kitty Treats Today!

Photo ("Rosie Feeding") by Flickr user incurable_hippie, here. (Used here under Creative Commons license).

People who know me often think I have a lot of willpower.

I made it through a PhD. I write stuff. I go to the gym almost every day. I don't watch TV. I read lots of books.

The truth is, though, I feel like I have almost no willpower at all. What I have instead, I think, is something else: I am explicit, and relatively clever, about treating myself as an impulsive, irrational creature. Which, on the inside, is what I am.

If you were about to bring home an impulsive, irrational pet you would immediately do two things. First, you would fix the environment: if your pet loves to romp, you'd take away the glass tables. If your pet loves to eat, you'd put the food high up in the cupboards. If your pet is a sex fiend, you'd hide the pornography.

Second, you would immediately commence a program of training. Rewards for constructive, helpful, nice behavior; punishments for peeing on the carpet.

This is basically how I run my own life.

Put a TV in front of me and I will flip channels until my eyeballs fall out. So: no TV at home. I've found a library to work in where I don't have wireless internet access. I'm a god-damn nag with myself about the gym, telling myself over and over how much better I'll feel later if I go now. I go just to shut myself up.

It's possible this only works as well as it does because my impulses are mostly benign and I am easily bored. The easily bored are more easy to manipulate, because, well, all you have to do is bore them. All the decisions I've made with respect to getting things together I've made mostly out of boredom.

When I wrote in an earlier post about the inner life, I mentioned how The New York Times made the having an unconcious self sound like having a dog. Even though I feel my inner self is impulsive and irrational, it doesn't seem dog-like. All that doggy hyper-activity isn't really me. And dogs, you know, they are, like, the definition of not easily bored. They will do the same thing over, and over, and over, and over.

When I see cats, though, lapping up the sunshine, grooming their fur, willing to play for a few minutes with a piece of string -- "sure, if it makes you happy, whatever." That's a little more like it. Not exactly like it, since cats aren't really easily bored either. But closer.

As we all know, if you want your cat to stay healthy, you have to keep the kitty treats in the cupboard. You just can't trust the little guys as far as you can throw them. It's harder when you're a person: there are, like, ten Tim Horton's on my university campus. I have to walk by.

So I resort, again, to nagging. No doughnuts for you! No cookies! No kitty treats today!


Captain Colossal said...

I feel like the training model depends on knowing what, in the end, you want your pet to do. We've all seen those people who take a secret deep pleasure in watching their dogs wreak havoc while they pretend distress. And I feel like a clarity about what you want to have happen to the inner self could be at least one aspect of willpower.

Noko Marie said...

Hm, right. It's definitely true that you can undermine yourself in planning as much as you can in impulsive behavior. And the dog example makes that way vivid. Dude.

Still, it seems to me more like clarity or coherence than willpower. Like, if I'm set up to fail, I always will. You put the pizza box in front of me, and I will eat. So in some sense it's not willpower.

incurable hippie said...

Thanks for your msg. No problem with using the photo under CC as you have :) Thanks for letting me know!