Thoughts: The Disconnect Between Liking and Wanting

Scourge of Attention Spans Worldwide

Scourge of Attention Spans Worldwide

There’s been a good deal of scientific literature published on the distinction between neurological circuits that produce the feeling of liking something as opposed to wanting it. For example, mice with a hyperdopaminergic neuronal environment (i.e. they are mutants that are motivated as fuck because their brains are flooded with Nature’s speed) exhibit more wanting behavior – the feeling that drives organisms to action – but have no change in liking behavior i.e. how much they fancy a particular thing.

This perhaps explains why stimulants like caffeine and Adderall are so goddamn effective when it comes to getting work done. A shitton of chemicals that make you want to complete the task get released, motivating you to get started. These chemicals might even exert the magical effect of making once boring and tedious work somehow interesting – the mecca of productive mindsets.

This phenomenon, of liking and wanting, also likely elucidates why it’s so goddamn difficult for me to get and keep my life on track.

So, in the interests of science, I did something fucking stupid today. Well, at the time, I knew it was a bad fucking idea, but in retrospect, it seems to have been a good thing.

I typed in the URL to my ex’s Facebook profile and hit enter. I usually do this when I’ve kind of hit a standstill – when life just doesn’t seem to have the momentum to get me from day to day. The last time I did this, back in September, I thought I was going to keel over and die from the overwhelming anxiety and panic. This time, however, while my heart did speed up and it did feel like someone was lowering a parturient cow onto my chest, there was no huge debilitating reaction. I even reactivated my Facebook account so that I could see more stuff on her profile.

There wasn’t really anything surprising. She was still attractive, check; she’d partied a lot and had photos to prove it, check; she’d made a bunch of guy ‘friends’, check. Of course, this shit still got to me. In combination with the profiles of all the other girls that things have gone wrong with, I felt the familiar angst clawing at the inside of my sternum. When nothing else in the world seems motivating enough, the opposite sex still wields the power to ignite what little will a man has left.

I like the idea of being an equivalent of Brad Pitt the theoretical physicist and virtuoso guitar player; but I sure as hell don’t want it enough to undergo extensive plastic surgery and concurrent studies at both Julliard and Innsbruck. Similarly, while I like the idea of achieving all of my goals, of getting this scholarship and that shoulder width and this guitar skill, the wanting part is missing.  Obviously, not wanting something enough is not a valid excuse in modern civilization – my lack of motivation does not entitle me to things that others have earned in one way or another. Fortunately, however, evolution has programmed an extremely potent, innate drive that will inspire even the most dedicated sloth to action, an incentive that is delivered to me one news feed update at a time. While attenuated by the distracting trappings of modern living, it’s always there, lurking beneath the surface.

The prospects of a career, musical expertise and physical appearance still seem fairly remote and foreign to me; growing up overprivileged and undermotivated with virtual hedonism as the only raison d’etre makes the concepts of ambition and achievement exceedingly difficult to grasp. While I’ve always liked idea of becoming the hero I played in video games or saw in films and television, the easier avenue of vicarious experience compelled me to avoid making it a reality. However, by virtue of the evolutionary imperative of all life – including humans – to reproduce, the motivation that is coded in our very DNA, the wanting that is a part of our very biological make-up, I sit with an affective hurricane that will not rest until I find some kind of peace with myself, with thoughts of my ex, and with novel romantic prospects that I meet down the road.

So, in retrospect, looking up the past romance has served a useful purpose – a reminder that even though the more noble, productive pursuits in my life may not elicit the spark that I’d like them to, I sure as fuck like and want the idea of not being ruled by the perpetual torment of agonizing over the last person I had enjoyable sex with.

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One thought on “Thoughts: The Disconnect Between Liking and Wanting

  1. i recently read an article on psychopaths that said that they are more wired to seek reward. that is, their reward-seeking motivation consumes their attention so thoroughly that there’s no fear of consequence whatsoever.

    i remember when i first tried adderall, it just hit me that i was HERE. THIS is where i want to be. i don’t want to be anyplace else. after a while, that feeling never returned no matter how much more i would take. tolerance will always happen. there is no biological free lunch.

    ideally, i would “cycle” it just like people cycle steroids. a way for you, once you have already maximized all of the other factors involved in success (ie. nutrition, training consistency, rest, and pure gumption) the use of a drug can give you that edge making you ascend to godhood.

    i used to believe i had the discipline to pull something like that off. being in denial helps me believe i still could someday, but i have quite a tendency to take advantage of things and fuck them up. call me doctor faust.

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