I sit here and wonder about control. How do I control the words that flow from my mind to the tips of my fingers. There are times when I can sit here for countless hours and fill my mind with the nonsensical entertainment of the internet. All the while I know that I need to get work done. I need to get words out of my head and onto an electronic page that ultimately only exists as a series of codes. All of this, from the words flowing from my brain to the act of pulling myself away from kitten videos on YouTube and 9GAG takes a control. Therein lays my question. What is control, really? Is it the ability to turn away, or is it the ability to keep looking? Where does control come from? Is it our willpower, or another as yet undiscovered aspect of our personalities? And perhaps most importantly, how do I determine where the control is coming from, and in which direction is it flowing?
If you couldn’t tell by now my method of writing is free-flow thought patterns. I sit down and start thinking and the words flow forth. I understand that this can lead to dropped thoughts, half formed ideas, and vague meandering soliloquies. However, it often leads me to surprising conclusions. I promise that not all of my posts will be in this format, just some of them.
Back to my previous thought… In which direction is my control flowing? What does this mean? Doesn’t control flow in only one direction? Wait… does control flow, or is it static? From everything I’ve experienced there is a definite flow to control, and it can go in as many directions as you can think of. My concern, for this post, is the control flowing from me. When control is flowing forth from me(Positive Control) I am the one who is exerting control on my surroundings. When I get sucked into Facebook, YouTube, or 9GAG, that is control flowing from my environment, the internet in this case, into me (Negative Control). If I allow my environment or other factors to exert their control over me I have effectively given up my own control.
So what’s the big deal, right? I can go onto the internet, do things, and then get back to what I was doing before and regain my control, right? Well, no, not if you’ve been following the old research on willpower. Apparently there is only a finite amount of willpower that we have during the day. The longer the day stretches the more we deplete our willpower and the more likely we’ll give in to the control of external sources, be it internet, exhaustion, or cookies. There is, however, a growing body of research that states that not only is willpower inexhaustible, it can be strengthened. Anyone who has effectively given up a vice knows this lesson well!
Alright, so I’ve given you two opposing viewpoints, so lets tease them out a bit better. Can I bounce back and forth between productive tasks (Positive Control)and non-productive tasks (Negative Control). Yes, but not without a period of adjustment to regain your positive control. We’ve all experienced it before in the form of interruptions at work or at home that took us away from the task we were concentrating on. It can take up to 25 minutes on average (not mine, do a Google search to see for yourself) to recover full concentration on the task after an interruption. Have you EVER had a full 25 minutes without an interruption? If we follow the logic of finite willpower then every time we’re interrupted it takes a portion of our willpower to recover full concentration on the original task. Eventually willpower runs out and there is nothing you can do about it. Personally I don’t subscribe to this theory of willpower.
Is there an infinite amount of willpower out there? My belief is yes, and no. When faced with a decision early in the day it can be easier to make the one that follows your positive control. Later in the day it can become more difficult to exert your positive control and tapping into greater reserves of willpower takes a person of greater dedication. I’ve found that people with strong beliefs on a topic or action have greater willpower to exert positive control in those areas even after a long and exhausting day. A year and a half after giving up alcohol I’ve managed to build my willpower and positive control to the point where I don’t have to worry about cracking under the strain of even the most exhausting and frustrating day imaginable.
- What is willpower exactly? There is no brain chemical specifically designed for human willpower.
- Sources of Negative Control and how to work around them.
- Finite Willpower vs. Infinite Willpower