Feb 202014

I really enjoyed this article on the upside and downside of perfectionism: Is Perfectionism Growth-Minded? Here’s a tidbit:

According to Dweck, the research says there might be two kinds of perfectionism, and those two ways of behaving have drastically different outcomes for people both in accomplishing their goals and in how they feel about themselves. One kind of perfectionist tends to agree with statements like: “People will think less of me if I make a mistake;” and, “A partial failure is as bad as a complete failure.” Another kind of perfectionist agrees with these statements: “I try to do my best in everything I do.” “I am driven to be excellent.” “I strive for high standards.” In these responses we can hear echoes of the person-focused vs. process-focused fixed and growth mindsets.

In the past, I’ve tended to think of perfectionism in purely negative terms — as just the “perfectionism monster.” However, in light of the horse training that I’m doing here in Aiken, I’ve been rethinking that view, along very similar lines to the article.

In my riding, my explicit goal is to achieve “best practice” most of the time, and that requires having very high standards and not accepting less. So if I shouldn’t transition to canter unless I have a damn good walk, and I shouldn’t approach that fence unless I have the kind of canter I need. I don’t ever want to just slop through what I’m doing: either I do it seriously and well or not at all. That’s the approach of the amazing coach we’ve been working with, Eric Horgan, and I can already see the huge benefits of his approach. Plus, he’s perfectionistic in that way without ever being unrealistic or belligerent. (He does threaten to kill us on a regular basis, but only in a very friendly way!)

That kind of growth-oriented perfectionism need not come with beating myself up for mistakes, seeking to show off for others, hating to admit ignorance, or any of the other problems of the fixed mindset. (I’m still doing the first, but I’m working on it. Eric has been very kindly discouraging that.) Instead, this growth-oriented perfectionism requires a heck of a lot of patience. The goal isn’t just to get it done, but to wait until you’re properly prepared to do it right. Oh, you’ll need endurance too, because you’ll still make mistakes left and right.

Basically, I’m thinking of “perfectionism” as more of a moral amplifier — with an upside and a downside, depending on how and when it’s deployed — rather than as a vice or failure mode. That’s not a fully settled view: I’ll be thinking more about this as this month in Aiken draws to a close and once I return home. Still, I thought that tidbit worth sharing now.

Increase Your Self-Control

 Posted by on 15 July 2013 at 11:00 am  Advice, Ethics, Fitness, Health, Moral Amplifiers
Jul 152013

As you might recall, I answered a question about cultivating powers of self-control on the 23 June 2013 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio.

In that discussion, I mentioned that one strategy for increasing self-control is to set clear standards for success and failure, perhaps even with artificial rewards and punishments for oneself. For example, if Paul and I go out to a movie, sometimes I don’t wish to eat any of his popcorn. In that case, I’ll agree to pay him $20 if I eat any of his popcorn. (He’s not allowed to tempt me; that would be unfair.) I’ve never paid him that $20, simply because the prospect of doing so is sufficient incentive. I’m motivated not merely by the loss of $20, but also by the shame of so clearly giving in to temptation and thereby doing something that I know isn’t good for me. Plus, he’d never let me live it down!

As I mentioned in the broadcast, my friend Trey Givens used that same strategy last winter to help himself to clean up his diet and start working out. At some point, I’d tweeted him, “I have a solution to your lack of discipline! Send me $20 for every pound you gain or every week that you don’t workout!” He came up with a better plan, as explained in this blog post:

So, here’s what I’ll do: I will donate $20 for each week that I don’t work out AND I will donate $20 for each week that I don’t stick with The Whole 30. So, it’s possible that I could end up donating $40 in a week. I’ll donate it to Diana’s Philosophy in Action webcast. This also supports another personal goal of mine which is to give more monetary support to Objectivism this year.

Shortly thereafter, he modified the deal as follows:

OK. After thinking about it a bit more, I want to modify the deal for donating dollars to Philosophy in Action based on how well I stick to my diet and exercise plan.

