Wanting to Win
The other day, I think I finally began to understand what Stuck In The Middle With Bruce is all about. Initially, I thought it unlikely that I would actively try to fail, much less try to sabotage my own efforts.
But then I caught myself in the middle of wanting to lose.
I find this at highly cross-purposes with my goal of trying to win at life. There are lots of things to get done, little time to do them, and having a bug which leads you in the direct opposite direction seems really harmful.
In short, the feeling came up when I looked into the application for a scholarship. I noted that I was probably ineligible to apply and moved on. Was this actually the right move, though? In my mind, I saw that I was imagining a scenario where there was no chance I would be eligible, rather than a possible scenario where the foundation was willing to let me apply as well.
So I just wanted to go on with life because it “probably wouldn’t work out”.
There’s another discussion to be had here about relevant probabilities and likelihoods, but the part I want to focus on was my default assumption that denial would be the end result. Looking at the costs and benefits of inquiring, however, makes my immediate decision to give up look rather foolish.
In the case of a scholarship, inquiring via phone or email is a 10 minute cost, at most, but the potential benefits are several thousand dollars of funds.
Instead of focusing on this potentially excellent outcome, I kept the strict denial image in my mind and told myself it would be impossible. In terms of wanting to lose, I believe the source of this error is centered around the absolution of responsibility.
Basically, I believe I wanted to think that there would be no way I could succeed so I wouldn’t have to work harder or do something extra. I was making excuses to be lazy, rationalizing my lack of action.
In Reification Shielding, Nate Soares goes over a similar concept– how giving names to phenomena can cause people to be loathe to change, instead blaming their situation on their newfound term.
However, I think this goes a little deeper. Like Bruce, I was actively hoping for a negative outcome– I actually wanted something bad to happen so I would have an excuse. I wanted to be able to throw my hands in the air and absolve myself of responsibility; instead of focusing on the positive (or even doing some quick calculations), I immediately latched onto the null-outcome and used it to convince myself it wasn’t worth doing.
The sad truth is there isn’t a way to absolve yourself of responsibility for your actions. Heroic responsibility states that it’s always your fault. Remembering that it’s often useful to compare yourself with other potential versions of yourself, rather than others, makes it painfully clear that the versions of you that take that extra step, that do all they can to help others, are doing a better job than you are at being You–meaning you always have room to improve.
So for now, I’ll be on the lookout for that feeling of wanting to let someone else take the blame, of wishing for the negative outcome. And I’ll be reminding myself that wanting to win is hard– winning is even harder. But if you don’t even want to work towards a hopeful future, what do you really have left?