Jul 17, 2010

Jul 14, 2010

Willpower as a Limited Resource

Willpower is often necessary to make positive changes in our lives. Any choice that runs counter to habit requires an injection of willpower.

Willpower is a finite resource that can easily be squandered. To get an idea of how little willpower we actually have at our disposal, consider that we are unaware or poorly aware of most of the processes going on in our body and psyche at any given moment. Our consciousness is only capable of processing a small bit of information at a time, whereas our unconscious mechanisms deal with enormous streams of information and produce rapid reflexes over which we have little or no control.

Exercising willpower requires holding in one's consciousness an additional thought over a substantial stretch of time. Generally, it is a thought that the mind frequently returns to and dwells upon, trying to "reprogram" a certain behavior or thought pattern that may or may not be fully accessible to consciousness.

Everyday tasks take up the lion's share of our consciousness, and only a small percentage seems to be consistently available for intentional self-improvement. I doubt the percentage varies much, if at all, from type to type. However, the kinds of things that people apply their willpower to may be type related.

For instance, extraverts seem more adept at applying willpower to change their external circumstances, while introverts are better at adjusting their reactions to things. Obviously both elements are critical in self-improvement, but an extravert seems to need an introvert to help him change his behavior and attitudes, while an introvert needs an extravert to help him change his life circumstances.

Some people might be somewhat more prone to self-improvement than others. This could be due either to greater self-awareness (more mechanisms accessible to consciousness) or to a greater propensity to exercise willpower upon the things they have become aware of. Such people tend to become spiritual teachers, in the loosest sense of the term.

Furthermore, during different periods of life people are prone to apply different levels of willpower. One may spend months engrossed in work, schooling, hobbies, or addictions and then suddenly begin an ambitious self-improvement campaign that uses a great deal of conscious resources.

What are the best ways to utilize one's limited willpower?

First of all, willpower is best used for small-scale incremental change, not for abrupt and drastic change. The latter is almost always reactionary and almost always fails. Pretty much any habit developed through willpower eventually becomes unconscious. That is one of the keys to self-improvement and to skill acquisition in general.

Consider that almost all crash diets are unsuccessful, as are most attempts to quit smoking. Most new gym memberships remain unused, and most New Year's resolutions forgotten.

Most often, behavioral changes are successful because they build upon a foundation of habits developed incrementally through the application of conscious effort.

A crash diet requires spending a large portion of one's time exercising willpower and conscious effort over a period of days, weeks, or months. Neither the diet itself nor the level of effort are sustainable in the long run. Any dietary habits gained are typically not applicable to normal life, and after a few weeks or months the mind is eager to stop thinking about food for a while.

A better way is to focus on developing, one by one, eating and lifestyle habits that you wish to maintain for the rest of your life. If there is a substantial amount of weight to lose, you may focus on trying to lose "one more pound" than on thinking about the entire 30 pounds you wish to lose by a certain date.

Rather than trying to change your entire diet abruptly, just introduce a change or two at a time, adding new elements once you feel the previous changes have turned into habit and no longer require conscious thought and effort.

Furthermore, the ability to "lose one more pound" is a useful skill you can use to maintain your ideal weight for the rest of your life, never allowing yourself to stray more than a few pounds in either direction. In contrast, crash dieting is not a useful skill unless it is unsuccessful, meaning that it's pointless (even harmful, according to dietologists).

The concept of incremental change is fundamental to skill acquisition. For instance, if you are trying to learn a foreign language and pick random words out of the dictionary to memorize, your success will be very minimal. If, however, you focus on learning words that you recognize from hearing or reading many times, your success will be rapid. In the latter case, you are focusing your consciousness on the "natural next step" in your language acquisition process.

A sure sign of an imperfect approach to skill acquisition is recurring frustration. This means you are reaching for material that is too far above your current skill level and too unrelated to your existing body of knowledge. Likewise in self-improvement. Failure in one's personal goals is often (but not always) the result of aiming for goals that would require too many life changes in too little time to achieve.

Another way to get the most out of your limited willpower is to gather objective information about the area of your life you are trying to change.

For people who know little about nutrition and health, crash dieting and crash exercise regimens may be the only method they can think of to improve their situation. Reading authoritative sources on the subject and talking to people who are obviously successful and talk freely about their lifestyles are excellent ways to learn about more effective and enjoyable ways of improving your health.

