This post is a response to anonymous questions and comments I receive via SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH) or from private messages. I love responding to these, so if there is something on your mind, good or bad, please send me a message. No subject is off limits and here is a link to previous questions or comments I’ve received and responded to, and I plan on responding to every single one I receive (unless I somehow become a super famous advice columnist on accident).
1. Hi! I read your most recent blog post where you mention keeping a checklist. I have difficulty getting almost anything done and tend to leave things for the last minute. I’ve tried dozens of times to start a checklist system such as yours, but it never seems to work. Even when I check off every box on my list, I don’t get much/any satisfaction or pride from the completion. This makes it very difficult to develop good habits. Do you have any recommendations for different systems, or know how to develop happiness from accomplishment?
It is a little ironic that this question came to me when it did because I’m coming off of a pretty bad non-productive relapse. Since Thursday my productivity has fallen pretty sharply and I fell back into bad habits like eating junk, drinking too much, slacking on my exercise, not meditating or reading or writing, etc. Basically, my checklist system failed me and I failed my checklist system.
I don’t know in particular how to develop more happiness from checklists and accomplishments, but I wonder if there is a biological reason for you lacking this motivation (clearly I’m not a doctor, I’m just spitballing here). Accomplishing things releases dopamine into our brains, which feels good and encourages us to keep accomplishing things. It could be possible that you have a dietary deficiency of L-DOPA, which is the precursor to dopamine. L-DOPA is synthesized from two amino acids (phenylalanine and tyrosine) which are found in nearly every protein. I don’t know what your diet or health is like, but it seems plausible that your body isn’t getting enough of those amino acids or they aren’t being synthesized properly for some reason.
Okay, onto my non-medical thoughts… is there anything in your life that does trigger that reward pleasure system? Would it be possible to reward yourself more directly when you check everything off your list with a warm bath, a nice craft beer, a piece of chocolate, or some time playing video games? Maybe if you reward yourself directly it will increase the strength of the neuro paths that connect accomplishing something and dopamine release to the point where you don’t need the reward. I’m pretty sure it was in “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin that a similar technique was used to increase productivity and reduce stress before important meetings or competitions.
As for other systems, I just started reading “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and I’m thinking about directly implementing the approach he sets out. The basic premise is to figure out what one task you should focus on to maximize your productivity. This technique feels like the opposite of what I do with my checklist of 35 daily goals and inputs that I monitor, but given my recent relapse, it might be time to change things up and try a new system. I have found that a few of the things that I try to do regularly have become strong habits… my daily stoic readings, morning runs, and taking my nootropic supplements all come really naturally to me right now, but some of my habits like practicing Spanish, meditating, and writing daily I still struggle with. Though, now that I think about it, the month when I wrote my book I was pretty singularly focused on that. The only thing I demanded that I accomplish each day was sitting down and writing a few chapters. When that was my priority I knocked it out pretty quickly and each day became a little easier.
Oh, additionally, I’ve heard the book “The Power of Habit” is really good. It is sitting on my shelf but I haven’t read it yet. I’ll report back when I finally do.
I feel like this wasn’t really much help. Sorry 🙁
2. Where you at on the topic of incest?
Ahh, incest. One of those uncomfortable topics where people tend to get really emotional about because of the disgust they feel (zoophilia is another similar topic). I guess my thoughts on incest come from three different directions: personal, ethical, and legal. Note: I am assuming all parties are consenting adults. If that isn’t the case then my views change, but that isn’t necessarily because of incest but because someone involved can’t consent.
The first two ways are pretty simple. Personally, it doesn’t appeal to me. I have no sexual attraction to any direct relatives. I will admit that one of my first feelings of sexual curiosity was towards a non-biological cousin of mine when I was young (maybe six or seven?). She was visiting my family and getting dressed for a wedding or something and I snuck outside to try and peek into the bedroom window while she changed. I don’t think this was really an incestuous thing, it was more my first opportunity to see a girl naked that I didn’t live with. I was curious.
Anyway, incest isn’t something that appeals to me, but I think it appeals to more people than they’d like to admit. Porn sites are filled with “incest adjacent” scenes with stepsiblings hooking up or stepparents hooking up with their stepchildren. This seems like a cover for people who are turned on by the incest taboo. I don’t know exactly how popular this style of porn is, but a quick search of the winners of the sex stories categoria at watchersweb.com finds that all but four winners of the “true sex story” since 2016 mentioned a family member in the title (two moms, two aunts, one brother, one step sister, two sisters, two sister-in-laws, one step-daughter, one step brother). So, while people may say they are disgusted by incest there is sort of a revealed preference that says otherwise because these stories are both being written and voted on to the point where people earn money for writing them.
As for my ethical views, I see nothing wrong with it ethically as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult. It doesn’t harm anyone.
Legally, I don’t think it should be illegal. Filling our prisons with people who have consensual sex is a waste of resources and it is not going to deter people from the actions. We have no control over our sexual desires or who we are attracted to and to criminalize thoughts or sexual behavior will only push the behavior underground, making things worse.
Second, I know people will say that maybe it should be legal as long as children aren’t created. This view is problematic. The likelihood of serious birth defects because one generation of siblings have a child is incredibly low, but even if it wasn’t low I think it is problematic to restrict people’s rights based on genetic probability. Should we do this for every couple who wants a child? If certain diseases have a high genetic component should we stop people from breeding if they are carriers? I think one of the largest misuse of the justice system is using it to punish people for potential harm instead of actual harm. You see this in the war on drugs a lot, we put people in prison for using a drug because we think that there is a possibility that they will harm someone, not because that individual actually has. Both liberals and conservatives support this type of legislative power, though the subjects differ… some say we shouldn’t be able to have guns because we might hurt someone and others say we shouldn’t be able to have drugs because we might hurt someone. It is a pre-crime philosophy of laws that I find pretty terrifying and one of the core reasons that our system is so jacked up.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on incest. If you’re interested, check out the Wikipedia page about the Westermarck effect which is a theory about reverse sexual imprinting that prevents sexual attraction to people we live with during key developmental years. It is well documented that people tend to be attracted to others who look similar and the Westermarck effect seems to be an evolved trait to minimize incest.
That’s it for today if you have a question or comment for me feel free to fill out the SurveyMonkey form and I’ll get to it soon.