How Fast It Takes You To Do Something Stupid – Stimulus vs. Response


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How Fast It Takes You To Do Something Stupid – Stimulus vs. Response

Get ready for a very BIG topic and some deep analysis.  I hope you've had your coffee this morning. You have the power to choose.  You have free will.  Of course, it's not quite as simple as that.  You have all kinds of powerful factors influencing your behaviors.  Biology, societal programming, your upbringing, your personality...all of these things powerfully influence your ability to make proper choices.

-By Caleb Jones

Regardless, you still have a choice. Children and teenagers (and sadly some adults) have brains that look like this:

Stimulus and response.  There is no separation.  If they get their feelings hurt, they cry, period.  If they have sex, they fall in love, period.  There is no intermediate step.

Mature adults are a little different.  They have brains that look like this:

Now we have things like rationality.  Logic.  Self-control.  Discipline.   These things can (possibly) intercept action between stimulus and response.  We receive stimulus and then we pause and think about it before acting on our response. It's very powerful.  It's what makes Olympic athletes, great inventors, and self-made millionaires.  The ability to think before you act when life throws something unexpected at you. There are levels to people's "rationality step".  Some people have none, some have some, some have a lot.

As I said, some people look like this:

This is the guy who falls in love (or at least gets very strong emotional feelings) immediately after having sex with a gal for the first time, or the woman who suddenly changes her college major after watching an episode of CSI.  Stimulus, response.  Nothing else.  It's an extremely chaotic way to live.  I know people like this and I shudder every time I think about their chaos and drama-filled lives.

Some people look like this:

They've got some level of rationality, but there's a limit to it.  At some point, the stimulus will be too powerful and crush their intermediate rationality step.  This would be the woman complaining her boyfriend of six months hasn't proposed yet or the guy who converts to his wife's religion when he gets married.  These people are miles beyond the "zero rational step" folks, but they still could use some improvement.

Truly rational, mature, disciplined people look like this:

These are the people who live the smoothest, most exciting lives and who achieve the most.  They feel the stimulus just like everyone else.  If it's negative stimulus, they address it and clean it up fast.  If it's positive stimulus, they sit back and enjoy it.  Then they base their actions on their own rationality regardless of the stimulus or how powerful it is.  I consider myself one of these people, and they're aren't many of us.

I'm not saying these people are perfect.  Far from it.  We don't base our actions on rationality 100% of the time (otherwise I'd have the body of Jason Statham instead of something that looks more like Jack Black), but the vast, vast majority of the time we do.  Also, there's a limit to our "rational step".  If you tied up my children and threatened to torture them in order to get me to do something ridiculous, I'd probably do it, rationality be dammed.  But see how far you'd have to go to get me to violate my rationality?  That's my point.

This applies to negative stimulus, like when someone angrily screams "Fuck you!" to your face, or positive stimulus, like when you win the lottery or have sex for the third time with some perfect new girl who is Not Like The Rest™.  It's important to remember that both positive and negative stimulus are equally dangerous to your long-term goals and happiness if your rationality step is missing or weak.
Let me give you some examples.  I'll use negative stimulus for these examples since I've already talked a lot about the dangers of positive stimulus (oneitis, marriage, NRE, etc). Most people do things or say things when they're angry that they later regret.  Many people are constantly doing this. Not a month goes by without them losing their self-control and having to feel bad about something they did when they were angry.  Or in rampant NRE.  Or really sad.  Etc.

While writing this I thought back to the times were I was so angry I did something or said something that I later regretted.  I had to think hard.  The last time was three years ago, back in late 2008 when the economy took a dump and I lost three big accounts all in one quarter.  I didn't lose money in any of my investments (I never do, since I make rational investments instead of emotional ones), but man, my core business went into a tailspin that took me about four months of painful work to recover from.  That made me very mad.  I'm an INTJ and I hate it when well-laid plans get completely fucked up by uncontrollable factors.  During that time, yeah, I said some things to some people I regret.  Not a lot.  Just a few things.

So I thought again...what about before that?  The next time was wayyyyyyy back in 2001 when I was still married.  Our house had been broken into and robbed.  The bastards stole my expensive computers and electronics, my entire DVD collection, and my ex-wife's jewelry and photography equipment.  Most importantly, the experience scared the crap out of my children who were both very small back then.  Boy...I was fucking mad.  I actually raised my voice in anger and pounded tables and shit.  I never do that.  My ex-wife and kids got even more frightened when they saw my reaction...because they had never seen me truly mad before (frustrated, sure...stressed, sure, but not mad).  I'm a big imposing guy with a loud voice.  Apparently I'm pretty scary when I get mad.  Good thing I'm a rational person and it doesn't happen very often.

...and that's my point.  In the last decade I can only point to a grand total of two situations where my "rationality step" did not work.  I'm probably forgetting one or two situations during my divorce, so I'll be nice and say it was three times.  You can see how serious things have to get for that to happen.  Unlike most people it's not a part of my regular life.  It's a once-every-few-years type thing.

I'm just using anger as an example.  The same applies to stupid stuff people do while in NRE or "in love".  It also applies to wrong action when people are jealous, frustrated, oneitisy, stressed, excited, joyous, sad, horny, or drunk.

"What About Being Human?"