In many cases, the people who hold the answers to our problems are all around us, but we fail to ask them and acquire their know-how. One of the great benefits of the Internet is the opportunity to find all out about just about any "problem" and even discuss it anonymously with others, thus bypassing feelings of inadequacy that normally keep people from discussing their personal goals and issues with others.

A final strategy to maximize the efficacy of finite willpower is to focus on changing factors that contribute to the behavior rather than trying only to change the behavior itself. This was discussed in a previous post on asceticism.

For instance, instead of trying to to drink less, stop going to parties (it requires a lot less willpower). Instead of trying to get more exercise, sell your car (walking is the foundation of fitness). Instead of trying to eat less, adopt a diet of unprocessed foods (you will find it very hard to overeat on them). Instead of trying to get out more, cancel your home Internet subscription (give up your pseudo-socializing activities). Instead of trying to spend less money, cancel your credit card subscriptions and switch to a cash-only policy (it'll be a lot harder for you to make spur-of-the-moment purchases).

All of these changes involve creating a basic structure that makes it much easier to develop the behavior you want. In each example listed above, less overall effort is required to establish the structure and maintain it than to apply willpower directly to the behavior itself over a long period of time.

You just have to sell your car once, whereas getting more exercise while having a car requires expending precious willpower day after day over several months. Keeping a diet of unprocessed foods requires exercising self-control only when buying food, whereas eating less requires exercising it every time you eat.


Using these three strategies -- making small incremental changes, educating yourself, and focusing on contributing factors -- will help you make the most of your very limited willpower resources.

Jul 8, 2010

Thresholds and Psychological Types

I think the concept of thresholds might be important in unraveling the mysteries of different psychological types.

A threshold is "the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, result, or condition to occur or be manifested" (MacBook Dictionary).

Thresholds are already a working concept in neuropsychology, and some types of thresholds -- such as pain thresholds -- have already been well-researched. Some people react to pain at lower pain levels, while others are more resistant. The lower a threshold, the greater one's sensitivity.

Could it be that socionic types essentially differ on the basis of their thresholds for different kinds of stimuli? Or might threshold levels at least be a partial answer to the question, "what are the significant mechanistic differences between people?"

I see this "mechanistic approach" to personality as the opposite of socionics' more traditional "abstract logic" approach where logical categories are established and phenomena (people, interaction, information, behavior) are classified according to these categories, but 1) there is never absolute certainty as to whether the established categories are actually the most useful ones, and 2) the actual mechanisms by which the categories exist and operate are unknown.

The pitfalls of socionics' dominant methodology are well-known and far-reaching, and I feel like I talk about them in every other blogpost. The shortcomings of the mechanistic approach are 1) the slow pace of scientific progress and 2) the possibility that the results obtained through research will be too disorderly to be of much use to laymen. In my opinion, many socionists have a gut fear of disorderly scientific findings messing up their clear mental picture of things socionic.

But I digress. The mechanistic approach must be developed in socionics to bring it back to life and make it something more than a scientific conjecture (that is treated as fact by many of its proponents).

When looking for thresholds that may be significant determinants of interpersonal behavior and compatibility, I see no reason to assume that there must be 4, 8, or 16 such thresholds, or that the level of the threshold can be only "high" or "low," making it convenient to divide people into two discrete groups. Or that each threshold must be independent of the others (such as the four Jungian dichotomies), making it convenient to create a typology.

I would prefer to work from the bottom up, observing individual people and looking for thresholds, and basically any traits in general, that seem to play a significant role in their interaction with the world around them.

It is easiest to start with myself and people with a temperament similar to my own. From what I can tell:

- well-developed planning faculties, but unwillingness to make long-term plans (commitments) due to impulsivity (see below) and changeability of one's state
- low short-term self-control (things like leaving the house on time, abstaining from eating free cookies, or redoing one's work), but fairly high ability to make rational longer-term choices
- impulsivity as a result of low short-term self-control and changeability of moods and desires (a low threshold to a certain kind of stimuli?)
- waves of productivity as a result of impulsitivity; someone like this typically has to find a way to exploit one's changeable mental states in order to be productive, for instance by choosing an unstructured lifestyle and developing productive activities for each recurring state, and then engaging in each of them as the states change
- generally high threshold to signals from one's own body and to sensory signals in general; can easily take a mental interest in these areas via study or mentorship
- strong tendency towards mental absorption, which is a positive emotional experience; this absorption is often stronger than the demands of one's physical needs and almost always stronger than one's self-control, leading one to "overdo" things and neglect one's personal needs and external duties, if any
- great interest in information exchange with other people; a need to know what's going on in the spheres one is interested in and exchange information about it with other people
- low novelty threshold, and novelty is associated with positive emotional experiences; mental activity is easily stimulated by anything unexpected, unusual, and unfamiliar (however, this applies only to things that can provide mental stimulation: news, information, facts, activities, people, capabilities of other people, characteristics of the environment)
- as a result, one tends to use novelty as an "upper" to stimulate positive states and motivate oneself to act; lack of novelty is associated with boredom, lethargy, and indifference
- avoidance of pain and potentially painful situations (low pain threshold?), whether physical or interpersonal; this can lead to avoidant behavior patterns and an unwillingness to deal with problems

