Thursday, September 4, 2014

Future Me

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." 

Every person is composed of two separate beings, David DeSteno writes in "Stop Trusting Yourself": Present Me and Future Me. As we know, Future Me is sort of like a deadbeat dad—rarely fulfilling Present Me's expectations. 

And we always fall for it! Why do we, repeatedly, think that this time Future Me will come through for us?
Jews struggle with this constantly as we really, really want to improve (especially now that it's Elul) and we make all sorts of New Year's resolutions. There are those who succeed. Then there are those . . . 
While today you feel confident that you’ll be able to honor your planned monthly contribution to your retirement savings, window shopping at the Apple Store next week may change all that. The result? A broken promise to yourself.
The worst part is that you didn’t see it coming. Which raises the question, why do we continue to trust ourselves? The answer resides in another type of cognitive bias. People generally like to think of themselves as trustworthy, so when their actions don’t live up to that ideal, their minds simply erase the failure.
There was an example of a study where participants were told to flip a coin, at which point they would be assigned, based on the outcome, an easy or difficult task. 90% (believing themselves unobserved) "ensured" they got the easy task. 
All the participants in our sample had earlier stated that cheating on the task would be immoral. But when evaluating their actions afterward, most not only continued to view themselves as fair even when they weren’t, but also readily condemned others for cheating in the same way. Their minds quickly whitewashed their own untrustworthy actions. They didn’t ignore what they did; they just created a story for why it was O.K.
Our minds have a happy talent for validating bad choices. "I had a good reason!" it argues. 

In this time of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur bearing down on us, how often have we "whitewashed" a commandment-violation with excuses? 

"I couldn't help screaming at my mother. She just gets on my nerves sometimes. I just had to let loose." 

"I didn't mean to push past that old man, but I was running a little late and had to get out of there." 

"Well, I may have embarrassed that girl, but she wasn't dressed tzniusdik. She had to be told." 

If we had no trust in ourselves at all, then there definitely wouldn't ever be any progress. DeSteno's solution lies in mobile technology: monitoring leads to accountability. Even if one succumbs, he points out, there will be that failure on the books. 

We Jews have always believed our lives to be recorded. The question is, if the Heavenly Judge will buy your defense. 

When reading through Tanach, there are many incidents when a person thought they were doing the right thing, but Hashem knows that their reasons weren't the right ones, and the unpleasant consequences unfold accordingly.
Which of our excuses are kinda shvach?    

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