Posted in Of Psyche

Of Emotional Setpoints

“You can do Anything” is a popular attitude

A while ago, I watched a diet documentary where they talked about a study that suggested what we eat in our childhood and, consequently, how our bodies come to be because of our food habits, is what our bodies will always try to go back to, no matter how our food habits change as adults. In other words, our diet in our formative years determines our body’s setpoint, so that no matter what our food preferences are as adults, this will always be more comfortable for us. This is by no means universal and proven, but it is an interesting suggestion. Especially because something along the same lines has also been suggested elsewhere about our emotions.

I’ve read articles often enough that suggest our attitudes and values towards certain common things in life – wealth, lifestyle, work, happiness etc. – will always try to return to the same, despite being in circumstances which are not in common with that attitude. Despite changes, big and small, we usually have a tendency to fall back on our common habits and opinions. It is very rare to have a fundamental, against-personality change of heart and mind. When people try and improve upon their habits and eventually conquer them, sustenance is more a matter of discipline than of complete aversion.

Perhaps, that is why, since the beginning of modern Psychology, and especially the founding of Psychoanalysis, it has been so common to look back on your childhood to explain adult behaviours. Coupled with genetic science later on, it is almost as though all adult behaviours that are undesirable have convenient explanations in the form of indestructible attitudes formed at a time when the subject had no control or responsibility towards his or her life. And, there is a tendency to explain things away, because having a setpoint means there is nothing the subject can do in case of a relapse, or a recovery that never happened.

Which is true, and should be accommodated. I’ve often noticed a tendency to feel guilt, internalize or externalize pain in ways that are generally unfavourable and an, all-in-all, blame game that is played to understand the current behaviour, often complicating it further. But, whoever is blamed in this scenario, however the pain is dealt with, doesn’t ultimately improve the situation. The very logic behind having an emotional setpoint is that even if temporary relief is found, whether by a) finding the cause, b) facing and trying to find closure from that cause or c) trying to develop new attitudes, things will ultimately find a way of going back to the way they were before.

Which should not be a disappointment. It may sound depressing that your struggles with your weight will continue despite your best efforts to be at your ideal, but you have to realise that there will always be struggles in one form or another. The same with your emotions. For either or both, you have to assess not what got you to them in the first place – i.e., your emotional and bodily setpoints – but, what is ultimately most important to you. That, and not some research into the past or blame games, will provide you what you’re looking for. You can try to be disciplined and committed to your goals, but the motivation will be provided not by what causes you to have those goals, but what will benefit from your accomplishing those goals. Perhaps, if you learn to have an accepting attitude to a long-term illness you may have, it will help in generating more positive and fulfilling relationships with your family and friends.

When you look at it plainly, the point to life isn’t questioning how you came to be what you are (unless you are a philosopher or a natural scientist. Even then, your subject isn’t you!), but what you can do with what you have got. When you learn to appreciate your own resources, whatever they are, that is when life will get interesting, and not just be some hankering after why you are the way you are. If you have to look inside, and figure yourself out, look for what you can do and not what got you here. You can reserve “what got you here” for that TED Talk you will give once you use your resources to make something magical!

Do you think you have an emotional setpoint? It may even be something positive, like having an impulse to help others.


Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

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