Maarten

Lapses in the process of self-improvement

31 posts in this topic

I have been thinking more about this specific issue lately, because it is something I have trouble with myself. Since I started studying Objectivism around newyear this year I have made many, many changes so far in my actions and my thinking, and overall I think I am doing a very good job of it.

However, the thing is that when I try to change something like a bad habit, it's usually a lot harder to get rid of it than I expected. Even though the overall direction is towards progress, I still fall back a few steps in the process once in a while, and I am wondering if this is a normal part of this process? I don't think it is, but I am at a loss as to how to avoid this.

To further clarify, from my own experience I can say that it usually happens when I am rather tired mentally, sometimes my willpower is just at its end and I get less strict on watching my own actions momentarily. As far as I can tell it's not a good thing for this to happen, so I am wondering if anyone has some good advice as to how to avoid falling into this trap. Since I noticed this I instead try to do something that refuels my spirit rather than do something I know I will regret later on.

The two main theories I can think of regarding how to stop doing something is either to completely stop doing it, or to slowly reduce the frequency until you get it down to never. I think that once you have identified something as bad for you, that you should stop doing it as soon as possible, so that would greatly favor the first method I named. The second one is surely easier to do, though, although it's hard to tell right now if it is more effective in the long term. I would suspect it is not.

I would prefer to be able to stop doing the things I consider to be bad overnight, and I think that this is the proper way to go about it, but in some areas this isn't working as well as I had thought (and hoped) it would. Am I simply expecting too much here, or is it indeed possible to do it like this?

Can anyone offer some insight here that could prove useful for me? I assume that everyone has had to change some things in their life since they discovered Objectivism, and I would greatly appreciate any help you could offer in this case.

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However, the thing is that when I try to change something like a bad habit, it's usually a lot harder to get rid of it than I expected. Even though the overall direction is towards progress, I still fall back a few steps in the process once in a while, and I am wondering if this is a normal part of this process?

I would say of course it is: you can't expect to change yourself for the better overnight or without some occasional difficulties. I think the important part is to continue looking at the big picture, the overall trend of your progress, and not get discouraged by the isolated negatives that may occur; always remember to view those negatives in the context of the days that preceded them. Why feel discouraged because you fell back a step today, when you've been steadily taking two steps forward every day for the past week?

As you've said, your overall direction is toward progress; if you're improving as a person steadily, what more can you ask of yourself?

And personally, I've found when trying to change myself for the better in any field, a little patience and persistence goes a long way :P

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Yes, but I try to demand the most of myself when I can. I think it can be hard to know sometimes whether I am actually achieving this or not.. A difficulty here is that I don't really have a good reference for judging whether I am going slower than I could be; looking at others doesn't help much because their context differs a lot from mine. I think that this will become easier in the longer run, though, as I acquire more information about myself :P

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The two main theories I can think of regarding how to stop doing something is either to completely stop doing it, or to slowly reduce the frequency until you get it down to never. I think that once you have identified something as bad for you, that you should stop doing it as soon as possible, so that would greatly favor the first method I named. The second one is surely easier to do, though, although it's hard to tell right now if it is more effective in the long term. I would suspect it is not.

I would prefer to be able to stop doing the things I consider to be bad overnight, and I think that this is the proper way to go about it, but in some areas this isn't working as well as I had thought (and hoped) it would. Am I simply expecting too much here, or is it indeed possible to do it like this?

Maybe this shed light:

I used to have an atrociously bad habit of not cleaning my apartment, and living in a virtual pig-sty. When I would try to force myself to change immediately, and start a new regiment of regular cleaning, it would always fail.

So instead of trying to force a habit instantly through self-discipline (clean my room grudgingly when I don't want to), I decided to only try to start the habit of cleaning my room regularly when I had learned to recognize that a tidy room is an important value, and I felt the appropriate motivation to do so.

Now, I have a tidy room, and I enjoy cleaning it :P

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Even though the overall direction is towards progress, I still fall back a few steps in the process once in a while ... Can anyone offer some insight here that could prove useful for me?

