DRMacIver's Notebook

Easy changes and Uncomfortable Reflections

Easy changes and Uncomfortable Reflections

As I've talked about in my last two posts (Making success trivial, Cleaning up the fnords in your environment), my bedroom is a mess. I'd like it not to be a mess, and I've recently made two changes that are enabling that:

My room is not currently clean, but it's a little cleaner than it was a week ago, and I think in a month it'll probably be pretty clean and I kinda expect to be able to keep it that way (I'll need to make some more structural changes than this in order to enable that, but these changes will get me to the point where the structural changes that I should make become more obvious).

You may notice something important about these two changes: They're really really easy, and I could have done them at any time.

What this means, is that a long-running problem of mine, something that I've been feeling bad about for well over a decade (and had for longer), is something that I could have trivially fixed any time I wanted to.

So, should I feel guilty about not having done so? More, should I feel ashamed about not having done so?

(Distinction in case it's helpful: Guilt is "I did a bad thing", shame is "I am bad")

I claim that the answer is no, and the answer is no for a variety of reasons.

The main one is that having negative emotional responses to success is maladaptive. It causes you to not want to succeed, and will tend to destroy the motivation to try things, and will cause you to feel bad while building the habit, which will tend to sabotage the habit.

It might be right, in some circumstances, to feel a certain amount of guilt or shame over this, as long as they are proportionate (i.e. don't spiral out of control) and are more than counterbalanced by the positive feelings of success, but sucess does require confronting the honest truth that you are capable of succeeding, and that can be very unpleasant.

If you experience success as a negative, you will tend to discourage yourself from succeeding. This is relatively obvious when it's pointed out, but is a very easy trap to fall into. If you have this problem I'd recommend my previous Crash Course in Having Feelings.

On top of that, I think it is factually incorrect to feel guilt or shame about behaviour change, because it is the nature of change to be easy once it arrives: If you're having to force yourself through a gruelling process to change, you're probably just going to fail.

Instead what happens is that you gradually build up skills and relationships, or your circumstances change, or one of a dozen other possibilities occur and suddenly change is easy. The thing that makes change easy now wouldn't necessarily have worked if you'd tried it five years ago, or ten, and even if it had worked you wouldn't have necessarily known how to find it among the thousands of other equally easy things that seemed equally plausible but wouldn't have worked for you.