Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday Thoughts 2

I've been re-reading through Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational (review forthcoming). The chapters that have been most thought provoking were the chapters on self control and emotions. Research on emotions demonstrates the decision-making in the heat-of-the-moment is much different than decision-making in calm states. 
"The results showed that when Roy and the other participants were in a cold, rational, superego-driven state ... they always took the moral high ground ... They thought that they understood themselves, their preferences, and what actions they were capable of. But as it turned out, they completely underestimated their reactions." (p. 127)
"Of course!"you might exclaim. This is common sense to most people who have ever experienced regret. Anger leads to speaking sharp words. Lust leads to thinking in a selfish manner. Envy leads to hatred or making false idols. But, emotions can also lead to honorable action too. When coupled with the spiritual fruit of self-control we can sense that we are becoming impatient and act in an opposite spirit. We can sense the stink of our pride and act in humility. We can sense the needs of those around us and act in kindness.

This reminds me of a favorite observation from Dallas Willard, "Feelings make excellent servants, but terrible masters." Self-control is crucial for emotions leading to improved decision-making. But, in his research Professor Ariely stated that his experiments suggested we have limited prospects for changing behavior in emotional states across time. I think this conclusion overreaches. Instead, Professor Ariely should note that there were no experimental interventions made to help people improve their decision-making. Different interventions might yield different results in the future.  

But, Professor Ariely does offer a piece of advice that is quite useful and that is something your parents or grandparents also shared: Avoid situations where temptations exist (and I would extend that to avoiding lines of thought where temptations exist). 

Next Thursday I will discuss another topic related to self-control: commitment devices that help stay on the preferred course of belief/action.

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