Clearly, this temperament "signature" is not unique to myself. Furthermore, it is clear that it has an evolutionary basis and serves a valuable societal function.

The observations above might be summarized as follows:

Societal purpose
This type is oriented towards the satisfaction of a certain kind of mental needs -- one's own and of society (hence the drive to exchange information). It specializes in the detection, processing, and conveyance of new and potentially useful information (news, trends, useful skills, tricks) and accumulates and exchanges this knowledge and skills with others, largely passing by information that is not easily conveyable. Where there is too much information available for one person to keep track of and process (such as in a complex society), a person of this type tends to develop niche interests and disregard other areas, in order to conserve energy.

Other, competing classes of needs -- physical and, to a lesser degree, social -- take a second seat to mental needs. This is probably accomplished through thresholds: mental states having to do with the presence or absence of new, interesting information (boredom/absorption, mental excitement level, a sense of prospects or the lack thereof) have low thresholds, meaning that they affect behavior powerfully, while physical needs have high thresholds (with the probable exception of one's pain threshold) and social thresholds are at medium levels.

This type is poor at making commitments, exercising continual conscious discipline, or submitting to structure and external demands due to impulsivity, changeability of moods, lack of self-control, and high susceptibility to mental absorption. At the same time, the type is good at engaging in a wide range of activities fitted to its different states of mind.

In addition…

Find ways to become an information specialist and exchanger without overstimulating yourself mentally and weakening your body and social relations. Develop a lifestyle that capitalizes on your high mental absorption potential and lack of self-control while steering you away from addictions (see earlier post).

Who complements you
Most likely, people with high novelty thresholds, low physical thresholds, and medium social thresholds, who are also moody, changeable, and impulsive.

Some ideas

I would need to do some research on physiological and neural thresholds to build upon or revise what I've written above. However, I do have some ideas that might be applicable to socionics.

One is that extraverted intuition types are fundamentally interested in information exchange, while what introverted intuition types are interested in can less easily be called "information" in the traditional sense of the world. It's more an experience or process, or perhaps a way of seeing things.

Another observation regards different types' response to what I call "novel information." Most extraverted sensing types I can think of seem to have a much more reserved, somewhat negative (mistrustful) response to novelty. They are more resistant to the influence of new information and tend to accept it only after it has ceased to be novel (at least in their particular social circle). Again, we have to be careful about defining "novel information" (which I won't try to do here).

It is tempting to try to associate each socionic function with some kind of threshold, and I try to resist this impulse. Nonetheless, I wonder if one might have a low threshold not only with the 1st function, but also with the 4th. The difference might be that the motivation with the 1st function is to embrace, while the motivation of the 4th is to avoid. In other words, the 1st function is easily stimulated with the purpose of embracing, while the 4th function is easily stimulated with the purpose of avoiding.

It is also tempting to continue on in this classical socionic spirit and hypothesize a "new socionics model" (whoop-dee-do) where each function number is assigned an approximate threshold level (High, Medium, or Low) and a positive or negative sign:

1: L+
2: M+
3: M-
4: L-
5: H+
6: M+
7: M-
8: H-

You analytical types can now pick that apart in search of symmetry and asymmetry and make it more elegant, but I am still convinced that this type of model gets us nowhere. It just teases a certain brain module without providing any real answers. Progress will be made by working from the ground up, collecting data, and trying to understand how specific neural mechanisms work.

So, it is more useful, in my opinion, not to look for thresholds that correspond to socionic categories, but rather thresholds that correspond to directly observed phenomena.

