Learning to Steer

We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves
after a journey than no one can take for us, nor spare us

- Marcel Proust

In George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, the Devil asks Don Juan why he bothers learning about himself and what motivates him. Don Juan replies: "Why, to be able to choose the line of greatest advantage instead of yielding in the direction of the least resistance. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift, to be in heaven is to steer." If you do not steer, your actions will be dependent upon the cause-and-effect principles that define the path of least resistance. 

The Problem of Immediate Gratification [the PIG] refers to the principle that a small but immediate payoff has a greater influence on experiential phenomena such as appraisals and motivation, than a much larger but delayed payoff. The bias favoring the immediacy of a payoff at the expense of its importance or magnitude is the critical mechanism of many addictive traps.

Some people trade what is dear to them [health, wealth, relationships] for the trivial but immediate payoff of using an addictive incentive, not because they are defective or have a disease, but because the PIG has a greater effect on how they appraise their options than they realize. Appreciating the PIG and how it influences your subjective experience is part of the solution to your addictive trap.

Intention & Action

Lower animals and young children are not able to consciously steer; they are bound by the laws of cause-and-effect to react as they do.  Mousetraps are effective, because the mouse's behavior is determined by its desire for immediate gratification rather than by its understanding of the long-term consequences of its action.  Humans who appreciate how mousetraps work are less likely to be taken in by them. 

Once you appreciate how a trap works, you are less vulnerable to it. Mousetraps are easy to understand; the cause-and-effect sequences produces by the mechanical mechanisms are obvious to anyone with mechanical aptitude. The addictive traps that destroy human lives are abstract, and the important cause-and-effect principles are psychological rather than mechanical.

The Perverse motivational consequences of weight-loss dieting. The empirical fact is, the intention to lose weight by dieting is much more likely to result in weight gain than weight loss! Veteran dieters repeatedly fall into this trap, and each time they go through it they get hurt again. They do not learn.

Understanding the subjective cause-and-effect principles that determine the motivational states you experience in real time — for example, the perverse consequences of forbidding, or restricting access, to an addictive incentive — can free you from the unfortunate, but reliable, sequence of events produced by rules and plans that elicit Counter Regulatory Motivation.

The Paradox of Control

We are mortal creatures that have to cope with raw experience. Discovering an incentive that provides immediate access to pleasure or relief gives us some control over subjective phenomena. The irony is that the more practice we get at using an incentive to manage our subjective experience, the more effortless and automatic incentive use becomes. When incentive use becomes the default reaction, the path of least resistance, it requires willpower to not use the incentive.

The consequences of getting caught in an addictive trap are severe, and the hurt often extends to loved ones. People who develop an Incentive Use Disorder are highly motivated to be free of it. Sadly, despite heroic efforts and frequent short-term success, most people who lose control remain bound by the path of least resistance. But escape from an addictive trap is not impossible — in many cases it is not even difficult. An understanding of the principles that determine your subjective experience in real time will enable you to develop the procedural skills to act in accord with your interests and principles despite external events that would motivate you to defect. Change at this level is irreversible.

Paths from Dependence to Freedom

Addictive Disorders are notoriously difficult to treat because of the high relapse rate. While in treatment, patients typically comply with the treatment regime and are able to resist the pull of the incentive. The limitations of this treatment strategy show up after treatment is complete and the external supports provided by the program are no longer available. Then, most patients relapse, and there are no residual benefits of treatment.

The alternative to passively receiving treatment is developing the power of your will. But willpower is a controversial topic.  Most everyone caught in an addictive trap has tried what they call willpower  —  "white knuckling it" — without success. As a result of their repeated failures, they conclude that they have no willpower. The idea that they are powerless rings true to them, because despite their best efforts and sincerest vows, they relapse again and again.

In fact, some people are powerless over their impulses and are best served by turning responsibility for outcome over to an external source of control. For others, the disease model does more harm than good. Your first, and possibly most important, task is to choose a strategy to get yourself out of your addictive trap and prevent relapse.

The Disease Model Vs Bio-Psycho-Social Model

In North America, the vast majority of treatment programs for addictive disorders are based on the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.  According to this view, incentive use disorders are diseases. Treatment emphasizes admitting powerlessness over the illness, complying with a plan developed by treatment providers, and adopting the norms and values of a new social group—the support or self-help group—in order to achieve total abstinence, which is the only acceptable outcome goal. The victim of the disease is responsible for neither the cause nor the resolution of the problem.

The Bio-Psycho-Social Model: True, you are not responsible for falling into your addictive trap—you had no control of your genes, conditioning history, and the social world in which you live.  However, now that you are an adult you are responsible for acting in accord with your interests and principles despite the cause-and-effect principles that define the path of least resistance. Rather than encourage you to accept powerlessness over a disease, this approach encourages the opposite strategy: Namely, to develop the skills and faculties that enhance the power of your will.

Which is the best approach for you?

As is the case whenever you have to choose, there are two types of errors you can make. Consider the hypothesis "You have the disease of addiction over which you are powerless":

  1. Type I Error: Rejecting the hypothesis when it is, in fact, true. Some individuals who have developed a pathological relationship with an incentive have lost, or never possessed, the capability to over-ride their impulses. They will always require an external source of control to protect them from relapse. For these individuals to believe they can exercise their will during crises of stress and temptation is a grave error.

  2. Type II Error: Accepting the hypothesis when it is, in fact, false. If you have the personality traits and cognitive abilities required to exercise your will, fatalistic acceptance of the belief that you have a disease over which you are powerless can do more harm than good.

    • It is better to learn to fish on your own than to be fed by an external agent, because if you are fed, you will not be prepared to respond adaptively the next time you are hungry. However, when you learn how to achieve the desired outcome on your own, the change is irreversible. Likewise, if you depend on an external agent to prevent relapse, the next time you are in a high-risk situation you may not be prepared to handle it.

    • The loss of control that is often observed as people with Incentive Use Disorders go through rounds of treatment can be viewed as an iatrogenic condition in that it is a direct result of adhering to a treatment strategy of turning responsibility for change over to an external source of control.
Take the Treatment Matching Self-Test to get some data on which approach is best matched with your personal attributes. This is certainly not an infallible method.


Researching the Subjective Realm

Western education is primarily focused on the cause-and-effect principles that operate in the objective world. However, understanding addictive traps requires an appreciation of the cause-and-effect princiles that operate in the subjective world. When you can see how a mechanical trap  — e.g., a mousetrap — works, you are not vulenable to it. This course will guide you through a range of thought experiments, trance-formational protocols, and other invitations to explore and manipulate experiential phenomena. By following it you will become familiar. and learn to manipulate the cause-and-effect principles that operate in your subjective world. Developing the skills and faculties to work with these principles is the irreversible change required to master an addictive trap. contribute to your addictive trap and developing the skill to manipulate them will free yourself from it.

To do the course-work that will enable you to manipulate subjective phenomena such as motivation and emotion you have to appreciate the difference between objective and subjective reality. Addictive traps are maintained by illussions. The foundation of them all is the idea that "Seeing is believing." Understanding why it is an error is the key to freeing yourself from the self-sabotaging patterns of addiction.


Optical Illusions Illustrate the limitations of Perception > >
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