Spider in the House

9 May 2020

To break a bad habit, you have two options: brute force, or finesse. Brute force works but depletes willpower you need elsewhere. Finesse means interdicting the Trigger->Action->Reward habit reinforcement loop. A lot has already been written about that, but I'm finding that going up a level of abstraction, to the "why", is also important.

I grew up in Oz, land of the hand-sized spiders. I'm afraid of even normal-sized spiders. One of the first things you learn to do when you spot a huntsman in the house, generally immobile, high on a wall, is to keep an eye on it. It's not great even where it is but what you really want to do is make sure that it's not moving.

So rather than accepting the spider and going about my business, I'd find myself checking on it all the time, staying distracted and distressed.

I think that's my relationship with the news, right now. Things are bad and I'm jumpy. I'm constantly checking in order to reassure myself that they haven't gotten worse. Reading the latest headlines and finding that things are - at least - not currently worse than what I already understood them to be is a kind of psychological safety.

But it's a bad kind. Information is useless unless it leads to action. At least with a moving huntsman you can take action, but here there's nothing to do that I'm not doing already. In this waiting game, no news is, not good news, but still the best option.

See also: Policeman on the Path