I find myself moving away from the classical socionics ideas that information can be divided into 8 categories and that when two types interact one function somehow conveys information to the same function in the other person. I'm not sure these concepts have much practical potential anyways (can they ever be tested?).

When thinking in terms of thresholds we can see that some bit of information might be "novel" and hence stimulating to one person and yet "old news" and hence uninteresting to someone else of the same type. Thus, it could be treated with interest or disinterest for reasons having nothing to do with type. The novel information (or old news) might be conveyed by a person of any type (imagine hearing a phrase such as, "have you heard about ________?"). Thus, something novel might be gleaned from someone who had no idea that he possessed novel information or qualities.

Note also that I am suggesting a definition of extraverted intuition quite different from Augusta's definitions: "the inner content and structure of an object" and "the object's potential energy." In practice I find that extraverted intuition types (ILE and IEE) are more about gathering, trying out, and conveying new and novel information than about "studying underlying phenomena" and "grasping the inner substance" (traits of analytic minds, perhaps?).

Jul 6, 2010

Career Opportunities for the Future

This is a follow-up to my posts "More on Career Recommendations" and "The Energy Descent Future", both of which have little to do with socionics but contain information that could be important for developing career and business opportunities that both fit your personality and will be in demand in the future. So, this post should be at least as useful as more traditional discussions of what careers are suitable for different personality types. The shortcoming of such discussions is that they assume that the job market will continue evolving in the same direction as it has been over past decades. There are a number of reasons to suppose that this will not be the case.

My comments below are based on the expectation of an energy descent, or reduction in total energy available to the economy, due to the exhaustion of cheap fossil fuel sources. There appears to be no way to avoid an energy descent, and probably no way to avoid a drop in economic output as a result. The energy descent has likely just begun, and there is no end in sight.

There will be winners and losers in the new economy that will take shape as fossil fuels are phased out (whether through high prices or centralized measures). People who align themselves correctly with the underlying trends stand to gain, while those who try to play by old rules will lose.

In general, the losers will be any goods or service industry that is heavily dependent upon cheap fossil fuels to function (whether directly or indirectly). That means:
- international trade
- large corporations
- administration and management personnel
- bureaucratic structures
- industrial agriculture
- automobile industry
- federally funded science
(and many others)

In general, the winners will be small local businesses and entrepreneurs who are the first to occupy vital niches in the new economy.
- locally produced goods
- traditional home builders and home retrofitters
- people who build useful things in their garages
- mechanics who can build useful things out of cars and other machinery
- scrap material collection and trading
- people who can convert lawns into gardens
- local organic farmers and backyard gardeners
- plant nurseries and seed banks
- people who know how to set up and run non-mechanized aquaculture, animal husbandry, and small-scale agriculture
- people who have means of transportation allowing them to trade goods across modest distances (5-100 miles or so)
- family doctors and dentists who have their own equipment
- local chemical labs (think insulin and other critical medications)
- people who can solve local engineering problems, such as stabilizing riverbanks, building waterwheels, hooking up solar panels, etc.
- security guards
- teachers of practical trades

This is just a partial list. There will be tons of these opportunities, and much of this type of work may be under-the-table at first, unless government regulations are rapidly adapted to changing conditions (very doubtful).

People who are primarily employed in the first group may experience a long period of increasing disappointment and shattered expectations before finally making the transition to the second group. Those who foresee these changes are able to provide useful services or goods from the beginning will be in a great position to benefit from the new opportunities available.

UPDATE 4/3/2011:

I just came across a great article that goes into greater detail on the professional opportunities of the future with thinking along the same lines as my own. It's got quite a few good ideas:

Jul 4, 2010

Introductory Socionics Video

I thought I'd have some fun making some videos on the subject of socionics. Here it is:

Maintaining Independence from Commercial Systems

This is a very condensed version of what was going to be a long essay. I decided that many of the points I was making were too obvious and repetitive to warrant a complete posting here.

On a typical day a person participates in a large number of systems created and/or managed by other people. While such systems are only able to exist because they address some human need, their interests never completely coincide with those of the people who rely on them. There is always tension between between the appetites of these systems and the needs of the individuals using them.

This tension is particularly apparent when examining commercial systems, where the system's interest is transparently financial. However, in noncommercial social organizations one can also identify tension between the system's needs and those of participants or "users."

The basic point of this post is to help readers identify their optimal level of involvement in the systems they participate in -- particularly commercial systems.

