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Revisiting Part Of The Psychopath Manifesto
Decoupling action from behavior...
Recently I had a conversation with a friend that absolutely fascinated me and it relates to this section of the Psychopath Manifesto, written by Kevin Dutton:
“The second thing I would say is decouple emotion from behavior. Most people think that in order to be able to do something you need to feel like doing it. Well, if that were the case, you wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning, alright. None of us would even be here right now."
So when you’ve got something difficult to do, like you’ve got to pick up the phone and give someone bad news, don’t keep putting it off, don’t procrastinate, because actually all you’re doing is storing up the pain, aggregating the pain for later on. Next time you’ve got something to do. Stop. Think to yourself since when did I need to feel like this in order to do it? And then, just crack on and do it.”
I suppose I always figured that whatever emotion you may have toward something that you don’t want to do was something simple like a dislike for having to do whatever the thing is. I assume that if you are avoiding it, you must not like it. Perhaps, I thought, it could be something like dread. That made sense to me as well. If there is something that you really do not want to do, you could dread it. I could also understand fear. Plenty of times I have seen people put off going to the doctor because they feared what they might hear, or put off a medical procedure because they were afraid of anesthesia, or the pain, or how long recovery would take.
What I did not anticipate could be one of the emotions, but was told by this friend that indeed it can be, was revulsion. That took me aback. Revulsion seemed to me to be something that was felt as a primary survival instinct. I would think it would be how your brain responds to something like spoiled maggot-riddled food. You feel revulsion because if you didn’t, you might end up killing yourself by eating it. Apparently, I am incorrect about that.
There are a lot of things that I don’t want to do. I don’t ever want to clean for instance. However, we have a double-coated dog who will blow her coat every few months. During this time, if I didn’t see her when I got up in the morning, I would be entirely convinced that she blew up during the night, morphing into a snowstorm that now graces every single surface of the home. Cleaning is a necessity, and with a dog like this vacuuming seventeen times in a day is not unheard of. Granted, it only lasts a few days at its peak, but it’s a lot. No part of it is something that I look forward to, or frankly want anything to do with.
That does not mean that the vacuuming doesn’t need to be done, and that it isn’t my responsibility to do it. Trust me, if I thought for a second that I could train the dog to vacuum for me, I would, but until then it still has to be done. As I mentioned, I don’t want to do it, but it has to be done. The extent of my displeasure about this situation will manifest in my wanting to be done with it as soon as possible. On the really bad days, this might take forty-five minutes, but it gets done because it has to be done, and I don’t get to do anything that I want to do until it’s done.
That’s the extent of my aversion to things. “I don’t wanna. That’s it. There is nothing more than a childish internal stomping of feet as I drag myself to the waiting task to complete it and be done with it. Though, during the really bad shed days it is more like coming to a decent stopping point in the vacuuming that will be picked up again later and continued. There is no “done” during those days.
Learning that there could be more than a discontent about the inconvenience of having to divert attentions away from what is wanted to what is required wasn’t a revelation to me, but the extent that emotional response could be was. If you have extreme emotional responses to necessary things, I would say, take Dutton’s advice post haste. You shouldn’t continue to reinforce negative emotional pathways connected to things that you have to do. Having revulsion toward something does nothing to change its necessity, it only makes you suffer for having to do them.
There was a story that I read about a couple that lived on a farm with the charming name of “Rocky Ridge”. It was just as flat and full of pure stoney soil as it sounds like it was. They had to haul out every single one of the rocks that plagued the ground and make it work for farming, and they did. Something that the couple said was that all chores should be undertaken with a cheerful attitude. The chores had to be done regardless of how you felt about it, and the attitude that you had toward the work you were obligated to, made a huge difference.
Even with my rather foot-dragging compliance with my list of things that I have to do before I get to the stuff that I want to do, it does make a difference in how I address these things. I can be annoyed, or I can think about what I get out of this exchange. I vacuum seventeen times, and I don’t look like I have abominable snowman feet when I walk across the carpet in socks. That is a win in my book, and certainly worth my time. I have less to negotiate through, it seems.
If you are the type that finds yourself putting off chores that you know you need to do, try to uncouple emotion from action. It shouldn’t be something that plays into your quality of life. You have things that you must do regardless of how you feel about those things. Accepting that and getting them done will give you more time to do what you want, and a sense of accomplishment. The more cheerful your attitude is toward what must be done, the easier those things will be to tackle on a daily basis. If you can handle those things, and learn that emotions shouldn’t dictate your thinking regarding them, you may be better prepared to handle the more difficult things that life simply loves throwing at us.
It’s all a matter of perspective.