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The Banes of My Self-control (Odd Socks #2)
Do I need this, or just want it? Do I know the difference, and can I lock in self-control when necessary? Sometimes I wonder.
Welcome to Odd Socks Issue #2!
You may think, “Odd Socks?” It’s a phrase I’ve loved since those innocent (ha!) teenage years. Been waiting for a meaningful moment to use it, and guess this is it. In this and subsequent issues, I’ll share a few articles on stuff I think about, put a smile on my face, or could use some clarity amid our current culture’s noise.
Hope you enjoy it. If not subscribed, please do so for a free biweekly newsletter delivered to your inbox every other Wednesday!
The Banes of My Self-control
We all fight this demon. Sometimes we win, often we lose. Yet the struggle is real (I dislike that cliché, but it hits the point well).
Whether known as self-control or willpower, it’s often a clash between need and want. Nefarious externals push our buttons, notably marketers, web sites, social media, coffee shop bakery displays, etc. They hope to snare us to shop, buy, try, eat, or whatever they think we “need.”
Such efforts are kinda entrapments, although no crime committed. They can entice us to do what they want before we realize it. Even if aware, we still sometimes rationalize away our accountability in the seduction, giving in to feed some emotion seemingly important in that moment.
It’s really a mental tug-of-war game between need and want, a verbal sparing match between those two proverbial shoulder debaters: angel on one, devil the other.
Mavlov’s Hierarchy of Needs, around since his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” came out, clinically shows why this happens, but that doesn’t tell the whole story about how or why humans process behavioral motivation. Google it and you’ll find endless pyramid illustrations, yet Mavlov never shared his idea in that form. There are, of course, other more amusing ways to depict and resolve this challenge:
Despite the illustrations or descriptions, for most of us it’s a decision process swayed by our environment at the moment, emotions, stresses, or a variety of factors that may not even occur to your conscious mind until that moment (and possibly include subconscious influencers).
Two recent moments illustrate my angel-devil shouting matches.
The first touches my culinary weakness: cookies. By that I mean Cookies, not just cookies (quality earns my capitalization). It’s ironic that the food I love the most is the food that plumps my body the most. Sound familiar? Thought so.
On a recent visit to Ann Arbor’s The Produce Station, who specialize in… well, best to explain them as a “grocery boutique.” I rarely shop there, but sometimes for special veggies and especially Michigan-grown produce. Ever been in a food store where the vegetables are magazine-layout gorgeous, the meats and prepared foods oh-la-la, and the bakery foods have your name written on them in invisible ink (oh, but you can read it just fine!)?
This last trip, I stayed mostly true to my list, picking up a few Michigan grown big, slicing tomatoes (so tired of store-bought tomatoes with zero taste), Michigan peaches, some fantastic looking kale, and a fresh bag of my fav locally roasted coffee beans, Roos Roast’s Mother Pheasant Plucker. Of course, SOMEHOW the two cookies shown below (not on the list; they never are) jumped into my basket.
“Your Honor, may I present Exhibit A: a plump cranberry orange heaven-baked cookie at the left, and at the right, the knowingly scrumptious oatmeal raisin guilty of being a cookie unlike any other so-named cookie.” Let the trial begin!
Of course, there’ll be no trial because… ha!… the evidence no longer exists. “I rest my case.”
Someone must have incorrectly transcribed that famous quote "The devil is in the details," since I'm sure it was originally "The devil is in the cookies." Sigh.
Score: Me 1, Self-control 0.
The second example feeds off my long-held love of quality niche stationery goods. A package arrived from Field Notes, the iconic Chicago-based maker of cool and useful pocket notebooks. I’ve subscribed to their Field Notes Quarterly Limited Edition for many years, but their recent Summer release Foiled Again (shown below) is possibly their finest issues. I go through their pocket notebooks fairly fast, so my subscription could arguably be a need.
Reality (that infamous party pooper) rats me out by telling that I still have oodles of blank pocket notebooks, so maybe a 2026 need or later. The devil on my shoulder noticed the “subscriber only” special limited pack in a gorgeous poppy red variant (the blue being the public, albeit limited, release). Whispering in my ear, he sealed my fate: “You better buy a second subscription to get another rare red pack! Use one, sell the other later, cover the extra subscription! Justified.” With that, he folded his arms and waited for my reaction. I really hate the li’l devil on my shoulder when he’s spewing logic that hits a nerve. Where was the rebuttal from the other shoulder? If it had one, hard to hear through the sounds of that li’l angel snoring.
Final score: Me 2, Self-control 0. Greaaat…
Silliness and tongue-in-cheeks aside from my examples, more than ever we need decision-making clarity to ensure needs first, while resisting most wants. Decades ago when my income was ever-lower than my expenses, getting a want item was a rare event. Easy to avoid those wants when it means less food or being short for next month’s rent. Later, during what I dub my era of disposable income, the challenge of differentiating became more real. This is not a treatise against having nice things per se, but awareness to better live within healthy boundaries.
In those early years wrestling with wants, it usually came down to two points: can I afford it, and will it make me happy? First point’s viable, the second mostly misaligned (but it took years to see that things don’t really impact any sustainable happiness; they mostly elicit brief dopamine spikes.
Eventually, I developed a somewhat autonomic flow chart-ish decision-making tool to help (sorta like my sketchy sketch above). It’s usually helpful and I’m happy to report I focus mostly on needs versus wants (mostly try; shut up, digesting cookie bits).