Examples of such systems are: websites such as Facebook, Google, or even Wikipedia, your job, your gym, your church, the healthcare industry, the automobile industry, the real estate industry, the food industry, the Internet in general, and the institution of higher education.

Each of these systems provides valuable opportunities and services to those you use them. Some are commercial, some are not. All such systems can only exist because they address some need, whether personal or organizational. However, from an early stage in the life of any system the primary purpose changes from serving users' needs to serving the system's own needs. Successful systems must undergo this change in order to survive, but they also must continue to effectively satisfy their users' needs as well.

Essentially, it is in the interests of such systems to stimulate a higher level of involvement than what is actually optimal for individual users. Here is a chart that illustrates this difference:

The green line shows diminishing returns for a person who is taking part in the system, and the red line shows increasing negative side-effects as one becomes overinvolved. The optimal level of involvement for the individual is where they are receiving most of the benefits from the system (the things the system does best) but are experiencing few if any negative side-effects.

The goal of systems (commercial systems in particular) is generally to stimulate as much involvement (energy investment) as possible without causing the user's complete destruction. This strategy is essentially parasitic. A parasite strives to divert as many of the host's resources for its own purposes without killing the host.

The ways in which systems stimulate over-involvement for their own benefit are most transparent (and probably most sinister) in large-scale commercial systems such as the healthcare industry or the real-estate industry, which end up controlling our entire lifestyle.

It is natural for many people to assume that the mechanisms used to induce overinvolvement were developed by some brilliant (perhaps sinister) mastermind who definitely knew exactly what he was doing, but really they arise gradually over time as a natural result of wise financial decision-making on the part of the system's managers and investors.

In the longer version of this essay I demonstrated points such as the following:

- Your gym is interested in getting as many people as possible to buy memberships and as few of them as possible to actually use them.

- Facebook has been taking steps to increase the levels of addiction among Facebook users. None of these steps help people become more socially connected.

- The healthcare industry has a number of players (providers, insurers, pharmaceuticals, employers, and consumers) with conflicting interests; the competition between the big organizational players' interests and the sidelining of consumers' interests produce the unfriendly, overpriced, and often maddening healthcare system we have in the U.S.

- The automobile and transportation industry is interested in keeping people from walking and having easy foot access to important locations, even though this comes at great cost in health and quality of life for residents.

- The real estate industry is interested in getting people to buy homes that are as large and costly as possible and consume as large a percentage of consumers' income as possible -- as much as 40 times more income than is necessary to provide the basic comforts that housing is meant to provide.

And so forth.

An important thing to understand is that each system does a good job at providing at least one relatively vital service (or a vital service for some subset of the population). However, as the system grows in influence, it tries to get people hooked not only on the vital service, but on as many nonessential auxiliary services as possible.

For instance, Facebook is unparalleled at helping people reconnect with old friends and acquaintances whom it is very hard to keep track of any other way. The healthcare industry is unparalleled at performing complex medical procedures. Churches are unparalleled at providing people with an aggression-free environment where they can experience a sense of unity with other people. Higher education is unparalleled at creating a research environment for the furtherment of knowledge.

A shrewd individualist, it would seem, should be able to recognize the essential services a system can provide and make use of them without being lured in by the nonessential, often costly additional services that the system offers, but actually doesn't provide very well.

The conclusion? No system can be fully trusted to take care of your needs for you. It is probably not in their interests.

Jul 1, 2010

Asceticism in a Modern Setting

For millenia individuals and groups of people have chosen to forego pleasures and comforts in order to obtain physical, psychological, and/or emotional benefits.

Learning to cope with physical hardships and deprivations has been a key aspect of entering manhood in many indigenous cultures. In learning to deal with pain and hardships, a young man developed valuable masculine qualities such as stoicism, willpower, and the ability to make sacrifices for the greater good.

In many religious communities, initiates have been taught to forego sensual pleasures -- sex, physical comforts, wine, and good food -- in order to direct all their emotional excitement towards worship or meditation.

It seems that asceticism has existed primarily as a cultural undercurrent; only rarely has it become a dominant cultural feature -- for instance, in ancient Sparta. Typically, mass culture is quite hedonistic (enjoyment and comfort oriented), and ascesticism is practiced among individuals and small groups out of the public eye. Even when some variety of asceticism becomes the official ideology -- for instance, in a highly militarized and/or fundamentalist state -- most people maintain a lackadaisical attitude towards the ideology and practice a milder form of it in their personal lives.

