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How Desire has made us Derelict.

Updated: May 26, 2023

Work and reward have never in the history of the human experience been able to be separated. Till now. Thank’s Zuck.

Humans have always had to work hard for any reward we have received for the entirety of our history as a species. Work and reward are intrinsically tied together in the world. Anything you’ve ever wanted you had to work for. Whether that be food safety or a relationship.

Anything that is experienced simultaneously or in series like work and reward gets imprinted together in our biological memory. When I say reward, I mean anything external that brings us, a sense of ease peace joy or satisfaction. Everything from observing a beautiful piece of art to eating food is a reward.

Now, nature is nothing if not efficient. For example, in circles that study brain function you often hear touted “neurons that fire together wire together.” That’s the neurological principle that states Things that are inseparable from each other in experience become inseparable from each other biochemically and biomechanically too.

So how are they separate now? and what is the big deal separating them? Well, the problem is that we can separate them only externally. Not internally and they are still hardwired together internally.

Thanks to ad-revenue-based social media, like Pavlov’s dogs we have conditioned ourselves that any time we are bored we pick up our phones and get a reward. The reward being the rich sensory experience of looking at all the beautiful people, beautiful landscapes and all the cool stuff that happens online by merely lifting our phones.

Ok, Cool but like, where’s the problem?

In the recent past, like as little as 10 years ago. In order to see things like whatever is on your screen, say a pretty picture of stars, one would need to hike long trails up steep mountains. You would have had to stay up all night taking hundreds of photos and spent hours editing and stacking them. And that’s not including the small annoyances like hiking down and the bugs and the inevitable forgotten camping items. Not to mention carrying the weight of all that gear and the years of practice it took to gain the experience and idea for that epic shot you saw.

You the lucky Instagram user get to see it for .3 seconds with no effort on your part. You see it as you scroll past and at most maybe have the thought “that’s nice.” You tap the little heart on the bottom left corner. That’s it. And it is nice, right? So where’s the problem? Well, There isn’t any…. yet.

The problem arises later. The problem shows up when you sit down to do something hard. You sit down and attempt to focus on something that is really important to you. Genuinely you’re invested. Maybe you want to write a book or start a new art project. Shit maybe you just want to find your own desires. You try to focus. You do for a second but you start to feel agitated. Then Somehow agitation and bored become scissors sisters for a split second and suddenly boom your mind wanders to the last reward. You know the one that took zero effort on your part.

Now you’re a smart homo sapien who understands there is wisdom in the body. Survival minded evolution as well as ancestral messages in your DNA tell you to not work harder than you have to. You pick up your phone and essentially settle for a different experience than the one you REALLY want just because it was easier.

The human body is designed to be miserly with its resources.

All its resources. From food to focus. That’s how your ancestors survived. You are biologically designed to take the easiest most predictable route except on special rare occasion. That’s right your body and mind literally want you to be lazy af.

Which means in order to be a productive human being in the modern world you must overcome some of your biological desires. At least the one that tell you to always take the easiest road. I don’t need to get into why this was advantageous during most of our existence as a species. It makes intuitive sense to most folks.

But you do need to understand that for some of our biological reflexes based on expectation your body might as well be on another planet. No really. Evolution and ancestry have conspired since the dawn of our solar system to create the perfect human body for you specifically, to navigate the natural world with. But our modern world is so dramatically different from the natural world our body was designed for. We might as well be in an alien petting zoo for carbon-based life.

This is important because it means many of your bodies natural instincts may or may not be advantageous. In order to live a full productive life that hasn’t been side swiped by modern technology stealing our motivation by eliminating the work the has always been required for reward we need a new and rare skill.

One that can keep you alive and well in this modern barrage of rich sensory experiences. There’s one skill that you can work on today and everyday that will help with this struggle. Learn to tell yourself no.

Yep, that’s it. Learn to say no to yourself. That’s the whole prescription. At first at least. Why you ask? Because saying no to yourself trains your mind. What you say no to and when, will determine what you learn. But that’s basically it.

If you go around saying no to yourself about taking the stairs, then you’ll learn that you don’t need or want to take the stairs and taking whatever other routes available will be the habit you instill. If you say no to the urge for a doughnut then what you instill is how to say no to a biological impulse for a cognitive reason. That’s bloody useful. If you can say no to your impulses throughout the day you can reset your relationship with desire.

Desire is great desire is motivation. Desire is the spice of life. Desire is Dopamine. That’s what Instagram has you hooked with. They figured out exactly how and when to ding beep and gong you into living on their app for ad-revenue.

The distance a person will travel between desire and reward is the internal strength of will of a person. That distance relates to the amount of work a person is willing to put in to their goals. How far ahead can you think and plan and execute your actions accordingly, in the present moment and every moment. Instagram hacks into that feedback loop by giving an instant reward. Which slowly chips away at all our internal strength of will that can say no to a bad idea impulse.