But, I’m human, and like most, have weak moments. The evil marketing geniuses on social media know how to wedge stealthily into our mental cracks and before we know it, we’ve linked out to their shop and added stuff to the cart. Fortunately for me, I have a secret built-in defensive override feature: I’m “allergic” to high shipping costs. These act like a cold water slap in my face, which activates my subconscious flowchart and I quickly maze through it, leading to a resounding “WTF? I don’t need this.”
Truth is, my tussles with need/want work out fine usually. These days, being good enough seems a win, and leads to a peaceful life, whereas striving for perfection can be emotionally bruising. 99.99-ish% of the time all ends well, so long as I occasionally feed my tummy delish cookies… else he/she/it throws a tantrum, and that’s never pretty.
On the techy, nerdy side of writing is the joy of stuff: electronic writing devices, accessories, pens, pencils, bags, journals, pocket notebooks, etc. I confess my kits have changed over the years (dang tech/stationery rabbit holes). Sometimes shift happens because of tech evolvements, other times from bright, shiny new things. Recent years focused on achieving a minimalistic refinement by reducing to essentials and upgrading to improve productivity.
I’ve set up three writing kits that support the where and how of my writing: two for mobile/remote locations, one for the home studio. Not all my readers may dig this sort of thing, but if you love to learn about other’s writing gear as I do, let me know in the comments.
This full mobile kit is my primary choice for long sessions at coffee shops, libraries, etc. It’s a heavier kit requiring my larger messenger bag or knapsack to carry everything.
Apple 13” Macbook Air M2 (in Midnight color, for the curious fashionistas)
NoteTower™ clip-on page holder – Amazon
Silicone laptop riser for a wrist-healthier typing angle – Amazon
Lift mouse for Mac (for editing sessions) – Amazon
Laptop sleeve (have a more padded version for travel, but this sleeve is thin and fits in the bag nicely) – Amazon
Whenever I want to go light, I take The Egret kit with me. This kit’s carried in case I have an unplanned writing session. Some outings I end up stopping at a coffee shop for an hour or two, and if The Egret’s wading the shoreline with me, I can feed more words into a work-in-progress.
Apple iPad Mini
Folding bluetooth keyboard – Amazon
Studio Digital Desk:
When home, a mixture of tools supports most sessions. I write first and early drafts on the Macbook, finding it more comfortable for those tasks than using my iMac. When it’s time for later draft editing and pulling info from research, notes, etc., or when that eventual holy moment of formatting a manuscript for publication happens, I’m on the iMac.
Apple 21” iMac
Bluetooth keyboard, trackpad, and the Lift mouse mentioned in The Rhino kit.
I don’t remember how I found TJ Klune’s fantasy fiction books, but glad I did. I rarely read fiction (whether literary, fantasy, mystery, or sci-fi), but when I find a fiction book I love, I lose a lot of sleep over several nights! So it was with Under the Whispering Door, followed a few months later by The House in the Cerulean Sea.
If you love quirky fantasy characters and settings (but not epic quests or battles), replete with lyrical writing, you’ll enjoy these. The world he creates seems normal for the characters and setting, yet is far from our normal. I dislike reading tell-all book reviews where (IMHO) I’m left feeling it’s redundant and unnecessary to read the book, so I won’t spoil these here.
I also picked up his latest, In the Lives of Puppets, a loosely based on the classic Pinocchio, but in unexpected ways and equally delightful.
I typically write in relative silence, but sometimes amid ambient sounds such as the murmur, clinks, and general white noise of a coffee shop. Lately I’ve read about authors who listen to music while writing. Most choose instrumental or ambient, vocal-less music, from single tracks or short playlists set to repeat. They claim, and I’ve read this elsewhere, that the repetitiveness boosts our thought processes.
I don’t know why this works, but notice it seems to help me focus. Perhaps it’s allowing a single distraction my mind learns to co-exist with, thus able to think more clearly? My few sessions tracking word counts seem to show listening to something may increase the numbers.
For me, fresh writing of any kind seems to benefit more from music with vocals, whereas editing seems better suited to listening to non-vocal and soothing, slower paced sound. Headphones or ear buds are necessary to reap the benefits, if any.
Surprisingly, the fresh writing track this week was an old favorite road track: Girl Talk’s “All Day” (2010, Greg Gillis) sampler mash up of rap over known rock and pop tracks. Not one I’d expect to like, but is a great background distraction to keep the neurons firing (warning: definitely NSFW). Listen here, or Google it.
As for the non-vocal, I’ve been listening to recorded programs from Stephen Hill’s Hearts of Space (HOS), a wonderful ambient music compiler who started way back in the 1970s broadcasting on Pacifica Public Radio. I used to listen to the weekly theme-based programs on Sundays, eventually subscribing. Over the years, I captured nearly a hundred programs I’ve kept loaded on from early iPods to my current iPhone. HOS is still doing its thing, albeit changed owners in the early 2000s.
Odd Socks is a free, alternate-Wednesdays newsletter written by Gary Varner. Please consider subscribing for fresh, emailed latest issues. Check out the past newsletters and single articles anytime at https://www.garyvarner.com. Note: Product links are affiliates, but do not affect your purchase price if you click/buy (doing so helps support this site financially, so thanks if you do).