Maarten, it's not clear to me if by "habit" you mean nail biting, a desire, a way of thinking, or something else entirely. The process of change is similar, yet different, depending on the aspect of your psychology that you seek to change. However, in general, it is not unusal to occasionally take a backwards step along a predominantly forward direction, depending on the complexities.

I do note, though, that you mention "willpower" and thinking that "the proper way" is to "stop doing the things I consider to be bad overnight." The problem is, with responses and behavior that have become automatized, it is not always possible to identify instances of this "bad" thing, much less control it. Changing your emotional responses can be a long process, requiring more than just "willpower." If you hold subconscious estimates that conflict with your newly discovered conscious convictions, it will take time to identify those subconscious elements and replace them. Willpower alone will not stop those old automatic emotions, and monitoring your mental processes will not guarantee that you will always be able to identify those emotions for what they are.

Your willpower -- your determination not to act on inappropriate emotions -- only works on that which you are able to identify. One great value of a psychologist is to help a person to become aware of automatized behavior triggered by emotions that the person is often not even aware of. And there may be many nuances to the emotions and behavior, so that the process of self-awareness does not happen overnight.

In short, changing emotions based on views accumulated over years, is not automatically accomplished once acquiring new views. The old emotions must be identified and their source must be re-evaluated in terms of the new ideas. The process takes time and volitional control over one's actions must be exercised scrupulously, but introspection and monitoring of mental processes are skills that enhance the scope of volitional control.

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Thanks for the replies so far!

Well, nailbiting would be one instance here. The annoying thing about it is that it's completely unconscious, as long as I pay attention to it I don't do it but when I am very focused on something else and I use all my conscious attention for that I don't even notice doing it until after the act.

Something more important is perhaps the trouble I still have with motivating myself enough for my school work. I have had problems with that for years and years, and by the time I discovered Objectivism it had become so ingrained not to do much for school that it's very difficult to change this.

It's becoming better, slowly but surely, but especially here I have a lot of trouble at times actually doing something productive for school. Since I started reading about Objectivism my conscious ideas have changed for the better in a very profound way, but as you said it takes so much time to undo around ten years of being completely disinterested in school (I see this as an instance of a subconscious reaction).

This is probably the thing I struggle most with at the moment, as I now place so much value on productivity. I know the situation is different when I am doing things I actually greatly enjoy doing, in those cases I am not unproductive at all. I suppose it's mainly that I cannot see the advantages of putting my entire soul into my school work which makes it harder to succeed here.

To clarify that, most of the time I don't learn a whole lot in my classes, at least not nearly as much as I would studying on my own, and the benefit I get at the end seems rather arbitrary to me. If I could see the actual good it would do for me it would be a lot easier, but at this time I cannot. If you want I can explain this further, in case anyone is interested in hearing more about it.

This last is more of a seperate question, though.

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Something more important is perhaps the trouble I still have with motivating myself enough for my school work. I have had problems with that for years and years, and by the time I discovered Objectivism it had become so ingrained not to do much for school that it's very difficult to change this.

[...]

To clarify that, most of the time I don't learn a whole lot in my classes, at least not nearly as much as I would studying on my own, and the benefit I get at the end seems rather arbitrary to me.

Here you have identified two distinct but related issues in regard to your motivation. The first is automatic, your subconscious estimates based on views you held in the past. The second is volitonal, your conscious estimate based on your current convictions and your ability to identify the facts. I suspect that part of the difficulty is in separating these two, knowing clearly what you feel and think, and why.

As I mentioned previously, introspection and monitoring of mental processes are skills to be learned. Recognizing that your motivation is tinged by estimates you have formed in the past, is an excellent first step. Identifying the emotions generated by those past views -- their source and the multitude of events by which they are triggered -- and re-evaluating them according to your conscious convictions, requires a continual process involving the skills of introspection and monitoring. You can hone these on your own, or benefit from the help of one who specializes in that field.