This suggests that self-discipline and abstention from indulgence is not for everyone, or that people are capable of it to different degrees. It could be a useful tool for people suffering from addictions, but the power of their addiction may be stronger than their ability to exercise self-discipline.

Self-discipline and some form of asceticism are common themes in the life histories of famous people today and in the past. It typically (but not always) requires discipline and concentration to achieve fame, and with fame come additional temptations that can lead to one's downfall if one relaxes one's vigilance (Elvis Presley comes to mind as a typical example).

Is asceticism relevant in modern society?

I would say yes, more than ever. Thanks to the immense and cheap energy of fossil fuels, industrial society was able to release most people from the inconvenience of hard labor and provide them with all sorts of comforts and pleasures at very little cost or effort.

This disruption of the human "power process" (the process by which people gain a sense of personal power or empowerment) was well described by Theodore Kaczynski in his treatise "Industrial Society and Its Future." Industrialization made the innately empowering vital activities (direct provision for one's needs) unnecessary and replaced them with surrogate activities ("jobs") that people pretend are vitally important but deep down feel that they are not.

Given the abundant cheap energy of modern industrial society, diverse forms of need satisfaction have been developed that an easily generate dependencies and addictions. This is an ideal way of making money for producers of goods and services. I'll start with things that are not traditionally associated with addictions.

1. Food. Food producers play on our natural biological impulses to generate addictions to their products, which contain sweeteners, fats, and excitotoxins that make us eat more of something than we really need, and also generate cravings. Since super energy-dense food was a relatively rare treat in our evolutionary past, we seem to be programmed to eat as much of it as we can when we come across it. Now this trait is kicking us in the butt, so to speak.

2. Comforts. In this category are all kinds of appliances and comforts that reduce one's expenditure of effort, and, of course, the automobile. On the surface they appear to make life easier, but beneath the surface they make us less resourceful, weaker (physically and psychologically), and more isolated. Once one is in this state, continued use of these "comforts" is almost inevitable.

3. Entertainment. In the electronic age it is now possible to spend many hours a day stimulating one's entertainment needs while putting forth very little physical and social effort. Myriad computer games, movie and TV program viewing, virtual social networking, information browsing, and virtual sexual stimulation are all easily addicting activities that can gobble up mental and physical resources. Since empowerment occurs via the achievement of results through the exertion of effort, entertainment activities produce little or no empowerment and actually tend to make one less physically and socially robust.

4. Traditional addictions. Drugs, booze, gambling, compulsive behaviors such as shopaholism, etc.

The typical member of a modern affluent society has mild to severe addictions in one or more, or even all of these areas: food, comforts, entertainment, and traditional addictions. In general, modern society provides decent mental development, is rather weak in emotional development, and is utterly pathetic at developing the body's physical capabilities.

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of idealizing pre-industrial society, which may have been far from ideal. Contact with rural communities in Ukraine and elsewhere suggests that such societies are prone to a different set of addictions, for instance alcoholism, domestic violence, and gossip.

Sometimes I wonder if most people in pretty much any society are basically doomed to spend their lives trapped by various addictions in an act of voluntary self-suppression that indirectly enables the self-realization of a few, more empowered individuals.

Addictions are a major obstacle to self-realization. Self-realization requires focus, dedication, passion, and, of course, concerted effort over a long period of time. Food addictions sap our physical strength, willpower, and self-esteem. Comforts remove us from the natural world and make us more helpless and dependent. Easy entertainment distracts us from personal goals that require effort and focus. Traditional addictions can rob us of our willpower and eventually of our friends, work, and families.

Socionics and addictions

We could take a brief socionics detour and discuss which types are more prone to different types of addictions. I'm not sure the correlations are great enough to warrant a separate discourse on the subject.

Certainly there are predominately "male" and "female" addictions. Males tend to gravitate to traditional bad habits (alcohol, gambling, drugs), to competitive games, sex, and food. Women seem to accumulate addictions to entertainment with social and emotional content, physical comforts, food, and drugs.

I'm sure there are also type-related patterns. I've seen a few SEI hedonists with dependencies on drugs and unhealthy food. ILEs and IEEs seem to easily get attached to online information gathering and dissemination, which can quickly become a meaningless activity if overengaged in. I'll bet there are plenty of ethical extraverts with Facebook addictions, as well as SLE alchoholics. I haven't peeked enough into the private lives of different people to recognize unequivocal patterns, though.

