First Temptation

The coefficient of friction is a number that describes the friction between two objects. A combination like rubber on concrete would have a really high coefficient of friction, whereas a greased baby on a slip-n-slide would have a really low coefficient of friction.

There’s more to it, though– every pair of objects has two coefficients of friction, one for static friction, whch applies when the objects are at rest, and one for kinetic friction which applies when objects are in motion. The kinetic coefficient is always lower, which is why something can be stuck on an incline, but as soon as you give it a tiny push, it slides easily. We have mental coefficients of friction, too, and they react the same way.

Preparing for my trip to China last fall, I knew that my laptop battery wouldn’t last for the entire length of the flight. Rather than being a champion and just read, I decded to download the first season of Breaking Bad to watch on my phone. Being the paragon of discipline that I am, I figured I’d watch the first half of the season on the flight over (after exhausting my computer battery with work, of course), and then watch the second half on the way back.

So I got on my flight to China and worked until my battery was dead. That was easy, because working on my laptop is what I do. I read for an hour or so on my Kindle and then decided to check out Breaking Bad. As everyone said– it was great. I watched it for the rest of the flight.

For years people had been telling me to watch Breaking Bad. It was such a good show, they said, and I would definitely love it. I have more important things to do than be entertained, though, so I easily resisted. But once the can of worms was open, once I was already in motion, it became much harder to resist. I had to know what happened next! So I worked and worked in Shanghai, but I’d take breaks and watch half an episode here or there. I’d watch a full episode as I ate breakfast. I binged on episodes on the flight home, and then watched the last three or four over the next week back in San Francisco.

That’s about thirty six hours of time I could be doing something useful. I knew that it was taking up useful time, but I watched anyway. A show that I avoided watching without a second thought for years and years suddenly became a priority just because I watched a few episodes

It would be neat and clean for me to tell you, and myself, that I’m capable of perfect dscipline, but it’s not true. I’m really good at avoiding that first temptation, but if I do give in to it, I know that my capacity for self discipline is sabotaged.

It’s important to know this, because it actually strengthens your first temptation discipline. Watching a single episode of a good show isn’t just an hour down the tubes– it’s potentially EVERY hour of that show down the tubes. That scares me. So when people want me to watch some show they like, I almost never do.

The same goes for video games, which I also really enjoy. I saw a video of the new Sim City game and it looked like tons of fun. I really wanted to play it, but I knew that if I did play it, I might have to deal with daily temptation to play it for who-knows-how-long. That makes it easier to avoid it from the start.

Even alcohol falls into this category. Would I like alcohol? Of course I would, and that’s exactly why I’ll never try it. Maybe I wouldn’t become an alcoholic, but I’d hate to deal with the temptation of drinking every day.

Each of us has a limited amount of willpower and discipline. Once you start sliding down that slope, it’s a lot harder to stop than it would have been to never nudge yourself down in the first place. The reason I’m able to devote so much of my time towards things that matter is because I cut temptation off before it can really bloom, right at the first temptation.


Photo is a cool art thing in Boston.

I know I keep saying that I’m not doing any more RV posts… but then I keep doing more nuts things to the RV. New one coming in the next 1-2 months.

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