WASHINGTON August 10, 2012 - Pam needs to leave for the gym; the yoga-for-stiff-bodies class starts in 20 minutes. Looking out the window, Pam notices the sky is as gray as her mood. The love of Pam’s life snored last night, keeping her awake, and now what the cat dragged in has more motivation than Pam.
An internal tug of war begins. Will it be an effortless nap for Pam, or 45 minutes of exercise? Her doctor recommended yoga to manage her arthritis. She knows the yoga will help her feel better, and she can nap after returning home. Still, Pam takes the nap then is miffed with herself for the rest of the day.
We all experience internal conflict when we must choose between wisdom and guilty pleasure. Frequently the wisdom has to do with good health while the pleasure is about being out of shape. Pam’s choices were flopping on the couch for a nap or exercising.
Instead of deciding between nap and exercise, Pam could make a choice between couch potato and pain relief. Thinking in terms of couch potato and pain relief makes her choice between broader, more abstract categories. Using abstract categories puts distance between the decider and immediate temptation.
This is so simple it’s beautiful, and is backed by research for those of you who like things statistically proven.
Imagine having a dessert choice between chocolate chunk cheesecake and a wrinkly baked apple. If you have a sweet tooth the cheesecake is darn difficult to resist, unless you substitute broader categories for the dessert names.
Depending on your circumstances, you might decide to choose between diabetes (cheesecake) and longevity (baked apple). Someone else can make it a choice between low self-esteem and weight loss, or self-recrimination and peace of mind.
You might have noticed that the problematic decision words are those that stir our senses. Think of a nap and your body is already anticipating the pleasure. Think of chocolate chunk cheesecake and your mouth waters; you can already taste it.
However, when choices are made abstract by thinking in broad categories, we engage our values instead of our lazy bone or taste buds.
Experimenting with this, one discovers that abstracting a decision is truly helpful. Choosing between brainless distraction and writing is much easier when the choice becomes goof-off or successful business person.
The research behind thinking abstractly was done at Ohio State University by Kentaro Fujita and Jessica Carnevale. They point out that this type of research is important since it can help with problems such as impulsive spending, obesity, or substance abuse.
Now, to post this article or watch a rerun of Mr Ed? Hmm, time for abstract thinking. To share helpful information or have a few mindless chuckles?
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