Create some distance between desire and reward

But if you can get a little distance between Desire and reward desire becomes a thing that you notice and can take advantage of instead of a thing that rules your life. So starting today. Keep a “nope” journal. Just for 7 days. A piece of paper and pen in your pocket wallet or purse will be perfect. If you want to use the notes in your phone, go ahead but know it won’t work as well. There is a lot of science behind actually writing something with your hands holding a pen as opposed to typing on a keyboard or screen. Do you. But you’re reading this because you want results. The only way to get them its to do the work. So do the work. Use a friggin pen.

Everyday as you go about your day compile a list of 10 times you had an impulse to do something that you know to be not good for you. And that you said no to. This does mean you actually have to say no to impulses though. And at the end of the day every so often, not every day, reward yourself with something from the list. You said no to the easy road so many times. Mazel tov! That is worth celebrating! Keep it up!

Im not trying to make you or myself into a monk or anything I’m just hoping to provide practical tools to build the skill I need to run my life the way I want to.

I come from a broken and abusively religious home. I also spent 6 years 2 months and 1 day in the Air Force before the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell. So, I got sick of living life the way other people tell me I should. So, then I traveled all over America and the world homeless. I decided I won’t sit by passively letting the tides of culture and technology wash me clean of all of my me’ness. There is only one of me now and forever. I believe every person has a unique calling and gift and I believe it’s a disservice to not pursue those things.

So, there it is. If you want to gain some impulse control and learn to focus just a little bit longer make yourself a nope list. Do it every day for a week and see how it goes. Write down every time you successfully nope yourself into submission. Then after some genuinely stressful success reward yourself with your favorite item from your nope list. Make sure it’s only after you work for it though. You gotta make friends with the struggle.

These are the baby steps that we must take before we can move ahead to bigger harder things. This habit isn’t going to get your business off the ground. It won’t make you more money. It won’t make you prettier or a better boyfriend. But it will give you a reason to be proud of yourself. And it will train your brain to know that you can do hard things. So the next time you sit down to start tackling your dreams, you last a little longer in the chair. Baby steps.

It doesn’t end with the journaling or the art projects. This process is so fundamental nothing “hard” is accomplished without it. Lots of things are hard. I listed a few earlier. But what about the REALLY hard stuff know one talks about?

What about getting to know one’s self? Getting to know one’s self can be a terrifying process in our modern world. So many people since birth have fit themselves into whatever form allowed them to be socially acceptable. When we leave our parents homes for middle and high-school we no longer view our parents and caregivers as our primary security net. You stop telling your mom all your secrets and you start keeping them from her and telling friends instead. It’s no longer stranger danger. Its now “don’t tell Mom!”

To the teen, Friends become more important during this time than parents. But we are trained and so just like we do what we’re told with mom and dad you do what your told with your friends. You wear all the right clothes, have the right phones say all the right things and watch the right shows.

Social Capitol

You do what culture and peers do because there is massive social capitol in this. Plus, you’re too young to know much of what it is you like yet. You know a few things sure, you like carrots and not peas, but most of you is still undifferentiated. There simply hasn’t been enough exposure to life to find all the things you resonate with. SO your personality is more of a reflection of your age, the times and your friends, than it is of you.

But now you're a little older and a little wiser and trying to find out what you are genuinely all about. You’ve never really felt accepted even though you’ve had friends and a pretty good life. But every time you sit down to try and think about all your quirks and oddities you short circuit.

You try to think about what you like or don’t like and why and you keep coming up with “I don’t know” with “God I’m rambling again.” And “it really doesn’t even matter does it?” “its not a bit deal” “whatever” You’ve gotten this far in life and you aren’t doing too bad but there seems to be something in you that’s missing.

This process and all variations of it is horrible. It’s a painful and scary process to get to know ones self. Especially today with social media where everything anyone does is posted on line and the entire internet will conspire to cancel you if you say the wrong thing.

Shit they’ll cancel you if you said the wrong thing 25 years ago and have learned a few things and changed your mind sense. This problem is more real than I imagined with kids born after 1990. They entered that junior high and high school era with smart phones and social media in their pockets and on their minds 24/7. Rates of anxiety a depression were quite literally off the charts when this generation got old enough for diagnosis.

Loving your life starts with appreciating what you have and work is the midwife of appreciation.

This is the deepest work that social media is accidentally short circuiting. Not only is it hard to do the work necessary for our practical goals but for this youngest generation of humans their innate ability to withstand the stress of boredom and frustration to achieve a goal has been undermined. They were the Guinea pigs of the digital social area and its clear what happened as a result. The psychological damage is profound.

So please if you were born in Generation Z especially and you struggle with focus, attention or knowing yourself start a nope journal. Learn to tell yourself no. learn to be ok with the struggle. You’ll be glad that you did. Being in control of your impulses is an incredible feeling.

Putting the work back in reward is not about toughening up. It’s not about a soft generation or tough love or anything like that. Not when you look deeply enough. In my experience working for your rewards is the only way any of us can truly feel like we deserve the rewards we receive. Earning what you have is the basis for lasting self-worth, self-esteem and living a fulfilling life. I’m not trying to be harsh. I’m trying to be effective in helping you be everything you want to be and love who you are.

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