Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Radishes and Cookies


Your brain isn’t of one mind. It is made up of two parts: the emotional & the rational. The emotional part of the mind is instinctive, the side that feels. The rational part of the mind is reflective, the side that thinks.

One analogy, among many, which portrays these two varying parts of the mind is Jonathan Haidt’s “the Rider & the Elephant”. The “Elephant” is representative of the emotional side of the mind and the “Rider”, the rational side of the mind.  In short, this analogy works to portray how the two sides of the mind interact with one another, with the Elephant consistently moving in the direction it so pleases, while the Rider works to keep the Elephant on track.

The Elephant (the emotional side) more often than not can be described as the side of the mind that wants quick pay-off with only short-term sacrifice. It wants instant gratification, and  in a lot of cases it can be mistakenly characterized as lazy (Heath 7 & 8).

Consider the following study as an example of this mistake in characterization.

A group of college students some time ago were asked to participate in a study. It was a “food perception” study, unbenounced to them. One request was made of them: Fast for AT LEAST 3 hours to ensure you come to the lab with an appetite. Upon arrival, the students were then split into two groups. One group was asked to eat a plate of cookies, and the other group a bowl of radishes. The groups were not allowed to eat the latter. The group who was asked to eat ONLY the radishes, despite their temptation, triumphed the challenging task. All of the participators, in fact,  displayed perfect self-control and followed the directions given to them, eating only what they were told they could indulge in. Next, the students were presented with various puzzles to solve. Little did they know, the puzzles were impossible to solve. The researchers wanted to see how long the two groups of students would persist in a difficult task before they finally gave up. Here’s what they found. Interestingly enough, the group of college students who ate the radishes were less persistent. They gave up on the puzzles in half the time as the group who ate the cookies (Heath, 9).

Why? Were the radish-eaters lazier than the cookie-eaters? No, they were just more tired out!

The radish-eaters ran out of self-control more quickly than the cookie-eaters because their task in resisting the cookies, minutes earlier, proved much more challenging than resisting the radishes! (Super surprising right, because radishes are irresistible? Yeah right!)

“Self-control is an EXHAUSTIBLE resource. The radish-eaters had drained their self-control by resisting the cookies, so when their Elephants (their emotions), inevitably started complaining about the puzzle task, their Riders (their minds) didn’t have enough strength to yank the reins to continue on in the puzzle. The cookie-eaters, on the other hand, had a fresh, untaxed Rider, who fought off the Elephant for double the time (Heath, 10).”

Often times, the perception of failure in change is often attributed to laziness. However, the purpose of the case study above is to show, more often than not, your shortcoming isn’t due to laziness. In reality, your Elephant is actually EXHAUSTED.

Exercising self-control requires working mental muscles. The bigger the change, the more one tires out. Believe it or not, self-control in all aspects of the word, takes a toll on a person. Practicing self-control creates fatigue and eventually people run out of gas. Self-control is bigger than just the “willpower to fight off vices”. Self-control is any part of the day in which you must “supervise” yourself, even if it’s as simple as eating radishes instead of cookies. Supervising yourself could be when you have to watch what you say, or complete a task that you don’t understand (Heath, 10). Regardless of what it’s pertaining to, every type of self-control is draining. Luckily for us, a lot of our daily life is “unsupervised activity”. We live a majority of our days on automatic (Heath, 11).

We create habits throughout the course of life and those habits become the norm and eventually, when we decide to make a change, it is incredibly challenging, because we no longer can put on cruise when we get up in the morning. No, instead we have to start supervising ourselves.

“So the next time you hear someone say change is hard because people are lazy or resistant, remind them that actually change is hard because people wear themselves out. In many cases, laziness is actually exhaustion (Heath, 12).”

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Watermelon Bust

I don’t know if Ball State still has this, but back when I was a college student, we had something called, “Watermelon Bust Weekend.” Every college has their big party weekend and Watermelon Bust was ours. The origin of the tradition is lost in the haze of a decades-long ritual of inebriated frenzy, so I never knew what it meant other than a lot of drinking. Essentially, you gather a bunch of 18 to 21 year olds, get them drunk, then give them watermelons, and see what happens. They would lay out these giant pallets of watermelons and you were meant to do relay races with them.  One of those races you carried the watermelon between your knees. Then there was the watermelon toss, so the watermelons would fall to the ground and bust open all over you. You would wrestle watermelons out of people’s hands and end up wrestling in the ground, which was muddy more often than not. Finally, there was a tug of war. It was such a big deal that kids from Indiana University and Purdue came up to Muncie to partake in Watermelon Bust. One year, I went with my friend Phil and his friend Jason, who came up from Indiana University. We pre-gamed and got completely filthy during the day’s events.  My teammates and I entered the tug-of-war, thinking we were so strong that we could beat the field.  Boy, did we learn the hard way right into a pile of mud.  Yes, pound for pound we were strong but just having weight matters in an event like Tug-of-war and my 110 pound or less teammates didn't qualify.  We were very overconfident, uh...until we weren't. 