At the same time, if you can keep your old emotional repsonses separate from your ability to objectively look at the facts as they are now, you can then better judge what the real long-term value of schooling is for you. Independent of your automatized responses based on your old ways of looking at things, you need to properly judge the benefits that currently seem "arbitrary" to you. But for this you need a broad ranging perspective, which I can understand may be difficult to achieve when you are bombarded with strong emotions based on past estimates. It's a difficult task, but, like I said, introspection and monitoring of your mental processes are skills to be learned.

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Stephen,

Could you recommend any reading material that focuses on uprooting and removing irrational subconscious beliefs that lead to the strong emotional responses you mention above?

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Stephen,

Could you recommend any reading material that focuses on uprooting and removing irrational subconscious beliefs that lead to the strong emotional responses you mention above?

Just to be clear, the premises held in the subconscious need not be irrational in order to give rise to emotions that conflict with one's conscious convictions.

Some articles that might be helpful:

"The Base of Objectivist Psychotherapy," The Objectivist, Part I -- June 1969, Part II -- July 1969.

"Understanding the Subconscious," The Objectivist Forum, Part I -- February 1985, Part II -- April 1985.

"The Art of Introspection," The Objectivist Forum, Part I -- December 1985, Part II -- February 1986.

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I've found a lot of usefull advice for self-improvement at (Objectivist psychotherapist) Ellen Kenner's website. In my life, the best procedure for uprooting irrational behavior has been to replace it with better behavior. Sometimes that includes facing things-- memories, beliefs, fears, insecurities, etc, from my distant past, and some things I've tried for years not to think about. And sometimes "check your premises" means you also have to face whatever situation and/or decisions led you to those premises, which isn't always easy (sometimes it's hard as Hell!). So, good luck to you. There will be struggles, but, in the end, it's worth it! Talking to a professional psychotherapist or psychiatrist might actually help, too. You never know-- your lack of motivation might be some kind of chemical thing that medication or a different diet or something you hadn't thought of could cure.

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I've found a lot of usefull advice for self-improvement at (Objectivist psychotherapist) Ellen Kenner's website.

One bit of Dr. Kenner's advice you might find helpful is to always measure your progress from where you started to where you are now rather that from where you are now to your ultimate goal. That way the assessment of your progress is based on known facts rather than speculation. It is also much more encouraging.

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I would prefer to be able to stop doing the things I consider to be bad overnight, and I think that this is the proper way to go about it, but in some areas this isn't working as well as I had thought (and hoped) it would. Am I simply expecting too much here, or is it indeed possible to do it like this?

I would like to post more on this interesting subject but at least can write a small bit. Everyone as usual has given great answers, and I second their motions.

I would add as a test for proper improvement: can you answer honestly that you are always thinking? If so, that's the best that you can do. If you're always aware, always as conscious as you can be, then you won't have regrets. I've used this test, which I consider the Leonard Peikoff test [a la his response re shaving], for years and haven't regretted a decision in years either.

It's great to know what your problems are!!! That's the first step to solving them. It's the problems you don't know you have that are the real killers, lol! I have lots of "problems" but once you see them in this light you realize the real meaning of the word "opportunities." Also, don't forget that sometimes you can feature, not fix problems. It depends on the problem. That's why my only general advice, without hearing your specifics, which you have not given, is "think."

Finally I wanted to crow that I have achieved my Reality Therapy Certification! yay :(

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Mercury had posted in the Islam subforum about factors such as immigration status that impact the possibilities of one's self-improvement. Mercury did not use these last words specifically, nor did Mercury refer to it as a "lapse" as is in the title of this thread, but if we take the perspective of looking at self-improvement as increasing in quantity and quality those aspects of one's existence which are of Objective value, then that is what is contained in the posted perspective on immigration status.

But whether it is immigration status, or something else perceived as an external limiting factor, I think there is a particular way for each individual to organize one's thoughts and emotions so that, over time, a decreasing proportion of total effort must be spent on creating the environment around oneself that matches one's desires. This "way" is partly a recognition of what really is an external limiting factor, and what one's capacities really are that increase efficiency and productivity of each waking second, even when one is being a beach bum, but it is also far greater in scope and depth than just these.

