It’s fun to think about behavior in terms of control systems. Considering enthusiasm this way gives an orderly model for what feels like irrational behaviors. Of course, whether those models are actually correct is another thing entirely...
But, consider being hungry and getting food. It isn’t a simple cause and effect chain. For starters, “being hungry” isn’t like a light switch—it isn’t binary. Our hunger can range from “peckish” to “starving” with a bounty of adjectives in between.
And “getting food” isn’t simple. If we “could” eat and the options for sustenance are inconvenient (or simply not palatable), then we’ll opt for ignoring our hunger. On the flip side, if we’re ravenous then anything digestible will be just fine—and we’ll remember it as being delicious for years to come. After all, hunger is the best spice!
My Grandma once implied that’s why I love Gingerbread Puffins.
Once started, it’s hard to stop thinking about the complexities and breaking down the decisions we weight on a day-to-day basis. Control theory offers a rich selection of models that surprisingly many behaviors fit. And, even if not all our irrational acts can be coldly and logically broken down (“Why did I break up with her?”), it at least provides a framework for analysis.
Consider the question, “why is my house never clean?” Let’s take it at face value and presume our homes are never clean. We already have a good start into why this isn’t the case; and, hopefully, remedying the situation!
If our home is never clean, then that means the aggregate rooms are never clean at the same time. Which leaves open for some of the rooms to be clean some of the time. Sound familiar? And by scaling down the problem, we can consider the question, “why is my room never clean?” Well, our rooms are clean!
Why do we clean our rooms? I hesitate to speak for anyone who, frankly speaking, has their act together. But, I clean my room when it gets too dirty. And my kind of delinquent behavior has a name. It’s called a bang-bang control.
Suddenly, we can tie my behavior up into a nice sequence of linear equations and probabilities... that aren’t intuitive at all! Instead, let’s consider thermostats in a house: “why aren’t all the heaters in rooms of my house on at the same time?” Well, that’s easy:
“I’m not in all my rooms!” “The whole house isn’t cold.” “It would be wasteful to heat the whole place.” etc. Each of which has clear analogues to the cleanliness question: “Every room isn’t dirty.” “The whole house isn’t dirty.” “It would be a waste of time to clean the whole house.” etc. And, the same analogues give us a way to re-frame our behavior: central heating!
Our solution: we clean the house as a whole rather than cleaning individual rooms. Which means changing the bang-bang control that is our enthusiasm. “Is my home, as a whole, dirty enough to merit cleaning the whole thing?”
And that, ladies, is why my place is a mess.