Changing yourself is just a matter of “will power,” right?
Actually, “will power” is a fantasy. People attribute things that are easy - to them - to their will power. They don’t talk about things that are hard - for them - as a failure of will power. We all know of:
- Alcoholics who berate fat people for their lack of will power yet they still drink
- Fat people who ridicule cocaine users for their lack of will power yet they still eat too much
- Compulsive shoppers who ridicule alcoholics for lack of will power yet they still spend, spend, spend.
- Et cetera. The circle never ends.
Changing a habit of behavior can be very difficult. For example, changing what you eat or how much you eat can be very difficult for some people, easy for others.
- For one person, eating is a nuisance and is relatively unimportant. His mother was a terrible cook and his parents often lectured them at the table. On more than one day, he has simply forgotten to eat. He is one of those people who has relatively few taste buds on his tongue (about 25% of the population) and would be classified as a “non-taster.” If he notices that his slacks are not fitting quite right, he simply eats less for a few days.
- Another person might have learned to enjoy shopping for food, preparing food, trying new recipes, socializing over the table for an hour or two, celebrating with food, eating in response to depression, reading gourmet magazines, planning parties, hosting big family feasts, eating while watching sports on TV, and filling hours every day with food related activity. If this person decides to go on a diet, he will subscribe to diet magazines and purchase lots of expensive gourmet diet foods. He is eager to lose weight so he can go back to eating a lot after he is slender again.
Does the first person have “will power” while the second lacks it? I think it more likely that the first person (1) has different body chemistry and physiology than the second one and that (2) the first person grew up in a family that used food in a very different way than the second person’s family. In early life, we often acquire bad habits of thought and behavior that are consistent with our body chemistries and that we observe in others. We do this when we are children, who cannot evaluate the long-term consequences selecting this behavior or that one from the cultural buffet. Later, as adults, we become aware of other more suitable choices available to us on the cultural buffet. This happens only after we have committed millions of brain cells to support bad behavior, and we struggle to change with mixed success at best.
The Machiavellian is always a work in progress. He is always learning new facts and new skills. He fills his day with productive and satisfying behavior. He works toward his current goals. He consciously replaces dysfunctional behaviors (those that do not advance him toward his goals) with functional ones (that will). When you finally grow up, it is appropriate to inventory your habits and attitudes. You will realize that some of them need to be replaced with better ones. Note the wording of that last sentence. You don’t give up bad habits. Bad habits perform a function in your life, so you will need to find a substitute or alternate habit. If you have bad eating habits, you replace them with good eating habits. Some good habits are easy to acquire, like flossing your teeth every day. Others are more difficult. If you weigh 260 pounds and your doctor says you should weigh 170, then you need to replace your habit of eating like a 260 pound person with the habit of eating like a 170 pound person. Dieting often doesn’t work because a diet is temporary. You have to give up your bad habits forever, not just for a time.
Inventory your bad habits and replace them, one by one, with good ones. Will this become easy because you are reading a book on Machiavellianism? No. It will become easier with practice, but remember that bad habits are our favorite habits. They don’t die easily. Consider the alternative. You could simply keep your bad habits. The choices are yours.
Get drunk often versus stop getting drunk
Keep missing deadlines versus don’t miss deadlines
Remaining fat, developing health problems, and dying young versus losing the fat, being healthier, and living longer
Continue to feel sorry for yourself versus stop feeling sorry for yourself
Waste time doing things that don’t matter versus don’t waste the precious seconds of your life
Don’t achieve your goals and die filled with regret versus achieving your goals and dying (involuntarily) without regret
Now, get to work. You have no time to waste. Select a good habit and incorporate it into your life. Every new good habit will replace a bad habit. After that, select another good habit ...