Can you fight off seven billion?
I know I can't. Sometimes it's hard enough just to roll out of bed and scramble some eggs.
The hard truth to swallow is the world is working against you. It's not malicious or brooding, hiding around every corner to stick its big, fat foot out, but it is so complex, it doesn't care at all what you want to do.
Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, breaks it down for blogger Eric Barker like this: "The world is not acting in our long-term benefit. Imagine you walk down the street and every store is trying to get your money right now; in your pocket you have a phone and every app wants to control your attention right now. Most of the entities in our lives really want us to make mistakes in their favor. So the world is making things very, very difficult."
The upside here is that it's not making things impossible, just very, very difficult. It is a cacophony of voices, all dying to be heard, aching for attention. This blog included.
And you might be thinking, "C'mon, it's not all that bad!?" And you're right, there is a flicker of hope. We're not always losing. Your decisions are your superpowers. We filter the world as best we can. We decide what books to read and bars to crash. We know our favorite foods and we can imagine our dream vacation. We need to do this, the world is too large to take everything in.
The trouble is when we don't decide. Because even not deciding is a decision. Wherever and whenever you sway, the world is there to offer up options and toy with your emotions.
Food is a great example. America is a big, fat, health-crazed country. We're a waddling contradiction. And Fed Up is an incredible documentary that pulls the lid off the systematic challenges Americans are up against. We're trying to stay healthy in a country of unhealthy factors - namely, processed foods and poisonous sugars, an obsessive, erroneous focus on exercise, and a government pulling both strings: denying the abuses of a poor diet and praising the benefits of endless calorie-burning exercise. It's so bad that babies are now being born overweight, teenagers are predicted to die before their parents, and adults are contracting diabetes faster than ever before. The world is working against you.
And with all that information, it's easy to promise to yourself and say you'll make rational decisions from here on out, but we know that's bullshit. If a sprinkling of knowledge was all we needed to avoid a sprinkling of sugar, or to become more peaceful, healthy, productive people, we would already be there. The world might then work with us.
But we're not rational-minded robots, we're emotional bundles of experience. What pulls us in any direction in this life is the result of everything before it and we need to work that to our favor.
The Boy Scouts were right, be prepared. And, no, not in the apocalyptic bunker-full-of-food way. More in the anticipating-your-emotions way.
And to do that you need a goal - something that excites your emotions and makes you the person you want to to become. Because, again, as Eric Barker writes, "Not having a plan, goals or a system in today's world is dangerous because the default isn't neutral."
Once you nail down a goal, you can start to explore how to get there.
Author and neurologist Oliver Sacks tells Jad and Robert of Radiolab how he navigates the battle against the world, specifically with his diet, in the episode "Choice". By choosing beforehand to regulate some habits to routine, Sacks can focus on things that really matter to him.
When it comes to food, Sacks says he only purchases seven apples and seven oranges a week because he set a rule for himself to only eat one per day. Otherwise, he knows his own weakness - if he were to purchase any more than seven he admits he would be "greedy and impulsive" and eat them all. He takes a rational precaution to working with his emotions, enjoying the fruits of his labor.
Now, fruit might not be your biggest poison or passion, but Sacks does the same for other foods too, specifically chocolate. Every day he buys a single dollar's worth of 72% cacao chocolate from a local shop to enjoy. No more, no less.
Okay, okay, apples and chocolate might not be the biggest reason to throw a party, however, the discipline and routine of the rules can carry great weight for anyone. The temptations of this world are what catch us when we're emotional, impulsive, animalistic. We can become weak before reaching our dreams.
Author of The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt explains the battle between the minds as a man riding an elephant. Haidt considered the elephant to be our emotional mind and the rider our rational mind. Clearly, you can see how the elephant would win most times in this metaphor. But to keep the elephant on-leash and on course, we need to set some rules. We can comprehend and even appreciate the wild strength of our elephant mind and roll with it.
When it comes down to it, the world is still seven billion plus and you're still going to trick yourself into temptation. That's okay. That's actually great! If you're still here, you still have a choice. Just take another step forward and believe that knowing yourself gives you a fighting chance. And if the world sees that, it might just back off and watch you head down your path.