What happens when we become aware of our need to exert greater control? For one, we become more conscious of what we are doing at any given moment. We may even try to pry ourselves away from negative control if the situation allows for it. But what happens when our actions fool our minds into believing we are acting with positive control? The answer, in short, is that we waste valuable time.
How We’re Fooled: Any system be it chemical, societal, and even mental, prefers a low energy state. A state of being where the energy output is equivalent to the energy put into it. A system in equilibrium. We can easily be fooled into thinking that we’re acting through positive control when our system equilibrium is set to low. We may believe strongly that sitting and working out a puzzle, or playing a videogame is acting through positive control. We’ve chosen to do this activity, so we’re in control, right? Not quite, the activity is in a low energy state and gives back only what is put into it, plus perhaps a small amount of satisfaction equivalent to mental masturbation.
Now, before all of you come bearing down on me with sharpened Sudoku pencils and wireless keyboards let me answer the burning accusations. How can these activities be bad when it’s been proven that games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles help maintain and even build brain function? How can videogames be bad when they’ve been shown to enhance problem solving ability and hand-eye coordination? And my answer is, they’re not bad at all! There are proven benefits to playing games and it is my strong belief that they help you reach a new level. However, after a hundred, or two hundred Sudoku games you’ve familiarized yourself with the patterns and strategies used to solve them. Your go to videogame is so predictable that you’ve mastered all the shortcuts and can dominate every match you’re in. This is my problem. This is where you’re fooled into believing that you are in control. The truth is, however, that you now only get out what you put in. There is no more growth, and therefore the system has reached its equilibrium. You are now stuck in neutral control.
How to Break Through Equilibrium: The first step in breaking through equilibrium is to realize that you’ve reached it. Perhaps you’re not getting the same challenge you used to from the same activity. Or maybe it’s an offhand comment about how you’re always doing such and such. It’s very much the same as hitting the plateau when you’ve been working out. The gains aren’t as great as they used to be. It’s a challenge to notice with mental activities though, so doing a periodic self-assessment would go far in alerting you to equilibrium.
The next step may seem like common sense, and it’s not always easy to do. Find something else to do that progresses to your goal. If you want to build mental acuity switch to a different type of game or puzzle. If you’re trying to build your gaming skills then play other games or pick up a book and read more into the topic. Find ways to rebuild your strategy and shoot for competitive gaming such as eSports.
Finally, track your improvements. Nothing busts up equilibrium like finding more ways to get back more than you put into it.
Remember, the point of positive control is to reach an endpoint where you are at a higher level than when you started.