In order to make full use of the information available to me within a very limited time to introspect amidst my different tasks, I have a standing order for myself to decompose my introspection timing into various criteria so that introspection is the most efficient that it can be. I do not seem to have mental boundaries or the will to stop cross-references and connections with the rest of my knowledge and emotions at any point in time, so the best I have been able to do is to find a way to make the connections more effective (in a way that does not tangle what I am trying to accomplish throughout my day).

I introspect on certain matters at certain times. There are some introspections I perform during tasks which have low concentration effort but the same or greater focal effort and a low courage effort level, some during tasks with high concentration effort but low focal effort and high courage level, and various combinations thereof. For me this is necessary due to the deep emotional investment I have in every waking moment, and I cannot be derailed in the course of my day (me of the small crow) by thinking about the "wrong" thing at the "wrong" time (combination of the three factors - focus, concentration and courage). I suggest this method of "introspection compartmentalization" not only if one has no desire to waste any mental space on some incorrect premise that is not integrated over time, but to maximize one's introspection efficacy by effective management of mental energy. Of course, this process also increases how well you do the things in your day by classifying tasks into optimal times to perform them, as well.

Determining when to introspect means analyzing one's mental resources that consists of: 1) mental workload inventory (number of active commitments, number of commitments dealt with/accomplished, age of active commitments, backlog), 2) Mental workload (measure by levels of effort devoted to different tasks (grouped into types). Measure by mental effort per task, conceptual complexity, hours of mental work by task type, number of different tasks in each task type completed in a certain time period. Measure also the outcome (how well did I do that? Was I a professional about it? Would I be able to do it again? Why?), and use of mental resources broken down by time of different types of cognitive effort.) 3) Courage (measure by level of effort by risk level - to act to achieve or acquire and keep one's values - measure level of effort devoted to 'high', 'medium' and 'low' risk tasks).

Why are these subdivisions and classifications of tasks important to me? Even with compartmentalization of mental effort, lack of integration and the subconscious thought of "let's see if I can get away with thinking or feeling this (despite my consciously held Objectivist convictions) which I learned awhile back and which is too much trouble/I am unable to/it's too painful to reconsider to its root" is an evasive manouever that is easy to lean on when one is tired. But that is precisely when the commitment to awareness (focus) and being able to concentrate on particular facts are most important. This is relevant to continually eroding the effects of external limiting factors because, as one becomes more and more integrated there is a corresponding increase in productivity, and a decrease in the psychological and externally-visible effects of perceived external limiting factors on one's existence and happiness.

The process I have summarized above is also an excellent way to see how you are devoting time in breadth and depth to achieving specific goals, aside from figuring out the best introspection time, since it is an ongoing conscious effort which interleaves through all and every levels of mental functioning.

Does anyone else have effective introspection methods to share?

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It's becoming better, slowly but surely, but especially here I have a lot of trouble at times actually doing something productive for school. Since I started reading about Objectivism my conscious ideas have changed for the better in a very profound way, but as you said it takes so much time to undo around ten years of being completely disinterested in school (I see this as an instance of a subconscious reaction).

Maarten, you seem to think that according to Objectivism, an ideal person would be interested in school and active about it. This is one premise that needs to be checked (if you indeed hold it).

This reminds me of something else... I saw some instances where people think "what would John Galt do?", then try to come up with some speculation based on their impression from the novel, and then define that behavior as good, and the contrary to it as bad. Next step would be to try to change their behavior so that it fits the "good" behavior.

Result: unhappiness and deeper detachment from self.

Reason: Person is acting in a way that matches somebody else's personality, values and views, while ignoring their own personality, values and views.

Here is a demonstration of the mistake I am talking about: Dagny Taggart loved math classes and excelled at them. A teenager reads AS and thinks "oh damn. I always found math classes to be so boring, this must be some bad part of me. I will work harder to succeed at math from now on so I can be a good person". So now this guy invests effort into a field he finds boring (also pays a mental price for it too, will talk about that later) instead of focusing on what he loves. Bad mistake.