Whenever I talk about living a rational life, some people get very concerned.  "Never getting mad or sad and always making the right decisions doesn't sound very human.  It sounds robotic."
If you never got mad and always did the right things and never got happy, joyous, or excited either, then yes, that would be very inhuman and Spock-like.  The goal here is to remove the negative emotions and events from your life but keep all the positive ones.

Never feeling emotions is inhuman.

Only feeling good emotions is SMART.

I'll take it a step further...

Feeling bad emotions or going through bad situations YOU have caused yourself and then saying "Well, at least I'm feeling human right now" is DUMB.

See the difference?

Why are you here?  Why do you live?  What's your purpose in life?  Is it to feel negative emotions on a regular basis and then whine about "feeling human?"  Holy shit.  I don't think so.  I think it's to experience positive emotions as often and consistently as possible, to give others positive emotions as a result, and to experiences negative emotions as rarely as possible.  Ideally, never.  ("Never" is impossible of course, but getting as close to "never" is a damn good idea.  I'm pretty close to "never".)

If you've ever read any of my other stuff you know that "emotionless" is not a word that even comes close to describing me.  If I acted like an emotionless robot all the time, how do you explain all these women who stay with me for so long despite the fact they know I'm fucking other women?

I'm not emotionless, I'm rational. I'm not robotic, instead I play the game of life intelligently and "purposefully" as Steve Pavlina likes to say.

As a result, I'm happy more often and angry and sad less often than the vast majority of people I know.  That's a lot of people.

You'll be successful and happy to the degree to which your rationality step is present and strong.  The smaller it is, the weaker it is, the more chaos and pain you will have, and the less likely you will accomplish all the things you want in your life.

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This article was originally published on July 29, 2011


  • Steven 2011-07-29 17:55:33

    Very wise words Mr.Dragon. I'm enjoying your writing very much.In fact I've been applying your words of wisdom to my own life lately and seen great results. For example,I've just had an old lover return to me (again) after what you refer to as a "LSNFTE".About 2 months ago she told me she "Couldn't get what she wanted from me." (I had pissed her off over something stupid.) Now after hooking up with a chode for less than a month,she contacted me again out of the blue and now "realizes how much she truly loves me and misses me" and that the chode is boring,stupid,lousy in bed etc. Just got another "Miss U!" text from her again too.LMAO! In the meantime I found a FB on POF, so now I'll have to put them on rotation.I should get to work and add some more too eh? The great part about this is that neither of them are bringing up the "M" word.They know I am fucking other chicks and are cool with it.Just like you say. Everything you talk about is the truth man.Keep writing because us guys out here are learning a lot from you and you are truly having an effect on our lives Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with us.

  • N 2011-07-30 22:19:33

    Very Stephen R. Covey!

  • Blackdragon 2011-07-31 11:47:30


  • Martin 2012-03-31 08:52:58

    Hello Blackdragon, i am a big fan of your blog and i especially liked this post of yours. After reading a lot about philosophy in the last month i came across a philosopher named Sam Harris (actually i found him through your Hitchens post). He claims that the free will is an illusion. What is your opinion on this claim? I watched this video of him : Thanks in advance!

  • Blackdragon 2012-03-31 10:23:03

    Yes, Christopher Hitchens / Richard Dawkins / Sam Harris are the trifecta of mainstream atheists. I'm not personally an atheist but I overwhelmingly agree with most of what those guys have to say, including Harris. I'm not quite as familiar with Harris as I am with the other two, but I probably should be. Scott Adams is also a big supporter of the "free will myth" argument. From what (little) I've read about it, I find it hard to argue with, but I would have to research more to make a solid opinion. I do agree that much of human behavior is automatically programmed, especially if you're not self-aware (and most people aren't).

  • David 2012-05-27 14:59:36

    A good deal of the argument over whether Free Will™ does or does not exist results from confusion between two very different meanings for the term. The meaning disputed as being illusory by Hitchens, Harris, et al. is what I would refer to as "Existential Free Will": the notion that we are "captains of our fate," endowed with the freedom to somehow be other than what we are, sidestep all of our formative influences, make wise choices independent of our intellectual constraints and inherited worldview, rebel against God, etc., etc. This argument is, I maintain, easily refuted: everything I do, whether consciously chosen or not, can be traced to a constellation of root factors over not a single one of which I have any control (including my very existence). The "I" independent of the world which made me simply does not exist. (See Alan Watts.) Then there is the *intellectual* capacity of Free Will (courtesy of an evolved forebrain, for which, again, I can claim no credit), which you outline here so clearly, which is easily demonstrated. But it is a *capacity* only, which must be developed, and to assert that everyone automatically possesses it in full by right of birth (question: at what point does it suddenly kick in? On your 18th birthday?) is I feel just an easy way for people to feel superior to someone else whose life they disapprove of. Been really enjoying your well-written posts over at mASF and, now, here. Congrats on the 2.0 reboot!

  • Felix 2016-02-22 12:23:09

    I get accused of being a robot a lot. INTJ personality. I tell them that I feel just as much as they do, I just don't act according to what I feel. I think about it first then form my reaction based on reason not emotion. That doesn't go over well. They just repeat the robot accusation. I just don't bother anymore. It's ironic that people will react based on their emotions even when it causes them more problems. They just don't care or are unable to think clearly.