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Monday, July 15, 2013

Vacation cogitation, and a pop-psych party!

I don't know for you, but when I'm on vacation, I always end up immersed in metaphysical musings. Is it because I don't get my intellectual stimulation from work? Is it because I am released from my sometimes unavoidably monotonous routine? Is it because of the books I chose to read during said vacation? It seems like I cannot avoid ending up in deep cogitation: whether I question the meaning of life in general, or my life choices and direction in particular, my mind is full of question marks, and the pool of potential answers suddenly seems to widen.

Lobsters might be what I need the most...Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, 2013

When I'm on vacation, the sky is the limit!

The last time I was on vacation, I read books on simplicity and frugality; those readings gave me a sense of serenity about the material sphere AND got me started on getting rid of stuff. How liberating!


This time, my readings all seem to converge toward the use of intuition. What in particular drove me to pick books that tout the merits of following your intuition? My intuition, most likely!

My intuition and I have had a complex (if not complicated) relationship for the longest time. I blame my degree in psychology. All the non-scientific, esoteric beliefs I could have been entertaining up to then quickly dissolved as I learned to trust only critical thinking, empirical observations, and the Cartesian system. We were taught to toss away all our intuitive feelings about anything pertaining to human psychology, told they were usually misleading, and invited to rely instead on reliable research results. The interesting thing, a lot of our intuitive feelings about human psychology ARE wrong, and quickly disproved by scientific studies!

For example, between those two popular sayings, can you say which one is true, and why:

  • Birds of a feather flock together
  • Opposites attract

Would you know the answer? And that's just one very simple example. Most of us actually have no idea how distorted our perceptions are! My studies in psychology taught me exactly that: how the numerous, often unconscious, psychological processes that distort reality right in front of our eyes in order to make it easier to swallow (e.g. cognitive dissonance) completely elude us most of the time.

In the end, what I learned is that you cannot trust your intuition! And, proud of my newly acquired scientific approach, I discredited anything that couldn't be demonstrated and replicated.

This has left a trace in my brain for all those years, and as much as I want to learn about how to use and trust my intuition, a big part of me just wants to resist!

Do I follow it or not?

After all, listening to your inner voice sounds like a good idea... but what if it tells me to eat a second serving of ice cream? What if it tells me to play that video game "just a little longer"? What if it tells me to dump my secure, well-paying job, to pursue a very "iffy" venture? What if it tells me to give my phone number to that hot guy who's been pursuing me? (Considering the fact that I'm in a relationship.) What if I end up chasing the wrong thing (or person)?

I believe the distinction lies within the deep motivation that feeds into the specific "inner voice message".

If it all arises from pure intuition, then there's a good chance your inner voice is telling you what would be best for you. Maybe you're not happy in your job, and need to take risks in order to find a more fulfilling occupation. Maybe you're not happy in your relationship, and need to close a door in order for another one to open. As scary as those thoughts can be, and even though none of those decisions should be taken lightly, in cases such as those we ought to at least listen to our inner voice. Just in case it's right about something.

In many situations, however, the inner voice is mistaken. There's no way having more ice cream could do one any good, except for the very immediate, and very ephemeral, pleasure. Since that pleasure can have significant side effects if you indulge too often, there is legitimate reason to be cautious about that kind of message: is my inner voice truly speaking through intuition, and telling me what I need, or is it telling me a lie, avoiding my true need and disguising it into a completely different need? A good example of this is when you think you're hungry when in fact you are tired, thirsty, stressed, sad, or bored.

In those cases, eating has nothing to do with intuition, and everything to do with compensation. You are compensating with an unhealthy behavior because another need hasn't been answered. In compensation, you are not addressing the issue at all, but rather covering it up with an alternative behavior. If that behavior has no adverse effects, then the only drawback is that you are not taking care of the initial problem (which is an important drawback nonetheless). Unfortunately, many compensatory behaviors do have adverse effects.

If you do that kind of thing repeatedly, the compensation behavior can turn into worse: a compulsion, and then an addiction.

This system applies to anything you feel you have lost control over. Alcohol consumption comes to mind, but emotional eating, compulsive shopping, gambling, or overuse of the Internet fit this scheme perfectly as well. Any type of "drug", really.

How do you know you're compensating? The only way to tell is to learn to read between the lines when your inner voice tells you something. To pause and wonder "What am I really feeling right now? What do I really need?" When I'm still on the computer at 10:30 pm, and suddenly feel a craving for sweets, I know it means I'm due to go to bed.