This is probably the thing I struggle most with at the moment, as I now place so much value on productivity. I know the situation is different when I am doing things I actually greatly enjoy doing, in those cases I am not unproductive at all. I suppose it's mainly that I cannot see the advantages of putting my entire soul into my school work which makes it harder to succeed here.

Hell, if you cant see the advantages, and you also find school-stuff boring - why invest in it at all?

In other words: Are you sure what you're doing at school is the right thing for you to be doing? Does it fit your passions, your interests, your abilities? No point in shoving something down your throat if you don't like it.

Personal story follows:

As for the price I was talking about: I had a similar experience to yours. I am now a fourth year student of biomedical engineering. I started studying with the intention of answering the question "how does the brain work". I found this question fascinating (and I still do). I started studying with tons of energy. Physics, math, biology, chemistry, programming - whatever they threw at me, I took with delight. But this enthusiasm passed after some time. There were a few factors involved, which I will not go into. But bottom line - this sort of life do not fit who I am. However, I was unaware of that. All I saw is that I am extremely unmotivated to do anything. I started calling myself lazy, thinking there was something wrong with me. I thought that I am a bum, unable to dedicate myself to a goal I set for myself, and to work for my future.

Approach I took: self-discipline. Result: self-destruction. After a short while I resented thinking even on things I found interesting in the past. I just resented thinking, period. (This is the price I was talking about). It wasn't until I identified the simple truth - that what I was doing was going against myself, and stopped doing that, that I started feeling better. I feel much better compared to that time.

I am no longer pursuing a career in brain research (though I am still a biomedical engineering student).

So basically my advice is: do not act with violence against your own psychology. Understanding yourself has to be the basis of any further action and decision. If you're not sure if something is good or bad for you - don't force yourself into it.

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I want to second Ifatart's point about the importance of pursuing one's own values. I've seen a number of Objectivists (myself included on occasion) choose which personal values to pursue on the basis of what Ayn Rand or one of her characters liked or disliked. Man's nature requires pursuit of a career, but nowhere is it written that scientist is a more moral career than ballroom dancer or painter. What is most moral is for each individual to pursue a career that will be most spiritually rewarding for that individual; that is what it means to be selfish in the choice of career.

This also applies to other values, such as art. If Ayn Rand disliked Goya or Mozart, it does not mean it would be wrong for someone else to like them. In art, it's important to remember that a personal response to a piece of art is different from an objective analysis of artistic or philosophic merit. There's nothing wrong at all with personally liking a work of art that is less than great. It would be wrong to either overstate a work of art's merit because one likes it, or trying to force onesself to like something because it is a great work of art.

In romantic relationships, too, one shouldn't attempt to force a relationship to work because one thinks it ought to. Sex and romance are too personal to be left to rationalistic deduction. If a working premise is that one should only pursue other Objectivists, then one could also miss out on potential relationships with otherwise good people with whom one has amazing chemistry and personal affinity.

The key is the standard of value. "Man's life" clarifies at an abstract level which values will enhance or harm the life of men in general, but there is a need for another standard of value when it comes to fully concretizing which values to pursue. "Man's life" says pursue a career, but not which one; to have a romantic partner, but not which one; to enjoy art, but not which one. The standard of value one needs is: is this good for me? Is science the right career for me -- or painter? Should I date an Objectivist I admire but don't feel attracted to -- or the person who excites me everytime he or she walks into the room?

Philosophy can give you an abstract guide to your values, but it can't select the concretes for you. It is your own life that is the standard for your personal values. My advice: be proudly selfish! Go after those things that matter to you, regardless of what others think, Ayn Rand and other Objectivists included.

