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Friday, December 29, 2006

Cinderella and her effects

Although nature is subtle, it is never perverse, though it often seems perverse if you can't recognize that nature is, well, subtle. (Now that was a rather perverse sentence!) All the great minds in science have known this, and have made scientific hay by closely observing nature's sleight of hand. From Newton's apple to Einstein's speeding trolley cars, the greatest ideas came first as mind experiments, but proving them was another matter entirely. In other words, the proof of the pudding is not in its making, but in the actual proofs one had to construct to show that a simple observation makes logical as well as practical sense.

Among the sciences, the science of mind or psychology is no different. Just observe behavior closely enough, and you will observe the makings of magic. Consider this mind, or should I say hand experiment.

Lightly clench your fist, now keep it clenched for 15 minutes. At first you will feel nothing, but as time goes on your muscles will tire and give out, and this otherwise innocuous behavior becomes quite painful. Whenever a muscle or group of muscles are tensed and stay tensed, they will soon give out and recruit other muscles to literally take up the slack, resulting in an equally literal pain in the neck. This observation is called the Cinderella Effect, named after the fairy tale character who was first to rise and last to sleep, all the while slaving about the house meeting the demands of her evil stepmother and half witted step sisters.

There is a lot to learn from this fable, since we spend our days trying to reconcile the half-witted demands of a distraction filled world. A distractive event is simply a choice or option that is attractive not because it is a rational, but because it feels good to choose it or even consider choosing it. Whether it represents the pleasure found in the novelty of checking for new emails, hearing new gossip, reading the newspaper, or hankering after an ice cream cone, being torn between doing what you ought and doing what you oughtn't causes slight tension that stays sustained as we move from one distraction to another. The result is, you guessed it, a feeling of exhaustion, muscular soreness, and otherwise malaise that is your just reward for a hard day at the office affectively doing everything but effectively doing nothing.

So what's the solution? Simple, just put off considering any distractions to certain times of the day, and if you feel overworked, just sit and rest. Indeed, prove it to yourself by simply performing a daily count of all the instances during the day that you surrender to the clarion call of web surfing, chatting, and the myriad distractors that make modern life so swell. You will soon note that relaxation occurs when distractions are held to a minimum. This of course is not rocket science, not because it is obvious but because it has not been logically proven. But as a practical matter, it is all you need.

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