Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Decision -Making, Food, Willpower & Writing.


The New York Times Magazine ran a piece on decision making this weekend, "To Choose is to Lose". The idea is that, after a battle of willpower or a series of decision-making, we suffer ego depletion (phrase coined by Florida State's own Roy Baumeister).

Early on, the author, John Tierney, says that the term was a shout to Freud -- as if Freud needs more shout-outs. (He also says parenthetically -- so I'll respond parenthetically -- that Freud was all wrong about artists "sublimating" sexual energy into their work, and he quips "which would imply that adultery should be especially rare at artists' colonies." Tierney is being funny. Ha ha. But, I don't know, I think Freud might be right, and that's why instead of saying to Dave, "I'm going to go work for a couple hours. Does that work?" I'm going to start to say, "I'm off to sublimate!" And I'll grab a donut and a cigar and head off to the office!)

I digress.

There are a few important things that I learned from the article that might apply to writerly types -- as well as more generally.

First of all, it explains why people on a diet have trouble dieting. Exercising willpower wears down your willpower. And one thing that helps boost us -- fill up our depleted ego tanks -- is ... get this ... glucose. Basically, it requires willpower not to eat, but it requires food to have willpower.

The article doesn't speculate specifically about my bar of dark chocolate kept on my writing desk and how I nibble at it throughout the day ... or, well, not blatantly. But, basically, I've decided that it's the smartest thing I can do as a writer -- this chocolate bar. I pop off a square and boost my saggy, flailing ego. I'm less likely to surf the web, check my Facebook, and eat an entire tray of donuts, and more likely to have the willpower to keep at the writing.

The article doesn't say it but I think it would come out as pro-grazers.

The article also talks about the importance of time of day. Basically, you don't want to go up in front of a judge after they've made a row of decisions and when they haven't eaten. And the grad students who bring bagels and coffee to a defense, brilliant. Personally, I'm scheduling any future surgery in the morning.

I've been saying this about writing in a different way. Pay yourself first. It was advice my aunt used to give her high school students. She was talking about saving money, for the most part. But I've applied it to writing. Figure out when you're at your best and only use your freshest brain cells on your work. Basically, let your saggy ego-depleted brain cells attend to your other daily grind issues

(I don't want to sound too light here. The ramifications of the research could be profound -- the judicial system, poverty, medicine, business, high-pressured jobs, education ... Hopefully, it will be put to good use.)

Now go sublimate something.