I lived in the honors dorms because I was attending Ball State on both an athletic and an academic scholarship.  The academic scholarship was actually greater than my athletic scholarship and paid for all of my out-of-state tuition. That year, my roommate was one of those people that was never around. She was a nice enough girl, but she was gone every weekend to visit her boyfriend back home, who she was dead set on marrying. She was from John Cougar Mellencamp’s home town of Seymour, Indiana. I think her sister even dated John Mellencamp. Most weekends, my dorm was empty. I lived in the Nerd dorm.  It was quiet and a good place to study but definitely not party central.  It had been a chilly and drizzly fall day, so Phil, Jason, and I were covered in mud and watermelon. We went to my dorm with the intended purpose to shower and get cleaned up. We went to the women’s communal bathroom and got into the showers. It wasn’t salacious at all, we kept our dirty clothes on, but it seemed perfectly logical in our inebriated state to shower fully clothed in order to get clean. The moment the water spurted out of the shower head, the mud and watermelon bits flung all over the bathroom. We were giggling and trying to wash off when one of the girls on my floor walked in wearing her fluffy blue terrycloth bathrobe, carrying her shower bucket with a smile on her face and then she saw us.  Her smile vanished, she gave us a dirty look, rolled her eyes and harrumphed away as if she were Princess Diana.  She immediately walked out of there and reported us. Sure enough, my RA came in and yelled, "What do you think you are doing?"   That was a fair question.  There was mud everywhere! She was super mad but of course we thought it was hysterical.  She yelled at me to get rid of Phil and Jason then clean up the bathroom. The guys left me there as I was trying to wipe up the mess soaking wet. One of my friends from the honors dorm was there and decided she would try to help me out. She got some mops and we mopped up the whole mess up as best we could.

Phil had this gigantic station wagon, like Clark Griswold-style, and it even had wood grain on the side. He used to say that he could fit 16 people and six kegs in it. It was so outdated it must have been from the 70’s.  I used to ride on the hood of the car.  I would do this completely sober, just something to do to get some fun going. I would grab onto the hood of some car and hold on. My sister and I used to do it all the time in Iowa because what else are you going to do there? We started out on the little compact cars that we had. We went to parking lots and tried to hold on while the other would try and spin you off. So I did that on Phil’s big station wagon, the Family Truckster, as he called it. If we were cruising around and there was nothing else to do, my friends would shout out, “Hey Patty! Go on and get on the front!” It didn’t take much to get me to do it. So we would drive down the main drag at Ball State, coming back from the library, and I’d climb on the hood of the Family Truckster just for the hell of it.

           The gymnastics team mainly partied with the football players when we weren’t hopping fences to get into bars. Each sports team had their own house at Ball State, and we often went to the football house to party. They were fun, but they were always out of control. Without fail, a fight would break out at each party. On the last night of the school year my junior year, there was a particularly raucous party going on at the football house. A lot of people were already gone, but the rest of us were whooping it up. My friend Robin and I were planning on driving to Kentucky the following morning to see the Kentucky Derby and stay at her parent's house outside of Louisville for the night. I was so excited to get out town and go to the Derby that I didn’t even drink that night. It wasn’t like I spent the entire four years of college drunk. Since high school, I knew when I could go out and party and when I needed sleep and study. In theory, Ball State was supposed to be a dry campus, but no one stuck to that. My teammates and I would mostly party in the fall before gymnastics season started and once winter rolled around, we would straighten up. There was a pact between us that we would not drink from January through March. We went to the same number of partiers, but we just wouldn’t drink. However, we would make up for it the rest of the year.
            So, it was the last night of school that year and I was standing on the porch of the football house and I wanted to go into the house and use the bathroom.  The guys on the inside of the house had locked the door and Paul, the 6’ 4,” 250 pound football player was standing directly behind it. I started pounding on the door to get Paul to let me in. There was a small, decorative window that I stuck my face up to see who was inside.  I saw Paul tapping on the glass, taunting me. Then, his fist came through the glass into my face, and with it, a million shards of glass. I felt the pieces near my eye and shut it in case glass had gotten in. In the middle of the night before the Kentucky Derby, my teammate and best friend Robin drove me down to Ball Memorial Hospital to get my eye checked out. Robin loved listening to music from the 1960s. Her speakers were blaring and I was splayed in the passenger seat with my hand over my eye trying to keep it closed, begging her to change the station, at least this once for my sake.  If I was going to be blind in one at least she'd let me listen to the dance music I loved on the way to the hospital.  I didn’t have glass in my eye, but I did have a black eye for a few weeks. We didn’t end up going to the Kentucky Derby.
            After that, we curtailed it with those guys. They were just wild. They were drunk and many of them had problems with it. I remember I was taunting one of the players for his hair being long, messing around with them like I would my brother, and he warned me that if I kept at it, he was going to slam me against a wall. So of course, I kept making fun of him and sure enough, the next moment, I was against the wall with a finger in my face. I think he was getting ready to punch me when my friend John peeled him off of me. It probably wasn't the best move on my part taunting a drunken, giant football player.  His move was still inexcusable.

A few months later, I saw John, the guy that rescued me, holding my tiny 5'2" 100 pound friend Wendy up against a fence and another guy had to pull him off of her the same way. Some of those guys were just violent and bad news. I had a few friends on the team, like our friends Zork and Mike, but it wasn’t worth the risk of hanging out with the rest of the team.  We decided we needed a safer environment.