It seems sensible that we want to retain as much control as possible. From an evolutionary standpoint, being in control of our environment is likely the best way to increase our chances of survival.
Yet based on many of the things we do to not be in control, it stands to reason that we may not value it as much as we think.
Suppose you could take a perfectly safe pill that would give you more willpower. Many of us would jump at the chance. More willpower would mean we readily eliminate bad habits. It might provide the necessary self-control to lose an extra fifteen pounds or quitting an addiction we wish we didn’t have.
Willpower is in high demand in our society because those with a strong will tend to succeed, whereas those who are weak in this department tend to be the biggest attractors of problems.
But others might object to this. Take a pill? That’s not natural. It’s the easy route, a sign of weakness. A pill is merely a crutch which buries the true issue. Yet “pill” in this sense is really only a placeholder. We all want things that will permit us to beat bad habits. This is precisely why we strive so hard to create good habits.
By definition, a habit is a pattern of behavior that becomes involuntary. The reason we practice good habits is so that we can override our emotions in the moment. We want to have built in systems that cause us to override our desire to make undesirable decisions. It is the act of putting some reactions on autopilot, giving up some immediate control.
Of course, there’s a significant difference between someone who eats healthy portion sizes due to good habits versus someone who does the same as a result of having had gastric surgery – the latter of whom is likely covering up some issues. But both value the involuntary nature of not overeating. Both appreciate the value of not having to continually face the challenge of will at every meal. It is this similarity that is striking.
Whether it be by taking a pill, having surgery, or by building good habits, what’s remains the same is the value of giving up some control in the moment.
Anyone who has enjoyed being even mildly intoxicated has accepted that at times, putting control aside is actually refreshing. We just don’t want to give it all up. Or do we?
If you could find a system of habits that always led you to make the right eating decisions, the right financial decisions, or always come up with the best conversational lines in any moment, wouldn’t you want this? Would you really turn down the ability to automatically make the best decisions in any moment? In each case we’d be devaluing control.