Make sure you understand the language
your inner voice is speaking
Cape Breton, 2013

How do you know a certain behavior has become a compulsion and/or an addiction? Simple: when you can't refrain from doing it. No matter how good your intentions are. You can't help it. Other indications you have a problem:

  • behavior interferes with your daily life (activities, responsibilities)
  • behavior leads to legal, financial or relational problems
  • behavior becomes partly clandestine (you hide how much of it you actually do - e.g. you conceal your booze or candy, and consume it when nobody else can see you; then hide all signs of you having it)

We all know the first step is acknowledgement, but what are the next steps? For that I would like to introduce the Prochaska transtheoretical model. When something needs to change, we usually go through the following stages:

  • Precontemplation (not ready)
  • Contemplation (getting ready)
  • Preparation (ready)
  • Action (acting on it)
  • Maintenance (maintaining the changes)

This model could become the foundation of your long-term plan! For more on it, check the following link:


Personally, over the course of my life, I've gotten rid of the following compulsions/addictions:

Those were not easy feats, and it took me a while before I saw significant improvement, but it did happen and so there is hope!

Now the compulsion/addiction I have to work on these days is my use of the Internet, and my writing. One could argue that writing a lot does not have any other effect than producing a lot of written material, but I disagree. In the past couple months, my writing has been getting in the way of other, important aspects of my life. And so, as of today, I will decrease the frequency of my posts from an average of 15 a month to about 8 a month (an average of 2/week). I am telling you this, readers, because I need the accountability for my actions, and because the number of posts I write is very easy to track. I will also decrease my overall use of the Internet.

And while we're at it, I will channel my energy and my creativity toward something I've been wanting to do for a long time, namely, submitting more articles to magazines, and putting together that friggin' book I want to write! This way there will still be some writing, but it will be more goal oriented. Talk about a useful reframing of behavior.

I also want to find other ways to share what I have to say, other than in the written form. Since I believe in action, and since contemplation cannot go on forever, I have already taken tangible steps toward that goal. As soon as I see results I will let you know.

Please check on me so I don't slack off!

  • Do you listen to your intuition?
  • Where does it take you?
  • Any examples of compensation, compulsion and addiction in your life? (you can post your comment anonymously!)
  • What are you doing about it?
  • If you are in the process of making some changes in your life, what Prochaska stage are you at? 
  • How are you going to move on to the next stage?
  • Any other "vacation cogitations"?


  1. Hands down, the best thing you have written on any blog. Thought provoking and relevant to any reader.

    You speak of the inner voice as being singular. Very often, I am met by multiple intuitive voices, often in contrast with one another. Which do I listen to, which do I ignore...? No easy task establishing that.

    An evolutionary psychologist will suggest we humans are just little addiction machines, be it by designer or by Designer.

    I tend to agree with that. Managing our addictive tendencies should be among our chief priorities in life, just behind not judging others for a failure to do so themselves.

    Gonna chew on this some more, but thanks for getting the brain going this morning!

    1. Thank you so much, Roy!

      You are right, oftentimes it sounds like there is more than one voice; hence the little angel(s) and the little demon(s)... but how do you know which is which?

      Now to apply the theory... :-)

  2. Wonderful, wonderful post.
    I feel you would be awesome at giving talks and workshops.

  3. Great post!!
    Good luck sticking to your new plan and get busy on the book!!! (what is the topic - similar to this post?)

    1. Thanks Kim! A good, made public plan can only work out, right? :-)

      Topic: similar to this blog I would say! :-)

  4. What is your Meyers-Briggs label? I'll guess INTP.

    Would you rather be in a rut or have your head in the clouds?

    Opposites attract then they drive each other crazy!

    Those look like the railroad tracks less traveled so my intuition says take them!

    Fleetwood Mac may be the best musical group ever.

    1. Good questions, Dr. J. We should all try and answer them. :-)

      INTP sounds close enough, you psychic...

      Head in the clouds is where you will find me on my "bad days". ;-)

      Opposites attract if they're magnetic!

      Ain't that a cool song.

  5. Wow Julie, this was a tough post for me. My scarecrow brain needed the Wizard to help me figure out what I was reading. Hence...cut and paste to Google search engine for translation. Fortunately for me...I made it to the end:) Not being an intellectual...and certainly not considering reading a book on vacation (gasp) the first half of this post was very foreign to me. Thank you for posting the video's to engage and distract me:)

    Not studying psychology, I had never heard of the Prochaska transtheoretical model. After reading about it, and the five stages of change, it made perfect sense and seems to apply to most situations for personal change. I'd say I'm in stage four at this time of my journey.

