Thursday, December 24, 2009

Nagging things you still don't understand about yourself

I found this very interesting when it first came out a few months ago. It's a compilation of psychologists- experts in explaining other peoples' behavior- revealing the one thing about their own behavior that they understand the least. For example, David Buss perceives his own biases:
One nagging thing that I still don’t understand about myself is why I often
succumb to well-documented psychological biases, even though I’m acutely aware
of these biases. One example is my failure at affective forecasting, such as
believing that I will be happy for a long time after some accomplishment (e.g.
publishing a new book), when in fact the happiness dissipates more quickly than
anticipated. Another is succumbing to the male sexual overperception bias,
misperceiving a woman’s friendliness as sexual interest. A third is undue
optimism about how quickly I can complete work projects, despite many years of
experience in underestimating the time actually required. One would think that
explicit knowledge of these well-documented psychological biases and years of
experience with them would allow a person to cognitively override the biases.
But they don’t.

Tyler Cowen comments intriguingly on this exercise,

I wonder if those our their real answers; I wouldn't tell you mine.

I've just realized what mine is. It's that every time I've had a personal breakthrough in life- overcoming a fear, successfully adopting a good habit, turning a bad situation around, etc.- I'm completely unable to explain how or why it happened at that particular time. These kinds of breakthroughs never seem to be a result of my own efforts or intentions- they just sort of happen.

For example, one thing that has plagued me for years is that I don't read enough. Specifically, I never find the time or energy to read things that don't fall into one of two categories: either part of a literature review for something I'm working on, or "bedtime reading;" i.e. novels or light non-fiction that I read for fun. It drives me nuts because there's so many things I'm interested in and would like to know more about, but I'm cursed with being a strong INTP personality type with a touch of ADD. I've tried a million strategies to get myself to read more- blocking off time during the day, going to bed early and reading in bed, etc., but nothing has ever worked.

Just recently, though, I seem to have gotten past this. The catalyst was that I had some money from the university that I needed to spend by a particular deadline, and nothing obvious to spend it on. So, I bought a big stack of about 10 books with the idea that hopefully I'd get around to reading them some time or another. As a strategy to get myself to read more, this would seem to me like a bad one- I would imagine having a big stack of unread books would just seem overwhelming and I'd never getting around to reading any of them. To my surpise, though, I have been diligently plowing through them, reading for at least an hour or two every day for the past few months. What's interesting is that this was not in any way part of a strategy I consciously adopted- it did not stem from being more disciplined about scheduling myself, or coming up with a trick to make it easier, or whatever. It just sort of happened, I started reading.

And it always seems to happen like that- instead of climbing the mountain, the mountain just isn't there anymore. Where did it go?

What's the one nagging thing you don't understand about yourself?

1 comment:

  1. I'd have to say it's probably my deep-seated reluctance to do things. Left to my own devices, I'd probably never leave my house except to go to work and buy groceries. I know that there are lots of things I enjoy doing, but my default mode when these things are suggested to me is "I don't want to do that" and I'll be in kind of a pissy mood until we (I) start to do whatever it is. And then I'll have a good time.

    It would be useful to stop doing that, and I can't quite figure out why I'm that way to start with.