When I walk down the street and look into people’s faces, they look uncomfortable, unhappy and stressed. I don’t think I am projecting these negative thoughts and emotions onto them because the more tranquil I am feeling the more pronounced their unhappiness appears. I treat everyone I meet in as friendly a way as possible, and following the world traveler Rick Steves’ methods, if that doesn’t work I am even friendlier. The problem is that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have available to cope with the problems that are confronting them at the moment. That takes a lot of effort, and so they get tired of all the effortful trying to cope and just slump into an unfocused malaise.
The problem for many people is that they are trying too hard to live up to some externally imposed standard of behavior that has become internalized. The problem becomes worse if they have many different conflicting demands on their attention and this consumes their adaptive energy. If you have a demanding job it soaks up a lot of your adaptive energy, and if on top of that you have an ongoing difficult social relationship that too soaks up adaptive energy; couple that with a demanding diet plan and all of your energy is gone. Now heap on listening to the news, which is always negative, while driving home from work in crowded situations with other overstressed five-o’clock drivers and even more adaptive energy gets burned.
What happens is that at some point the adaptive energy runs out, and people can’t cope with all the problems so something gives. Commonly it is the need for comfort food, of which chocolate is a choice one because it gives a boost that feels good and eases stress. Once the intention of maintaining a diet is broken, an attitude develops of okay I’ve slipped up, might as well eat a little more, and then a little more. This same response to abandoning personal self-control probably functions on all of the other impositions that a person has placed upon themselves. If a person could eliminate all of the other stressors on self-control they could probably handle any one of them, and an obese person probably has other problems that are controlled but at the loss of the control of diet.
So, what’s to be done? Start by watching your daily activities and your reactions to observe where you are trying to control yourself, such as dieting, driving, conversing, news, shopping, finances, etc., and just accept what happens and let the stress go. Do this by just doing the ordinary right thing without considering it as a self-control issue. Go with the flow of traffic, just eat what is provided and leave without seconds, just tune into music while driving and ignore the news, just pay what debts you can and then do some other activity that doesn’t cost money, just do something other than shopping or go to a thrift store and ignore things.
By reducing your total demands on yourself to control your life, then you will have enough adaptive energy left over to successfully control one aspect. For example, if you are an obese news junkie, then cutting out the news may leave you with enough energy to ease up on the Snickers.
Relaxing your self-control in one area will leave you with the energy to control other areas.
Living your life is easier if you choose to make it easier.