    Thanks for writing a post that made me think, look up BIG words, and reflect on who I am and what I plan to do about it:)

    1. Haha Marc! Thank you for lasting 'till the end, and kuddos for looking up the big words!

      Mmm... you make me realize... books might be another one of my addictions! :-)

  6. Being new your blog, I'm sad that you won't be posting as often, but I will be first in line to buy your book when it hits the stands! I also want to know your secret to cutting back on Internet time. Please share when you figure it out!

    So true that our judgment can be clouded by other factors and at those times our inner voices might be saying something totally different than what we really need. At other times, my inner voice is very clear and practically screaming at me. I'm actually getting much better at listening to my inner voice when it comes to things like taking a break from training. I used to ignore my inner voice or body's cues and end up injured. Now I heed my body's warnings!

    1. Hi Nicole!

      Don't worry, given the length of my posts I think you will find 2/week is plenty. :-)

      The secret to spend less time on the Internet is to get up and get busy! I don't know any other.

      I like what you say about your inner voice re. the physical aspect.

      Sometimes, the only way your inner voice can become audible is 1) if you actually pay attention to it; 2) if you ask it clear questions!

  7. Hi Julie! Well, I'm working on books too. So when you're writing, you can think of me writing too. (And we will have to force ourselves to glue our butts to the chair--with no internet either--that's the tough part) Two's company, right? :D

    :-) Marion

    1. Thank you for this, Marion. I will remember your words of wisdom when I feel like getting of track!

  8. Great post!

    I sometimes think intuition is a bit over-rated, or at least that often, as you point out, people use it to justify wishful thinking or transitory urges that are not in accordance with long term goals and values but that feel "right" in the moment because they're just more immediately appealing.

    But it may be partly that I am just not very intuitive. Even when I get an immediate sense about a person (good or bad) in a situation where someone else might ascribe it to intuition, there usually seem to be logical specific reasons (eye contact, body language, voice tone, word choice).

    I envy people with more of an intuitive sense; rarely do things suddenly occur to me outside of conscious processing. Suppose I could add "getting more in touch with intuition" to my ever expanding Persona Growth To Do List...

    1. Good points, Crabby!

      I also think that part of our intuition can be explained logically, by a general awareness.

  9. Julie, isn't there a French expression that translates to "The little step back before the great leap forward?"

    An old book, "Handbook To Higher Consciousness," suggests changing our addictions to preferences.

    “Most of us,” said the cosmic humorist, “go through life not knowing what
    we want, but feeling damned sure this isn’t it.” (HTHC)

    1. It would be "Reculer pour mieux sauter".

      This can have 2 meanings:
      1) pejorative: procrastinating, postponing an inevitable decision/action.
      2) taking your time, distantiating yourself from a situation to see it more clearly... in order to make the best decision, and to make that decision possible.

      I like the second meaning better. :-)

      A friend was recently telling me about a French author (Guy Corneau: Le meilleur de soi) who distinguishes between rewards and compensations. When what you used as a reward becomes a compensation, there is a risk it will turn into a compulsion/addiction. Maybe what your book (HTHC) suggests is to revert back to the reward stage. I'm saying that without prejudice, having not read those books.

      Some of us know what they want, and know how to obtain it, but have fears that get in the way...

    2. Being visual, I like the image best.

      HTHC can be found free online, but being tactile, I like the brick and mortar version best :-)

  10. I really need a vacation. I just need to escape reality and really focus on the important things in life!! This means, I need to get off the computer!!

    1. Take that vacation, GiGi! We all need (and deserve) it!

      Use it to whatever is most important to you. :-)

  11. I use vacations as a time to reflect, to connect with family, and to plan. I too need to work on my "screen" time. I set a goal of getting up at 4:30 to write/read/blog before the kids get up but sometimes I am lazy and sleep.

    Excellent post!

    1. Thank you, Diane! Seems like many of us have "screen time issues"!

  12. What a thought provoking post! I agree that sometimes the inner voice isn't the best one to listen to- I like your suggestion for evaluating the whispers of that inner voice before you take action. I also applaud you for deciding to cut back on Internet/Blogging to pursue a goal- that book. In recent months, I have also cut back on social media/ blogging so that I can focus on my manuscript, and I've felt very contented when I do. So, good luck to you, keep it up, and perhaps we can check in on each other. So nice to "meet" you.