Monday, February 25, 2013

On Approach-Avoidance and Feeling Like I'm in a Rut

I've had this strange feeling lately - one I've had before but thankfully not very often - where I feel really unmotivated to do anything but at the same time, feel intense guilt for not doing anything and try to motivate myself into doing something. Who knows exactly where this strange guilt/apathy comes from?

I think it has something to do with being Catholic. We always think we have to feel guilty about something.

Anyway, religious jokes aside, this feeling reminded me of a psychological concept I learned in my social psychology class many years ago but generally don't have any cause to apply to anything more than my own odd behavior.

In all fairness, though, that describes about 75% of the things I learned in my psychology classes.

This concept, referred to as the approach-avoidance conflict, originates from Kurt Lewin, who did a lot for the field of psychology and is like the godfather of modern social psychology. He also once said "There is nothing more practical than a good theory" which has become the opening quote for practically every theory class/presentation/paper I've been exposed to in my 13 years in the field.

A psychologist who doesn't spend time with a theory can never be a real psychologist.
Approach-avoidance conflict occurs when a goal has both positive or negative aspects. Like finishing grad school. Or renovating a house. Or a night of heavy drinking.

Okay, that last one may not qualify, because the other part of this conflict is that you feel both approach or avoidance at about the same time, or maybe you feel one (approach) but as you get closer to the intended behavior, you feel the other one (avoidance). This conflict keeps you from engaging in the behavior or makes you start and then stop before reaching the goal.

So I'm thinking of all the fun things I could/should/would be doing, like writing, but as I sit down to start doing that thing, feel suddenly unmotivated. But then, as I consider the alternative - doing nothing - I have the same sensation, where I kind of want to sit and do nothing but at the same time, kind of don't.

Don't want to do nothing. Yeah, nothing confusing about that double negative.

But at least now I feel better for having written something. Even if it's a short, kind of rant-y post with a Kurt Lewin picture and an altered Godfather quote. Now if only I could get out of this rut I've found myself in.

Thoughtfully (?) yours,

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