I will donate $20 to PiA for every week in January that I do not work out at least 3 times. I will donate $20 to PiA for every meal in January in which I deliberately break The Whole 30 rules. I’m changing it because I think the previous arrangement was a bit too generous in leaving room for “error.” Like, if I ate a piece of candy today, I don’t want to find myself rationalizing into eating ice-cream for the rest of the week. And working out once a week is for the fat lady I am, not the fat lady I want to be; my goal is 3x a week at a minimum and so that’s why that’s the goal.

So, with these changes, it actually could end up that I owe Diana a zillion dollars at the end of a given week. I’m pretty sure I have enough self-control to avoid that, but in the event that I don’t, I will also change my name to “Congress.”

That’s definitely a better deal for Trey: the more fine-grained and specific that you can get with these artificial rewards and punishments the better.

So how did this experiment work? Pretty well, I think, particularly given the demands of the Whole 30. Still, I can’t help but laugh:

Well, it is finally over. And it is difficult for me to express exactly how glad not to be worrying over The Whole 30 any more.

I suppose the worrying part is my own fault, since for the month of January I could probably count on two hands the number of mornings that I woke without a vivid memory of a dream in which I ate something bad and worried about paying Diana $20 for the infraction. Clearly, my subconscious is far more concerned about financial matters than my physical well-being. So, how did I end up doing?

Well, I paid Diana a total of $80 this month.

Half of it was due to a week in which I was on a business trip and only worked out once. 2 missed workouts * $20 = $40.

On that same business trip, I was at a restaurant with my boss’s boss for dinner and I ordered what appeared to be a “safe” meal and explained to the waitress that I absolutely could not have diary. First, she came back with a plate sprinkled with cheese, so I sent it back. When she returned to the kitchen she explained that what I had ordered actually also included butter. So, I had a choice: change my order completely and be the awkward person sitting at the table without food or just suck it up and pay Diana $20 for having eaten some butter. Not being able to think of a delicate way to avoid the awkwardness, I decided to just pay up.

The second infraction happened just this past Saturday. I was at Costco and they have all these samples out and one of the displays caught my eye. It was some stuffed grape leaves and the package said it was dairy free and gluten free. I checked the label and the only thing that jumped out at me was that there is a bit of canola oil. I didn’t spot any cheese or sausage or wheat, so it must be OK, right? I tried it and it was pretty tasty. It wasn’t until last night that I was reflecting on this and realized I had just eaten a mouthful of RICE, a grain. So, this morning, I paid Diana another $20, but I have a package of those grape leaves in my freezer and I am very excited about eating them at some point in February.

You can check out his blog post for details on his ten-pound weight loss, plus before and after pictures. Really, $80 isn’t a bad price for a radical change in lifestyle!

Of course, I think that this is an excellent idea, and I encourage all of you to make use of it! Certainly, you’re welcome to use Philosophy in Action’s Tip Jar as your motivator. You definitely want to write down the rules — and better yet, share them with someone. You’re welcome to share them with me too. Basically, you need some kind of accountabilibuddy.

Oh, and in case you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the segment of the podcast on self-control here:

For more details, check out the question’s archive page. The full episode — where I answered questions on lying for the sake of a happy surprise, people too young to raise children, and more — is available as a podcast too.

May 132013

As I mentioned in this post, I’ll be speaking on the concept of “Moral Amplifiers” at ATLOSCon in less than two weeks. (Yes, you can still register… and you should too!) Here, again, is the abstract of my talk:

Objectivism upholds seven major virtues as indispensable to our lives. Yet what of other qualities of character — such as ambition, courage, spontaneity, liveliness, discretion, patience, empathy, and friendliness? Are these virtues, personality traits, or something else? Diana Hsieh will argue that such qualities are best understood as “moral amplifiers,” because their moral worth wholly depends how they’re used. She will explain why people should cultivate such qualities and why they must be put into practice selectively.

