Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Dopamine Trap

Here is a list of things I do from time to time just because I feel like it:
Solve a Wordle puzzle and a Numberle puzzle.
Work on a Nonogram.
Play "Bricks 'n Balls" on our iPad.

There are many other things I could list but I am not listing them because they do not act as dopamine traps as far as I can tell.  A dopamine trap is a thing that will stop a person from getting stuff done.  It works by providing a schedule of dopamine releases.  The brain's default method of providing motivation to the experiencing being using it is to seek dopamine release, and it does an amazing amount of pattern recognition processing to find the things that cause dopamine to be released.

There are some rational foundations for my interest in some of the items in my list.  The puzzles in the first item work different parts of my brain and make for good practice.  Since they help keep me sharp, I indulge myself by playing them.  The nonogram works some important parts of my brain too, so that's also a justifiable indulgence.  There is one minor value related to brain health in the third item in my list, and that is the strategy development for getting enough points to get three stars.  I played the game for probably about 100 hours over the last five years before I realized that I should be using a strategy. Until then, it functioned only to relax my brain, and not even as well as taking a nap would have.

I wrote this to exorcise the time-wasting demon that I think of as "the dopamine trap."  My description of dopamine and how it relates to our brains is from memory and may be slightly inaccurate.  If you know better, please let me know!

Friday, April 29, 2022

What the Trashcan Told Me (4/25/2022)

After my yoga this morning, I stood, as usual, facing the sun feeling gratitude for my experience of life.  I opened my palms toward the sun and took several deep slow breaths.  Then I was done.  There's always a few bits of grass stuck to my hands so I rubbed them together to brush them off.  I turned to continue my walk but in the corner of my eye I saw what seemed to be a person so I looked at it and it was just a trash can.  Then I walked over to it, looked around it and in it and found nothing interesting.  Then I imagined that someone could see me and would come ask if I lost something. The following is how I imagined that conversation might go:

"No, I just noticed this trash can out of the corner of my eye and thought it was a person and I don't think those things are simply random so I came to investigate.  Maybe it was because... you need someone to talk to?"

He thought about it a while and then said "Maybe."

We stood there looking at each awkwardly as I watched his face relax from what seemed to be a grimace.

"My wife is pissed at me.  I don't really wanna talk about it but maybe you're right."

I looked at the ground which I can see is a habit of mine when someone tells me something that is sad for them.  Then I looked back at his face and saw that he was looking for words.

"Uh..." he said, confirming my interpretation.  He looked a little teary-eyed when he said "I actually prayed for help.  She won't answer her phone."

I stayed silent and looked away when he glanced up, and then quickly looked back to see him looking for words again.  I wanted to say "It's okay" to let him know that he had all the time he needed.  I was fulfilling the role assigned to me by misinterpreting a trashcan as a person.  I didn't say it, though, because he could tell and the silence was nice.  Perhaps it was a kind of respite for him.

"I cheated on her and she found out last night and now I'm locked out of our house."  He was holding back tears and stopped talking to suppress them.

I struggled with the idea that I was just there to listen and probably shouldn't say anything.  The words I wanted to say were banging on the inside of my head.  They were also changing.  I didn't know what to say anyway.

"I don't know what to do," he said.

"There are other ways to reach her.  Take an ad out on a billboard she can see, or make an apology and put it on her windshield.  I could keep coming up with ideas but eventually I'd have to charge you for them...  But not today.  Today I figure I should listen to you until you're done talking and that will make me feel like I did something worthwhile today.  So if I come up with more ideas and you like one, AND you're done talking, then I can continue my walk."

I watched him think about it.  I regretted making it sound like I wanted to continue my walk. I did, but I liked the conversation too. There were more words in my head, tempting me.  I gave in.

"You're probably not crying about her or being locked out.  You're crying because you have to hurt someone, either your wife or your mistress, to solve your problem.  The thing about relationships is that they make us better if we can tolerate staying in them.  Everyone fucks up.  Did you ever think she was too cold, she spends all your money, she's ungrateful or just mean?" His expression said yes but I didn't want him to feel like he had to admit it, so I continued.  "We can use these as excuses to hurt the people we love, but hurting them is always a fuckup, and if we're with someone really good, they'll bear the suffering and help us get better. So choose one of them."

"That seems so simple, but I can't," he said, after thinking about it.

Sometimes people tell me things I just don't believe and my strategy is to let their claim hang out, unchallenged, unsupported, and chill for a while.  I think about why they believe this unbelievable thing, and what they might think of on their own that would help them question it.  Sometimes this seems to make them think of it too, and maybe even say it.  Eventually, I figured he's just torturing himself with his inability to choose, so I broke the silence.

"You can't because you're sure that it will hurt one of them.  But then you're already hurting both of them.  If you don't choose, eventually the choice will be made for you, and maybe it won't be either of them.  Maybe it would be easier if you accept that you fuck up and one of them helps you get better.  Whatever you do, if you're going to be with someone, it should be someone who helps you become a better person.  And she should know that she does that, and she should expect better from you, and she probably does.  So give that to her, whoever she is."

We stood there for a few more seconds, both of us looking at the other and then away.  Finally, he said "Thanks," and walked away.