Back when I was a Computer Science student, stuck in my stress & sadness... I just wished I could kill my emotions, represented here as a fat gecko named Sticky.
Why couldn't I be more like Spock or Sherlock? I'd be so much more efficient without all these darn emotions in the way.
A lot of my friends felt that way, too. So I started studying Psychology. Maybe it'd teach me how to crush my irrational self... and be a rational machine.
First, I learnt the basics of the brain. It's far more complicated in reality, of course, but let's pretend that brain cells follow one, simple rule:
”Cells that fire together, wire together.”
This is known as Hebb's Rule. While it doesn't explain all about our human brains, it does explain a lot about our lizard brains: instinct, intuition, and that bothersome thing called emotion.
Now that you know how the lizard brain learns, you'll get to perform one of the most famous experiments in psychology! Yup. Right here, right now.
Sticky drools when it sees food. Teach it to drool, instead, at the sound of a bell.
You may have immediately recognized that as the Pavlov's Dog experiment! Except here, you could read the animal's mind. The kind of teaching you just did to Sticky is called classical conditioning, where one learns to associate one sensation with another.
But after I read about that in my Psych textbook, I realized... oh crap, this whole time, I've been conditioning myself to hate doing what I love.
That's burnout. I accidentally associated what I loved (Computer Science) with what I hated. (feeling tired, hungry, alone) No, no, it's okay. Now that I knew, maybe I could reprogram myself? Maybe...
It took some time, but it worked. My inner Sticky stopped rebelling, and in fact, started cheering me on! All I had to do was to take care of my basic needs, and make a deliberate effort to associate my work with positive things, so I could love doing what I love.
Or as I put it in my diary...
But I remained suspicious of Sticky. I was still a constant emotional wreck, and obviously, the logical & rational thing to do was blame an imaginary gecko inside my head.
So, I went back to my Psych book. Next, I learnt about another famous psychology experiment, which you'll also get to re-enact now! This time, Sticky doesn't merely react to things - Sticky takes action.
Teach Sticky to pull the lever, but NEVER to push the button.
Now Sticky knows -- pull, not push.
That was a variant on the Skinner Box experiment. What you did to Sticky is called operant conditioning, finding that you could shape behavior with reward & punishment. And don't worry, Skinner was just the name of the scientist... not a description of what the box does to animals.
And again, I realized operant conditioning had a lot to do with all the bad habits I'd accumulated over the years... years of not taking good care of my inner Sticky.
<last minute edit - removing this part, see footnote>
It was one of my most destructive bad habits. I am not proud of this.
Catharsis doesn't work. Psychologists have known this for decades, but this poisonous myth still persists, so it's worth saying again. Catharsis doesn't work. You're not releasing bad emotions, you're rehearsing them.
But now I knew. And again, I could work with Sticky, to break bad habits, and form better ones.
Old habits die hard, but they can die. Habits have three stages: cue, routine, reward. What I did was kept the same cue, (anger) kept the same reward, (self-expression) but replaced the routine with something healthier. (channeling my stress & sadness into stories... like the one you're reading right now.)
My diary had a snappier summary:
You know what's funny? Pavlov & Skinner thought we were merely programmed with conditioning - emotional machines. But I wanted to get rid of my emotional self, and just be a rational machine.
I finally realized - I am not a machine. I'm two of them.
And shame on me for trying to kill half of myself.
. . .
A lot of my friends wanted - some still want - to be all rationality and no emotion. It's a common desire.
I don't blame them. When you're drowning in sorrow, I know it's tempting to wanna rid yourself of all emotions... I know.
But please - don't ignore or fight your emotions, work with them. Emotion isn't illogical, it just speaks in a different kind of logic. You can learn its language.
. . .
If you took away anything from this essay, please let it be a rational case for "irrational" emotions.
Listen to your inner Sticky, help it grow big and strong, and make it your friend. You'll need time, help from others, maybe a whole change of environment. It's not gonna be easy...
...but it's gonna be worth it.
First Draft Thoughts & Feedback: Yeah on second thought, don't go for the "Channelling > Catharsis" thing, because: 1) I could find no hard research on "channelling" being psychologically helpful, not that "channelling" is that rigorously defined anyway... 2) The topic of "catharsis" doesn't flow logically into "habit change". If anything, the "catharsis doesn't work" thing should be given its own sequel, or addendum. 3) The example I was going to use - making violent art in order to "cathartically" release my anger - isn't very relatable. Also, it makes me look like a psychopath. I'm not ashamed to say I'm ashamed. To fix these three problems, give a relatable (but non-trivial) self-destructive bad habit I had as an example. And look up APA's tips on long-term habit change. When it comes to psych research, you could do a lot worse than the APA. Also, for the sake of metaphors, try to find a way to mention Rider & Elephant, System 1 & 2? I was gonna add 'em, but it made the conclusion too long and it didn't flow well. Actually, the System 1 & 2 diagram works pretty well for describing it. Maybe add the Rider & Elephant metaphor there? Doesn't have to quote Haidt exactly... And lastly - how to add depth to the Experiment parts? For example, the Pavlov one. I'd like to be able to mention the model also handles backwards conditioning (it doesn't work) and also if they're simulatenously conditioned. Although, one thing I did find - the flow works pretty well WITHOUT text in the Experiment portion. Half for "world", half for "neuron cell model"??? I dunno, I'd really like to explore with non-linear text responses...