When I introduce people to the concept of “moral amplifiers,” people often want examples thereof. (Yay!) My standard go-to examples are persistence and ambition. Everyone sees that these qualities are often beneficial, but they’re not always so. Plus, I love to use Lance Armstrong as an example of ambition gone wrong.

Interestingly, the list of moral amplifiers is really quite long — because most of the qualities that people think of as virtues are, in fact, moral amplifiers rather than virtues. Here’s the list of moral amplifiers that I created — based on lists of virtues such as this one — when preparing my proposal for ATLOSCon:

  • Ambition
  • Agreeability
  • Assertivenesss
  • Calmness
  • Charity
  • Charisma
  • Cautiousness
  • Charitablity
  • Choosiness
  • Compassion
  • Conscientiousness
  • Cooperativeness
  • Courage
  • Courteousness
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Decisiveness
  • Dependability
  • Determination
  • Diligence
  • Directness
  • Discernment
  • Discrimination
  • Discretion
  • Discipline
  • Easygoingness
  • Eloquence
  • Empathy
  • Endurance
  • Enthusiasm
  • Equanimity
  • Exactingness
  • Fairness
  • Fidelity
  • Flexibility
  • Forbearance
  • Fortitude
  • Friendliness
  • Frugality
  • Generosity
  • Gentleness
  • Helpfulness
  • Humorousness
  • Idealism
  • Inventiveness
  • Joviality
  • Kindness
  • Liberality
  • Lightheartedness
  • Liveliness
  • Loyalty
  • Magnaminity
  • Mindfulness
  • Neatness
  • Openness
  • Optimism
  • Orderliness
  • Passionateness
  • Patience
  • Perseverence
  • Persistence
  • Persuasiveness
  • Pessimism
  • Predictability
  • Prudence
  • Punctuality
  • Reliability
  • Resiliance
  • Respectfulness
  • Resourcefulness
  • Self-Confidence
  • Self-Control
  • Self-Directing
  • Sensitivity
  • Simplicity
  • Sincerity
  • Spontaneity
  • Steadiness
  • Tact
  • Temperance
  • Thrift
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Tolerance
  • Toughness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Zealousness

Clearly, I’m not going to run out of material in my talk! I plan to pick just a few of these to discuss, as I have some theory related to Aristotle’s and Ayn Rand’s differing conceptions of virtue that I wish to cover too. I’ll explain how Ayn Rand’s conception of virtue is really something quite distinct from traditional conceptions of virtue — and how those differences represent a major advance in thinking about ethics.



Before Lance Armstrong confessed to doping, I blogged about the possibility of such a confession here: The Moral Implications of Lance Armstrong’s Possible Confession to Doping. In that post, I said:

I don’t fault Armstrong for doping, nor for lying about that to a quasi-governmental agency. However, if he sued people for millions for telling the truth about his doping… well, that’s remarkably sleazy. Even if he felt backed into a corner, that’s no excuse for abusing the law in order to intimidate people into silence.

However, after watching this video montage of his denials of doping, I couldn’t be so forgiving.

The basic problem is that he’s such a skilled and credible liar. That makes him worse than a bugling, incompetent liar. How so?

By the time that the skilled liar’s deceptions are finally exposed, he has zero credibility left. Given that he was so believable for so long, how can anyone trust him now? He might just be spinning a new web of lies. That seems like the most likely scenario, in fact. By lying effectively for so long, the skilled liar has utterly destroyed his character. He had to make a slew of ever-worse compromises in order to protect his lies from discovery, including maligning the good people who’ve discovered the truth about him. In Lance’s case, he sued people for defamation for telling the truth about him, which is even worse.

The abysmal liar is likely to get caught early. That’s to his benefit, in fact. He experiences the harms done by his lies early and often. His moral character has not been eroded over the course of years, so he’s more likely to be able to redeem himself.

Basically, skill in making yourself persuasive or believable to others is exactly the kind of moral amplifier that I’ll discuss at ATLOSCon in May. That skill helps a good person do better… and it helps a bad person do worse.

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