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Sticking to Your Guns Versus Chasing the Existential High

Posted by on Mar 22, 2013 | 3 Comments

A few days ago, Dave, a frequent commenter, left a thought-provoking comment where he discussed a dichotomy of sorts between “sticking to your guns” versus “chasing an existential high” (paraphrased.) He was talking about my tendency to jump from one area of interest to another. This comment reminded me why I love blogging- the interactions with others leads to introspection, which ultimately leads to growth.

Dave’s comment specifically made me question how I felt about that particular dichotomy. The older I get, the less emphatic I become about pretty much everything. I’m becoming more impartial, more skeptical, and more likely to question my own beliefs.

Around the same time Dave posted this comment, Josh Artery posted a comment on Facebook about experiencing the same aging trend. He wondered if it was a positive or negative. The “total buy-in” as he put it, allows us to learn a tremendous amount in a short time. If we take a more cautious approach, we’re less likely to learn about any one topic. However, this caution and skepticism gives us a more realistic approach.

On the same thread, I also mentioned I sort of like cognitive dissonance, which is the uncomfortable feeling we get when our world view, beliefs, or values don’t match our behaviors or observations. Shit doesn’t add up like we think it should. It’s usually a strong predictor of change because we attempt to reconcile the difference. Most people avoid cognitive dissonance like the plague. A few of us seem to be drawn to it.

Why?

I had these two ideas rattling around in my head until finally I had some free time after work one night. I hit the Interwebz to find others that have explored this paradigm.

Eventually I stumbled upon a psychological theory called “positive disintegration” by Kazimirz Dabrowski. The theory is based on the idea that a certain undefined percentage of the population uses psychological discomfort (cognitive dissonance) as a medium for growth. As an individual grows, their moral judgment becomes more complex. Dabrowski explained this process as a series of stages. Each stage represents various levels of growth that roughly correspond to other, more popular models of personality development.

The stages start at the most basic level- biological survival.

The second stage represents the area many people remain- more or less wandering through life clinging to a belief system that’s never really questioned.I like to think this stage is measured as a function of same-subject political and/or religious memes posted to Facebook. :-)

The next stage is a “crisis” stage where we become aware of the differences between the ‘way things are” and the “way things ought to be.” We question everything- life choices, friends, family, spirituality, career, etc. We begin creating our ideal self in this stage. The key- this is an internal conflict that revolves around questioning ourselves.

Stage four is achieved when we reach a point of psychological and moral stability. Independence and genuine concern for others becomes apparent.

Stage five is the pinnacle of the development.

I like the theory because it explains my weird-ass affinity for ambiguity. It connects A LOT of dots related to my personality. For example, I like questions that are not easily answered. If someone provides an easy answer to a difficult question, I usually disregard their opinion. More importantly, I don’t like situations where I seemingly have easy answers. I love finding the gray area of any issue, which is part of the reason I like debating. I’m not trying to prove I’m right; I’m trying to get you to see that we’re both wrong and we need to seek out a better answer. There are a few issues I see as black and white… and it bugs the Hell out of me. It’s FAR more psychologically troubling than issues that have ambiguous answers.

After reading about positive disintegration, it’s beginning to make sense. The serial hobby chasing, the life experience seeking, the debates, the introspection… it’s all an attempt to dissolve the barriers leading to personal growth. I’m somewhere in stage three as I develop that “ideal self” of stage four.

I’ll be writing more about this idea in the near future. Anyone else seem to fit this model? Am I just falling for a Barnum effect? Is my concern that this could be a Barnum effect evidence it’s a valid theory?

Share your thoughts!

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3 Comments

  1. John Y.
    March 23, 2013

    I am not quite sure that is the model I have become, but I liken it more to a sense of being in control of destiny. I am a VERY small cog in this world, or even this blog, but I see things in life as a means of growing up, finding solid footing, and creating a future for myself, wife, and future brood. I guess it is a release of self and selfishness, attaining a growth that results in caring for others more than you would yourself. I thought that I would be…um…”Happily Single” but the truth is I was more blissfully ignorant of the true joy of sharing. I make decisions now based on what is best for my wife, and how that decision will help make her time here more enjoyable. I pay a mortgage and all the other ball and chain crap associated with what constitutes a “normal” life, and there are more pits and valleys (not peaks and valleys) than you know. But, I revel in it. I seek ways to make the ball and chain lose its hold on us. That means doing away with things that the Happily Single guy relished in: Eating out several times a week, spending not saving, wearing newer clothes, etc. That frees up more brain power to focus on things that I know are more important than I am. These little crises of self give way to the discovery that there are better ways to deal with things, and better ways of accomplishing. This life is a collection of crises, good and bad, and the truth is that we all have them. Having a second opinion and option helps make them doable and enjoyable. Or maybe we all like to rant a bit. Yes, that’s my answer!!!

  2. Damien Tougas
    March 22, 2013

    Continuing on from my comment in that previous thread… I really think big personal growth comes more after the high is over. When the reality of something sets in and you have to learn how to deal with that reality.

    I liken it to marriage. Once the honeymoon period of over, it can get difficult before it gets better. It’s after that period that you really learn how to be in an intimate relationship with someone.

    I think that if you keep chasing the high of a new experience, you will miss out on the really good, transformative stuff that comes afterwards

    Of course having a good blend of the two is good. I am an experience junkie too. I try to have a few long-term “projects” to round me out a bit too though.

  3. Dave
    March 22, 2013

    Based on the lack of comments, I’m guessing that nobody knows what the hell either one of us are talking about. Too bad – I was planning on passing on some other sure-fire future blog topics, such as:

    – Dolphins – Why are they so effin’ smug?
    – Tasty toppings for communion wafers
    – Pictures of Jason looking at things

    By the way, I’m in your neck of the woods next week. Can you arrange some decent weather please? Thanks.