Sunday, September 18, 2011

Crabs in a Pot

The bad thing with any major life change is that circumstances conspire to prevent you from changing. That's how it seems, anyway. One of the reasons so few people really change, even when they are living a life with a definite expiration date, is that they stay in the same environment with the same people.

You decide to change profoundly and give up crime and drugs... how do you think your druggy criminal friends will respond to that? We all know it's harder to give up any bad habit, like smoking, when we spend time with people that smoke.

One friend uses the analogy of crabs in a crabpot. If one did figure out how to climb free, the others would pull him back. Changing your life affects the homeostasis of all those around you. Maybe they don't want to live with the constant reminder that if you can change so could they. Maybe it's darker and they want you to fail so that the part of the brain that's afraid of all change can point to you as an example and keep from trying at all. Maybe...

But there are other crabs in your own mind, things that pull you back. I'm watching two people right now that have made huge gains and it looks to me like they are about to lose it all. That's what has me thinking. But in small ways, we all self-sabotage to prevent change, including success. Some write and don't publish. Everyone has great ideas that they don't try to produce (why have I never got around to substituting the peanuts in a Snickers bar for coffee beans and sold them on college campuses?)

Everyone, with just a few minutes thinking can come up with a plan to make life better. Profoundly better. Almost none will ever write down the plan or execute the steps. Those that do have found a pair of super-powers, planning and execution. But most won't. Crabs in the head hold them back. "That's for special people, not you." "You'd just fail anyway, it would be better not to try."

The crabs in our head hold us back with whispers, not claws.


Michael said...

I think that confidence issues are a big part of it, as you say. But it may also be that even having a compelling goal to achieve (never mind the will and courage to set out after it) is rarer than we'd think.

One thing I hear about successful people is that they have a clear vision: a sense of clarity and certainty about what they want (or feel compelled) to do. They set goals and work towards them. But perhaps more importantly: they don't set their goals in a vacuum. They set their goals because they want to do something.

Charles Bukowski had this idea about artistic creation: for him, the idea of trying to write was missing the point. He said that for him writing was like a beer shit (his words); he couldn't help the urge and couldn't stop himself from doing it even if he wanted to.

In my view, that sort of single-minded requirement to do something is rare in people.

So if this is right, we're not just held back by whispers; many of us just don't want to get out of the crab pot either. Maybe when the pot gets really boring or we're stuck at the bottom (or the fisherman reaches in for us), we have a moment where the crisis kicks us in the face and we finally act. If we're lucky, this spurs us out of the pot and onto greater things (but if the ocean is scarier than we thought, we might return voluntarily). If we're unlucky we thrash about in panic but make no changes.

(As a side-note, this puts an interesting perspective on how to interpret times of crisis: they are often disruptive and distressing but often provide opportunities to change things.)

After a while, once we're used to it and memory fades, we can do a bit of revisionist history: crabs belong in the pot anyway, and maybe it's not that great but at least you've got other crabs and you don't need to worry about sharks anymore.

So to the list of super-powers, we might add: "being inspired to do something." Speaking from my own experience (and a lot of wasted time), that sort of inspiration is something that I'm lucky to discover from time to time. It's hard to make passion out of nothing.

T.S. Eliot wrote:

"I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.


No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous,
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown."

Terry said...

Very inspirational and timely,Rory. Thank you.

JessicaLee said...

Yes, very timely. You said it in your book 'Change Hurts'

Jake said...

Definitely a useful and thought-provoking post. I'm not sure "inspirational" is quite the word I'd use. Maybe, swift kick in the pants. But I guess that can inspire too..

Rob Lyman said...

I work with small and start-up business a fair amount, and the fact is that most of them fail. Not because their founders lack for passion or work ethic or belief in themselves, but because in many cases they're incompetent at planning, execution, or both. Or because they have a really dumb idea that they pursue with single-minded focus. Or simply bad luck.

There's a strong suvivorship bias in focusing on the ways that successful people got that way. Yes, they were bold and focused and inspired. But so were many, many others who failed. It's like looking at a decorated war hero and forgetting that he's decorated because half his unit got shot to rags and yet he kept on going. It's not like the dead guys were less brave or less determined; they were just standing in the wrong place when the shell landed.

On the flip side, I've been sitting on an idea for about a year,, I've got a prototype in the safe, and I think I'll get on the phone this afternoon and see if I can find someone to build it for me.

Kai Jones said...

The price of change can be much higher than people predict in advance, and the ROI starts to look bad when you're in the middle, having given up all the advantages of doing things the old way and not yet receiving the payoff from doing things the new way.

What about decision fatigue and ego depletion? If you're already dealing with an environment that requires you to make a lot of decisions just to survive, then using your will to make additional decisions to improve your lot is much harder.

I can't find it right now, but I recently read about a study that looked at the effects of "sports performance drinks" on actual sports performance. The results were surprising--they work, but only if you rinse your mouth with them before the work, not if you actually swallow them. They trick the brain into acting as if it got a burst of glucose to use. Non-caloric sweeteners don't have the same effect, and actual consumption triggers other effects that dampen performance.

Josh Kruschke said...

How much is this self sabotage caused by protection of self and ego along with fear of the unknown?

I'm am in a deep deep rut.

It take a lot of energy to fight the pull of the gravity of who we were vs. who we are trying to be.

The mental habit especially the ones we are unaware of are to me the hardest to fight.

Even sitting here typing this is away of avoiding doing.

It's easy to sit here knowing what must be done, but .... but the little endorphins in my heads say this us fun, and you really like to bloviate.


Anonymous said...

The crew is instructed on just where to aim the cannon at an overhanging cornice of deep snow. The shot explodes, a tiny puff of white. Time. "Nothing happened," one youngster exclaims, "should we try another?" The crew-leader looks upward into the fine, deep-blue sky'd afternoon, sniffing the piney-green of the forest, feeling the sun's heat-on-forehead, the crunch of powder snow underfoot, knowing how the warmth is transmitted from snow crystal to rock matrix on the steep scree slope.

"Wait for it."

Karen DeBolt said...

I think that a fear of failure is also important to consider. Persistence in your attempts is crucial which means being able to tolerate failure and maybe tolerate it over and over again until you figure out the right combination of things. That means constantly striving, learning, and growing so that the change will be a permanent one eventually.

It seems counter intuitive, but failure is part of success. As one of my teachers says, "Fail well and fail often!"

Lise Steenerson said...

We all live within our comfort zone, a nice neat little box we made for our self. The walls are made form beliefs and experiences We live within their confine... happily or not. If we step "out of bounds" we will bring ourselves right back into it... consciously or not we will sabotage our best efforts. We have to consciously break the barrier before we get anywhere.
Awesome post Rory

Josh Kruschke said...

To further clarify. I think crabs in a pot is an excuse we tell ourselves, "It's not me it's them, and it's not my fault."


W.V. is inoncent. Some time you W.V. scares me.

Josh Kruschke said...

Just be clear when I said this, "...and you really like to bloviate." it was ment to be an internal monolog refuring to me.


Ben C said...

it's one the morning and after reading this. I'm going to start doing revisions of the final chapter of my comic book saga so i before i find a way to submit it and try to get it published. thanks sarge.