Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Jet Stream Procrastination Before the Apocalypse

Some claim that willpower and training emotion is the key to managing procrastination and achieving goals. Maybe we should ask what instincts we're trying to manage when dealing with time and Cyberspace. Image Source: Sugarroy Coaching.

A lot of New Year's resolutions probably concerned procrastination and the Internet. Einstein once said he was not much more intelligent than other people, but he felt he was able to focus on any given particular problem without getting distracted longer than anyone else. He did not lose the thread of concentration and followed questions to their ends.

I have discussed cyber-procrastination before and the transformation of reality and the economy (here, here - and here). Over a few months, I ran across two apparently contradictory blog posts on how to control time and life in the Cyber Age. One was a site on women's wellbeing and self-improvement run by Tara Mohr. The other was The Art of Manliness, devoted to the self-improvement of Millennial men. Although they come at the problem of willpower from two very different perspectives, they actually both point to the same thing: take the long view and encourage the factors needed to maintain focus over the long term. In other words, do not lose track of the big picture. Do not lose the plot. 

But the plot, they both conclude, depends on underlying emotions, the great subjective unconscious. I have a question for both of these bloggers. What do you do when consciousness, the very unquantifiable, nebulous stuff from which our emotions hail, has been radically redefined by Virtual Reality in less than a decade?

Is the Internet really only a distraction, something negative - a sick, proto-obsession, an addiction indulged in by millions - or are we collectively building a new world? Regardless, confronted by the Internet, could we do anything else at this time other than be totally immersed in it? Is Cyberspace not a collective project where the world labours on a new global collective unconscious and renders it visible, in a way that has never been seen before in all of human history? How does one deconstruct one's emotions about, and manage responses to, that?

Tara Mohr's post was entitled, You Don't Need more Self-Discipline. She advises deconstructing willpower into the underlying motivations that contribute to one's willpower apparently succeeding or failing. Her idea is that knowing underlying reasons for doing anything and underlying rewards or problems unpack the constant struggle to manage our lives, especially when life is so distracting:
Our culture has told us that self-discipline is what will help us stay the course when the going gets tough. That there is some mysterious combination of commitment, willpower and drive that helps the worthy ones stick to their goals. The rest of us are left beating ourselves up for lacking self-discipline.

Sound familiar?

I think we are getting something very important wrong here.

Consider this: The original meaning of “discipline” was

to instruct, to train

It referred to situations when there was an instructor and disciples (the word “discipline” comes from the word “disciple”). There was a clear and absolute authority who had control over subordinates.

Somewhere along the way, this idea began to be applied within the self.

The idea was that one part of us could be the “instructor” authority figure over the rest, and discipline the rest of the self into orderly action.

No one checked with the reality of the human psyche to see if this was really the case.


When you are in a situation that requires so-called self-discipline, do you feel like one part of you has the clear authority of an instructor, and all those other parts – the fearful parts, the tired parts, the resistant parts, listen and obey like disciples?

Um, nope.

So maybe it’s time to let go of the search for self-discipline.

There’s a piece of the idea that is worth holding on to. There is something important, something relevant, around the concept of discipline. Something like discipline is important: we need some ability to keep moving toward those aims to play bigger, to share our brilliance more fully in the world — even when a part of us is freaked out, trembling in fear. Even when this new way of doing things feels difficult, unfamiliar, way way way out of the comfort zone. When it just feels too hard.

If it’s not “self-discipline,” what is it?

In the past, when you’ve been able to stay motivated despite difficulties, when you’ve stuck with working toward something even when it was hard, what was it that helped you?

What helped? Supportive people? A routine that really worked for you? A clear vision of what you wanted to achieve?

You might even think, “well, it was self-discipline,” but what do you really mean by that? What are the ingredients of that? What actually allowed you to stay the course in the difficult moments?
The Art of Manliness post was entitled: Willpower Part I: The Force of Greatness.
What are your regrets from last year?

Failing to stick with an exercise program?

Losing a girlfriend because you strayed?

Failing a class?

Hurting a loved one with your temper?

What resolutions have you made for the new year?

Losing 20 pounds?

Getting up earlier in the morning?

Reining in your spending?

Wasting less time mindlessly surfing the internet?

Regrets and resolutions. What do they have in common? Willpower. A lack of and a need for. ...

By now you’ve probably heard about the oft-cited marshmallow experiment in which four-year-old children were left alone in a room with a marshmallow in front of them. The children were told they could eat the marshmallow right away, or wait 15 minutes to receive an additional marshmallow. The children with the highest self-control, those who were able to wait in order to double their white gelatinous booty—grew up to become fitter adults who got better test scores and grades and enjoyed healthier relationships.

In another study which examined 36 different personality traits of a group of children, only one, willpower, later correlated to their college GPA. In fact the correlation between willpower and college GPA was stronger than that between future grades and IQ or SAT scores.

Other studies have shown that people with higher levels of self-control are more emotionally stable and struggle less with anger, anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse. They also make more popular bosses, have more friends, and are more likely to be in a stable marriage and less likely to get divorced. And all of these benefits hold true even when the results are controlled for things like class, race, and intelligence. The same outcomes were also found when siblings who were raised in the same household were studied. The siblings with more self-control fared better in life than their willpower-lacking brothers and sisters.

The strength of your life is measured by the strength of your will.”—Henry Van Dyke

It is easy to see why such a high correlation between your level of willpower and how far you reach in life exists. All success, happiness, and satisfaction are achieved by minimizing your screw ups and maximizing your positive decisions and habits. And the energy that drives your ability to produce both outcomes is willpower. The man with more willpower takes five steps forward and one step back, while the man with less willpower takes two steps forward and then one step back. Thus, it is not an overstatement to describe willpower as the absolute linchpin quality in determining the outcome of your life—whether you’ll be superhuman or ordinary, king or slave, man or mouse.
The Art of Manliness mentions something fascinating called ego depletion, which is one of the factors in the decline of willpower. Wiki: "Ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower is an exhaustible resource that can be used up. When that energy is low, mental activity that requires self-control is impaired. In other words, using one's self-control impairs the ability to control oneself later on. In this sense, the idea of limited willpower is accepted as correct."

That concept may indirectly hint at why the Internet is a black hole as far as time is concerned. Despite the egotism of self-promoting social networkers, does Cyber Society's Virtual Reality actually depend upon the collapse of the personal ego? And if that's the case, does that mean that our perception of time depends on our perception of ourselves? Do we see time as a squandered resource that we can constantly waste, because we see ourselves out of control when confronting the tech boom, and in need of control? More questions than answers perhaps, but today's time quota is filled. Reality changes, the self bends, and time stretches.

1 comment:

  1. The internet is as much a distraction now as television was before it. I would say that like TV it will be assimilated, but the 'reality tv' post just prior to this shows how much tv assimilated *us*. Ever seen an ad for Hulu? Yikes.

    As for Willpower, yeah, can't argue with that one. -J