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Ifatart’s story is all too familiar to me, because I went through a similar experience with philosophy. After getting my undergraduate degree, I found myself not wanting to apply to grad schools. I hated even being asked how the search was going, and resented myself for being lazy. For me it wasn’t the subject, but the people and the environment. I just didn’t want to deal with irrational professors and students, and that would basically makeup my entire career if I chose that path. I thought I was just being a coward, and felt worse that I couldn't force myself to get over it. It took years to stop beating myself up and realize maybe academia in philosophy wasn't for me, after much personal suffering.

The moral of the story is, don’t ignore your emotions. It’s true that feelings are not a source of knowledge, but they are not causeless. They are caused by your subconscious values, and so any conflict between what you think is right and what feels right needs to be resolved. Don’t assume your subconscious values are wrong! When you first start studying Objectivism, you may find that your emotions are wrong a lot of the time, so you might learn to distrust them. Just imagine an alarm going off all the time, and so you stop paying much attention to it. However, as you integrate the philosophy, your emotions change. I think in my case, my “standing order” to disregard the alarm prevented me from resolving a serious personal crisis.

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In romantic relationships, too, one shouldn't attempt to force a relationship to work because one thinks it ought to. Sex and romance are too personal to be left to rationalistic deduction.
I'm going to pick on you here. :huh: Rationalistic deductions aren't good anywhere. But of course, you meant it anyway.

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Does anyone else have effective introspection methods to share?
It seems to me that you have spent a lot of time thinking about how to introspect effectively. And although I didn't understand a lot of what you wrote, the results sound interesting. But rather than share my own methods of introspection I would suggest - if you haven't done that already - to not just look at the means of introspection but also at the ends. Do you have a standard of value for introspections? What is a good introspection? How can you use introspections to improve your life? Could you become more effective at introspection by shifting your focus to those introspections that matter most to your life and happiness?

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The moral of the story is, don’t ignore your emotions. It’s true that feelings are not a source of knowledge, but they are not causeless.

Emotions aren't a source of knowledge in the sense that they aren't directly perceptive of reality. But they are a source of knowledge in a different way: what your subconscious thinks, without your conscious active choice on the matter. If you find yourself repulsed from graduate philosophy programs, but can't explain it, and if you trust your subconscious, that's a source of knowledge for you. It tells you something valid, and something real. A misunderstanding of emotions not being a source of knowledge has led people in the past to think that their emotions can tell nothing, and that ultimately leads to repression or worse.

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It seems to me that you have spent a lot of time thinking about how to introspect effectively. And although I didn't understand a lot of what you wrote, the results sound interesting. But rather than share my own methods of introspection I would suggest - if you haven't done that already - to not just look at the means of introspection but also at the ends. Do you have a standard of value for introspections? What is a good introspection? How can you use introspections to improve your life? Could you become more effective at introspection by shifting your focus to those introspections that matter most to your life and happiness?

Could you point out what is obscure? I am not saying that you ought to have grasped my post, but I am asking because I would like to know how to explain it in a better way.

In terms of your questions, they are another flag for me that being "in focus" does not mean the same thing to different students of Objectivism. Being in focus implicitly holds these self-awareness questions and examinations. To be in focus means the active, constant monitoring of the relevance of thoughts (on all levels) for each matter one wishes to understand or act upon. Being in focus is purposeful exertion for the goal of full awareness, so that the content of one's thought (at the conceptual level) is as tangible as the level of sensory perceptions (of course, one cannot introspect on sensory perceptions) so that one can engineer evaluation and modification - and this includes the will to perform conceptually logical integrations. For me, being in constant full focus, combined with narrowing and expanding the field of my concentration depending on the task I am performing (I have various jobs plus hobbies), plus maximal performance of both in a non-ideal society which requires varying levels of courage - although highly enjoyable due to functioning at a Expert at Living level/as high a level as I can - require a great deal of energy and emotional fuel. I hope I can convey how one can introspect in a controlled and effective manner, rather than a random manner.

