Tuesday, 17 May 2011


In the NY Times a couple of days ago, there was an article written by an economist explaining why people sometime make bad decisions.  He obviously understands that evolutionary pressures have shaped our minds - shaped them to survive long enough to pass their genes on to the next generation, not shaped them to be happy.  He posits that happiness is usually only fleeting, and its allure is held in front of the mind like a carrot; he suggests that our minds are wired to be anxious and unhappy as the prime motivating factor in people's lives.

There is a lot wrong with his article, but the things it got right got me thinking.  I agree that happiness for most people lasts a much shorter time than being anxious or unhappy, and I know that most people instinctively move towards carrots and away from sticks.  Most people.  What about those who aren't neuro-typical?  People with flat affect, a smaller than average amygdala, a low fear response, have been shown conclusively to not react (not nearly as much anyway) to metaphorical sticks.  It is no use using punishment as a means of changing the behaviour of someone with an antisocial personality disorder - there has to be a carrot dangling somewhere.  Those with BPD and other disorders associated with anxiety do experience the stick, but it is beating them in every direction depending on which way the wind is blowing.

So is the reason that those with flat affect, and those who are overanxious, have difficulty with long term objectives simply that the motivation is too low or the direction the motivation is never in the same direction for more than 5 minutes?


G said...

interesting post

Erika said...

I completely agree. Most people (myself included) are too quick to generalise people, and more specifically, what makes us tick. Stuff like this needs further analysis than simply what he stated in that article. But I don't really know much about psychology/sociology so I can't really get into it so indepth. =/

Personally, I think I work better with a carrot dangling in front of my face. Cus carrots are tasty. And you can always condition yourself to become used to beating beaten with sticks (hey, it works for kung fu artists!). In fact, it would just give you more to complain about in life. And doesn't everybody love something to complain about, even secretly?

Also, in reply to your comment that you left on my blog. Great timing! I just finished publishing a non-challenge related post, then checked my comments and there you were! lol

Haven said...

Hm. I’m actually good with long term objectives. I’m also very ALL or NOTHING. If I stray at all I risk falling off the path permanently. If I maintain perfection in my focus nothing deters me once I’ve established a pattern. However… the anxiety turns on me, or to my advantage. If the thought of now straying from a self-imposed goal occurs my anxiety explodes, forcing me to redouble my efforts to surpass where I had been on my path. The anxiety created from fear of failure is its own motivation.

I do have that problem with that “direction the motivation is never in the same direction for more than 5 minutes” though. If there’s something I want, but don’t do right away, and really throw myself into it with everything I have, creating that anxiety from failure, I quickly see something else and move on to that. If I can get myself going at all. I’m easily distractible for all the interests I have and would like to pursue.

I grow my own carrots. I dig them up. I throw them into a tree. Struggle to climb it in order to get it down only to realize my lunch has had long enough time to rot.

Where do your carrots come from?

Ana said...

this is m third attempt at commenting this. you'r multidirected and often i don't know what to answer. but anyway...i'll just say something.

i don't have long term objectives, at least what i consider them to be. i know i want to travel and in some way make a difference in something..but nothing very specific... I do experience lack of motivation, cause things seem meaningless. in part I believe it's because i'm not 'established' in the world yet...just starting to be on my own. but also, "everything leads to a defeat"...so...
I just have to find something meaningful to disguise that and bring me motivation.

ResCogitans said...

i don't really have any carrots; if i wonder where i see myself in 10 years' time i imagine some situation but quickly realise it would be nice for a while but i would be bored after a short while. i need constant flux in my life to feel alive - i like the unknown to keep things interesting and perhaps use that as an excuse to not have long-term objectives.

haven - "I grow my own carrots..."
lol i love the metaphor :)

ana - yeah my thoughts often go off on tangents and the majority of my posts are written in one constant flow with no edits in 15mins or under.
unfortunately i think the people who are intelligent, introspective, and thoughtful about the world, tend to have difficulty finding meaning in life and therefore motivation. i think the 2 simple go together (correlated) rather than one causing the other. you have a lot of time to find something you enjoy - and perhaps it is the journey itself that you will find fulfilling rather than anything found on the way.

Anonymous said...

Flat affect and anxiousness can go hand in hand.

My issues with long term motivation is that I have to both prevent myself from rationalizing myself out of it, and also I need to feel like I'm being valued in what I'm doing. If I feel like my efforts are being ignored or undervalued, it greatly angers me and makes me resentful. Being taken for granted will drive me up the wall.

I just don't do well with people, like people, or want to deal with them past anything casual and entertaining.

Bella said...

I just don't do well with people, like people, or want to deal with them past anything casual and entertaining.

i do well with people but this feeling is ever present. It's so selfish!!!

It's nice when I do get engrossed in a person even if it's short term. I feel so much more alive. But this is dangerous because I have to fight what Haven calls engulfment. It's a nasty temptation. I need to balance when I have a relationship. I have problems keeping my identity.