Asceticism as an empowering force

Addictive tendencies and unhealthy behaviors can be managed to a large degree by removing or altering the facilitating factors and adopting a more austere regimen in trouble areas.

This requires honesty to be objective about yourself, self-reflection to identify facilitating factors in your environment, courage to take steps that other people may perceive (at first) as strange and unnecessary, and a good dose of self-love to even care about it all in the first place.

Let me share what my wife and I have done to nip some problems in the bud. You may find our solutions unconventional and eccentric, but they have improved our quality of life and personal power.

1. Food. We keep no unhealthy foods in the home and consume no sugar (sometimes we use honey). We've replaced sources of saturated fat with olive oil and adhere to a Mediterranean diet whose health benefits are amply supported by scientific research. Sometimes when we are with other people or need to buy something to justify our use of wi-fi in a public cafe, we'll buy some food that we wouldn't consume at home, but we never buy this food at the store to bring it home. Any tendency towards unhealthy compulsive eating is kept out of the home. We've come to really enjoy our choice of healthy, largely unprocessed foods, and find that we never feel like pigging out because it lacks the substances and combinations that stimulate this behavior. We are also experimenting with growing food in our own apartment.

2. Comforts. We do not have a car and get around by public transportation. We've chosen a place to live where it is convenient to do so. We don't have a washing machine or dishwasher and have learned to do these tasks quickly (just as quickly, actually) by hand, which saves resources and makes us more flexible as travelers. Our attitudes towards comfort and cleanliness have become more natural as we've foregone expensive appliances and technology and learned how to do things effectively ourselves. We feel more capable and resourceful as a result.

3. Entertainment. We have no TV, radio, or Internet at home. This is perhaps the most radical lifestyle choice with the most unexpectedly positive consequences. Living without mass media promotes independent thought and the ability to engage in self-directed activities for longer periods of time. We spend more time talking and doing things together as opposed to being passive recipients of entertainment. No Internet at home means no compulsive Internet use, a better sleep schedule and sounder sleep, more time together, less chaos in the home, conditions more conducive to writing, a more physically and socially active lifestyle, and greater frequency of face-to-face meetings with friends and groups of people with common interests.

To deal with her dissatisfaction with superficial online interaction, my wife has chosen to go back to writing paper letters and mailing them to people who are important to her. She's removed much of her information on Facebook and no longer uses it to socialize. This hasn't been a problem for me, so I continue to use Facebook as I see fit, but not at home.

Whenever I get a new computer, I immediately remove all the built-in games to avoid compulsively wasting time on them. I have no games to play in the home. This isn't a problem for my wife, so she doesn't worry about it.

To get online, we go to one of several places in town or at friends' houses. This, I feel, puts the Internet in its proper place. If you have unlimited Internet access at home, as the years go by you will almost inevitably find that its role in your life has become too large and that in some ways you have become a slave to it. Of course, different personalities have different susceptibilities.

4. Traditional addictions. These have not been a problem, so we haven't needed to take any steps to fix it.

As you can see, our life is pretty austere in several ways. I believe that austerity is often needed to keep one's natural strengths from turning into compulsions that control your life. As I have probably written elsewhere, one's strengths are often related to involuntary behaviors -- things that you "can't help doing."

For instance, I can't help gathering and sharing information. When there are no barriers to this activity, I can engage in this compulsively and excessively online to the detriment of other areas of my life. I also can't help concentrating on something for long periods of time. This means that I can end up spending too much time on one activity past the point of exhaustion. Improving my basic habits and keeping the Internet out of the home reduces the likelihood that I'll have episodes where I have wasted many hours of time and end up feeling wasted myself.

In short, one's weaknesses are often outgrowths of one's strengths. If some asceticism is introduced to create some obstacles for these weaknesses to develop, you can enjoy and benefit from the strengths without overdoing it.

If you're a natural connoisseur of good foods, you may find you'll need to limit yourself to a strict diet where you may experiment only with natural, wholesome foods or where you are only "allowed" a gourmet meal once a week.

If you are wasting your life on computer games, you might remedy the situation by getting yourself an old computer that is too slow to run any interesting games.

If you have a habit of running up credit card debt, you might want to close all your bank accounts and adopt a cash-only policy.

Some people may think you're strange, but don't listen to them. The benefits to be gained from freeing yourself from dependencies are well worth any minor inconveniences.