Thursday, September 1, 2011

using a weakness to overcome it

Over the past 24 hours I realized a much better way to overcome a bad habit or other sort of weakness.

This can work for things like procrastination, messiness, habitual lateness, disorganization, and various temptations like facebooking all the time.

Perhaps you've heard stories of some OCD-type whose kitchen is meticulously organized. All the tupperware is sorted by size and shape immediately upon coming out of the dishwasher. Forks stacked neatly in their compartment. Condiments lined up precisely to the edge of the shelf. When the interviewer asks why he's done this, the guy says it's because he's lazy.

To the rest of us, it barely makes sense. Lazy people don't regularly wash their dishes, much less stack them punctually in any sort of meaningful order. But the guy meant he didn't want to have to expend time when looking for something.

That is, he determined he was bad at wanting to put in the effort to find just the right item, and so he was compensating for it.


I've just moved into a new room in Cambridge, MA. It's beautiful and spacious, but I know I have a problem with disorganization, so I've been extra diligent about giving each item a home and putting it back there as soon as I'm done with it. I struggle with staying tidy.

As a result, the room is spotless.

Being a minimalist (on account of formerly being a packrat) helps too.

I had the audacity to peek into a housemate's room and it may as well have been the scene of a localized tornado. Clothes, wrappers, dishes everywhere. Papers haphazard, bed unmade, floor barely visible. This is what I feel like my room would be like if I don't work at it. If anyone asked, I'd say that I'm typically a slob and have problems with organization, and I know they'd laugh and think me sarcastic.

But no. I'm simply embracing the fact that I've previously been a slob and I know that I need to work hard to fight it.

People who feel that they are good at resisting temptation are shown to be likely to cave sooner than those who are aware that they need to remain on guard. 
That's the principle I'm getting at here. If you (1) admit to yourself and (2) decide to actively guard against some particular temptation or bad habit, you will probably be much better off in the long run. Of course, some things like dieting should be approached with caution lest you develop anorexia, and it's important not to let such self-guarding degenerate into an undermined self-esteem, but generally the principle is helpful.

So give it a try. If you find you're often late to things, admit to yourself that you need to work on your punctuality, and find ways to compensate for it. That's all.
What I am not saying is that you need to cure yourself of the defect. Oh no. Maybe later you can do that. But for now, at this juncture, just note that you need to find strategies to deal with it.
After a while, you may still feel that you always run the risk of being sorta late to stuff, but looking at your track record you'll notice it's been a long time since you actually were.

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