Friday, June 26, 2015
A very important tool is the use of reason. We can’t always have all the information we would want about any particular situation; nor can we know all there is to know about everything. Thus, we must also exercise reason. We can use what we do know about the situation and apply the principles that we live by, the rules we have to keep, the laws that we are bound by, and good old common sense. These can help us make good choices.
We can use deductive or inductive reasoning to develop various rationales that, in turn, can help to guide our decision making. Just as we need to always increase our knowledge, we also need to constantly work on improving our reasoning abilities. Take a class on logic, philosophy, debate, or classical reasoning. Meet regularly with a group of friends and engage in stimulating and constructive debate, discussions, and conversations. Practice reasoning with yourself about different things throughout the day. The more we practice these critical thinking skills, the better we will become at making good choices, even when we have relatively little information available to us.
Sometimes we make poor choices because we think that we have no choice. When we find ourselves in a very difficult situation, it is easy to think we have very limited choices, or no choices at all. This is because stress can impair our thinking ability. All too often, when we perceive ourselves in a situation where we have no control, we feel helpless.
Scientists have demonstrated that animals can develop what is called “learned helplessness” in response to persistent adversity. Martin P. Seligman demonstrated this in a series of experiments with dogs. The dogs were placed in pens where they could not escape from periodic electrical shocks delivered via the floor. Initially the dogs tried to escape when shocked. After repeated shocks, and having learned there was no escaping them, the dogs quit trying to escape. They simply endured. Seligman then removed the barrier; the dogs now had an escape. Yet, amazingly enough – when shocked, they still did not try to escape! Having learned that they were helpless, the dogs remained helpless – even after their circumstances had changed.11-12 These dogs’ locus of control had shifted from being internal to being entirely external. They had “learned” that their external environment, and not their own decisions or behavior, determined their fate.
Don’t let this happen to you. Resolve to always exercise your powers of choice, no matter how persistent the adversity. This determination will undoubtedly improve your Circumstances, no matter how dire. An internal locus of control has been associated with many benefits such as an increased ability to stop smoking13, lose weight14, stick to a medical regimen15 and attain higher academic achievement.16