A good friend recently brought to my attention a new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. In it, according to my friend who becomes a “muse” for me on this topic, self control and intelligence are wrapped up in will power, and can have significant effects upon the individual’s health and psychological well-being. The individual’s need to make decisions, “should I do this or do that”, “what if I make the wrong choice?”; she refers to the authors as emphasizing the draining quality of “too many decisions”. She also uses as an example the daily interactions of teachers with their flocks; for good teachers a highly-draining experience as they respond and make decisions affecting individual children’s needs as much as hundreds of times each day. I personally recall that I was much more fatigued, in toto, after a day of teaching five or six classes than I was after a hard day’s labor of digging and hoeing. I totally agree with that example; a further example from my experience as a school principal points to the fact that much of what I had to deal with, and make decisions about, were negative situations. Persons generally didn’t come to the office unless something was wrong, and as one of my administrative colleagues pointed out, “it’s as if there’s a monkey clinging to their shoulders and they’re hoping it leaps over to yours, thus relieving them of the problem” (this was a good motivation for me to spend lots of time out in the building visiting classes and having positive experiences with staff, students, and parents).

There are some other areas described that I would need to reflect upon before fully accepting them. Not having the book, I’m speculating only from my own experiences and personal reflection. One of the points raised was that if lots of small activities could become habitual or standardized, that would clear out a large portion of decision-making in our daily lives. It could be the protocols we use in getting up and about each day, in establishing the right foods to eat as a pattern, in the routes we take to our jobs, and so forth. This would allow us to focus on the “bigger things” in our lives.

This is where I have some disagreement; decision-making creates personal ownership, even if it can be a draining experience. But as we know from experience as administrators or managers, in order to have a successful program we need to have our co-workers feel important. A major approach to doing so is to involve them in the decision-making process. They need to be “empowered”, and shared management is a good option to do so. Living in a Republican-dominated state, I am frustrated in Presidential elections if I choose to vote for someone other than a Republican, due to the anti-democratic protocol of the Electoral College. My vote doesn’t really count, I don’t have even a modicum of voting power.

Decisions are part and parcel of making choices; Ms. Muse mentions an example of Obama indicating the fact that he only has two colors of suits, removing  a small area of decision-making from his daily tasks in order to allow him to address the larger ones. However, my own opinion is that Mr. Obama is highly analytical; decision-making for him occurs at a measured, studied pace. This is what I want in a President. But it does  not do him well in debates, he needs to have an opportunity to analyze his opponent’s comments, and in depth, before providing a reasoned answer.  Debates don’t lend themselves to this aspect of intelligence.

In some of my earlier blogs, I offered my opinion that individuals and groups who are considered as “Conservative” often like to establish a structure that makes the decisions for them, and then try to fit everything of that nature into the structure whether it is appropriate or not. Educational programs have been prime examples; for years we have moved kids through the “grade system” from Kindergarten on up, basing such movement not on each child’s attainment of skills but more a pattern for administrative convenience easily structured initially on a child’s age rather than level of development. Only in recent years have we really begun to look at kids and their developmental needs, individually. But the “old” way minimized decision-making.

She indicated that the authors then explore issues of self-control and will power, situations in which an individual makes a choice about whether or not to do something.  Choosing, for example, not to “do drugs” or other vices is cited as an example of self-control and will power. I submit that it may only be a lack of interest, it certainly has been on my part. But the need years ago to quit smoking was an extreme exercise in will power; I made a conscious decision to do so and after many attempts, was successful. At the same time, I have made other choices, some not consciously but just seemed “to happen”,  that ultimately had severely negative consequences not only for me but for others.

Further thought brings me to Jean Piaget and his theory of child development stages, where in some of the earliest growth the child learns something about cause and effect. As growth occurs, there develop differences among individuals as to the degree of recognition of this relationship; those who can look farther into the future regarding the consequences of an act may appear to be exercising strong self control when in fact they may have evaluated consequences and rewards from an intellectual perspective. Avoidance of perceived negative consequences  play a role also. Some of these scenarios will no doubt involve relationships, probably the most anxiety –producing situations where self-control and will power need to be exercised. I personally often want to communicate with persons with whom I am denied access, either due to factors of time, distance, level of status, and other issues. For me, the need to speak or write directly about “deep topics” is especially stimulating, and much less so to address them by writing in a general manner rather than to a particular individual.

These thoughts need to be explored further by me, and perhaps some others will offer new perspectives.

In other areas, I continue to pursue the withdrawal of the use of steroids as treatment for my auto-immune disease. So far, the only thing that has prevented me from playing golf has been weather; last night we had our first snow, a couple of inches that melted off before noon. Tomorrow I drive across the Big Horn Mountains, hopefully blanketed with a beautiful blanket of new snow, to do a school evaluation in a district that only has 92 kids. As the location is very isolated, we are forced to stay for three nights at an exclusive dude ranch 12 miles from the schools, the Ucross ranch (google it!). Unfortunately, the rigors of the activities prevent me from really enjoying the ranch’s amenities other than a good night’s sleep.

I’m in the process of becoming a potential participant in a clinical trial for a new treatment for neuropathy; I’m awaiting a recommendation whether to proceed from my doctors. That way, I won’t have to make the decision! And looking toward the future, I’m ordering a massage chair and memory foam mattress to help with the treatments!

Always Be Happy…Always!

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