Just one

It seems to me that no action stands on its own.

For example, with the rains’ return to Sebastopol over the last week I’ve been continually struck with an urge to smoke tobacco. I quit a month ago and am thoroughly committed to avoiding the stuff, but the niggling voice of temptation reminds me that the cool moist air would nicely complement a cigarette’s warm earthy taste. So why not have just one?

Because it wouldn’t be just one.

I currently have a mental barrier preventing me from smoking: I’d be breaking a month-long streak of abstinence! After I smoked the one, I would no longer have the streak to dissuade me from another. Also, I can’t buy just one cigarette. Acquiring the materials for one cigarette (papers, filters, tobacco) would leave me with the materials for a few dozen cigarettes. I could roll the second cigarette inside, without walking to the store through the rain. Finally, smoking a cigarette would refresh the craving pathway in my mind, making it just as difficult to resist another cigarette as it was on the day I decided to quit.

In other words, there are several types of barriers between the first cigarette and I. I can only overcome them by eroding them, and once I do, the habit can run wild.

I believe that the future is a landscape of probabilities and every present action shapes that landscape. Smoking doesn’t guarantee that I’ll get cancer – but it does increase the likelihood.

Bridging, an explanation

I’ve been using a technique called “bridging” to associate tasks with positive emotion, which makes them easier to perform. The majority of tasks that can improve my life aren’t inherently exciting, so this is a way that I work at making them more exciting.

In “bridging,” I imagine some goal and think about how the task in question takes me toward it. I might not be intrinsically motivated to write for a client, but it can provide me with the money, skills, and character development that will propel me toward my personal goals.

Visualizing this in terms of a landscape seems to help: the goal is a distant hilltop, my potential futures are the landscape around it, and the footpath to it is the path I’ll take. The more personally meaningful the goal, and the more detailed the imagining of the incremental steps towards that goal, the more positive emotion I can derive from this technique.

E.L. Doctorow said something similar about his writing style:

“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”