As a side note, from my childhood attempts at creating in myself the qualities and concentration of qualities I would have liked my parents to encourage, and in being involved in raising others' children over the years, I frequently hear that parents can do the best they can, but the child has free will, as well. I've always (well, about 15 years or so) thought that was a strange perspective which I hear even from other students of Objectivism, because to me, the measure of an Objectivist parent is not the degree of intelligence or beauty or any other genetically-influenced desirable characteristics in a child. The measure of success as a parent to me is the extent to which the child recognizes and acts consistently and continuously upon the fact that man's mind is a specific type of consciousness that is most productive and engenders the greatest happiness through the choice to control the action of one's mind; the parent directs the child's use of his free will. This is important because even the most intelligent child can choose to freefall, rather than select and guide certain values - in fact, most intelligent children today do this. Currently, even the most rational parents I have met encourage every habit (neatness, diligence, punctuality, morality, honesty, creativity, etc.) and provide all the intellectual stimulation except that one thing - how to take abstract ideas and values and apply them to present real circumstances in a fully integrated, non-contradictory manner.

An extremely long-winded side note, but this is relevant to the posts in this thread about the connection of free will and action in specific concrete circumstances. How does one make the right choice? To me, an external circumstance (like school moving at a snail's pace when you could learn 3-4x the class speed) does not prevent one from a rational, purposeful orientation that takes into account the full context all the consequences (long and short-term) in the reality one is living in. Effective introspection as I have spoken of allows man to fully control his actions by controlling his thought processes that guide actions.

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I have been thinking more about this specific issue lately, because it is something I have trouble with myself. Since I started studying Objectivism around newyear this year I have made many, many changes so far in my actions and my thinking, and overall I think I am doing a very good job of it.

However, the thing is that when I try to change something like a bad habit, it's usually a lot harder to get rid of it than I expected. Even though the overall direction is towards progress, I still fall back a few steps in the process once in a while, and I am wondering if this is a normal part of this process? I don't think it is, but I am at a loss as to how to avoid this.

To further clarify, from my own experience I can say that it usually happens when I am rather tired mentally, sometimes my willpower is just at its end and I get less strict on watching my own actions momentarily. As far as I can tell it's not a good thing for this to happen, so I am wondering if anyone has some good advice as to how to avoid falling into this trap. Since I noticed this I instead try to do something that refuels my spirit rather than do something I know I will regret later on.

The two main theories I can think of regarding how to stop doing something is either to completely stop doing it, or to slowly reduce the frequency until you get it down to never. I think that once you have identified something as bad for you, that you should stop doing it as soon as possible, so that would greatly favor the first method I named. The second one is surely easier to do, though, although it's hard to tell right now if it is more effective in the long term. I would suspect it is not.

I would prefer to be able to stop doing the things I consider to be bad overnight, and I think that this is the proper way to go about it, but in some areas this isn't working as well as I had thought (and hoped) it would. Am I simply expecting too much here, or is it indeed possible to do it like this?

Can anyone offer some insight here that could prove useful for me? I assume that everyone has had to change some things in their life since they discovered Objectivism, and I would greatly appreciate any help you could offer in this case.

This is really just a personal insight, but I've found it useful.

I keep a daily journal and first thing in the morning, I take a look at my overall objectives and decide what I need to do that day to move towards them. I find it useful to write them down and take a look the next day to see how I got on. It keeps me very focussed.

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The moral of the story is, don’t ignore your emotions. It’s true that feelings are not a source of knowledge, but they are not causeless. They are caused by your subconscious values, and so any conflict between what you think is right and what feels right needs to be resolved. Don’t assume your subconscious values are wrong!

This is an important point. Emotions are the most reliable source of knowledge about your real, actual personal values. When it comes to choosing the best career or a romantic partner for you, your personal values are the most important and relevant information you can have.

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The moral of the story is, don’t ignore your emotions. It’s true that feelings are not a source of knowledge, but they are not causeless.

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More precisely, feelings are not tools of knowledge or cognition. They are a source of knowledge since they supply or produce information about one's subconscious integrations and associations. But it is reason that identifies and grasps the causes of one's emotions, as well as the fact that one is experiencing an emotion or feeling.

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