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How Craving Praise Can Make You Fat In The Head

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Addictions

How Craving Praise Can Make You Fat In The Head

Ten parallels between craving food and praise.

I love fatty foods right up to my gullet. Beyond my gullet, not so much since it turns into body fat which is not as much fun as a pre-gullet plate of French fries.

The more fatty food I get, the more I want and the fatter I get. I fall toward indulgence, a fatty food addiction, so sometimes I just have to go on a diet. The first few days of dietingare hard since I expect more fatty foods than I’m getting. But then my stomach andappetite shrink and I get used to getting by with less.

Lately, I’m noticing that the same applies to a craving for affirmation. Praise, love, approval, compliments–ego-boosts in general–are as delicious as pizza. It’s easy to get hooked on either.

Here then are ten parallels between our appetite for rich food and rich praise and an argument for ego dieting, in other words, becoming “egonomical” economical or frugal in our consumption of ego-boosts:

  1. Both are good in moderation: Some people think that the solution to ego is abstinence. Get totally selfless; deny the ego any gratification. That’s an overstep in the right direction, as bad as becoming anorexic to trim down. Having a little fat and a little pride is healthy. Don’t pretend you can get by without either. Ego-anorexia leads to ego-bulimia, short-lived campaigns to rid yourself of all appetite for ego-boosts alternating with binging in ways you hope people won’t notice, for example getting smug about your humility.
  2. Fuel to burn, not store: Ego-boosts can make us complacent, thinking we graduated to the high plateau, no need to do better because we’re already great, resting on our laurels, or more aptly our fat behinds. Ego-boosts can also fuelproductivity. If you eat more, you have to exercise more. To stretch what praise you get, convert that ego-fuel into greater effort, not sedentary complacency.
  3. A swelled head is a fat head: Obesity often makes us less smart and productive in part because there’s a lot of weight to carry around; in part because always looking for the next meal distracts us. You’re familiar with the parallel effect of a swelled head. You know people whose all-consuming egos take up a lot of space. They can’t get down to business because their first order of business is feeding their hunger to see themselves as exceptional–the status-distracted chronic self-praisers; the self-doubting chronic pleasers. Their company is exhausting because they’re inefficient thinkers. Too much effort wasted on keeping their heads swelled makes them thick headed. We all have limited attention. The more attention we focus on how we’re doing, the less we have for doing what’s necessary and useful. For a practical example, think of how checking social media frequently for evidence of your own worth makes you less productive. Taking lots of selfies distracts you from the moment and environment you’re in.
  4. Less for you means more for others: On the big political scale, swell-headed, fat-head leaders are so preoccupied with their self-importance that they drive their citizens into poverty and oppression. Take Donald Trump for a ominous example, grotesquely obese in the ego department, way too busy getting his next fix of popularity to think about what would really make our country great again. On the small interpersonal scale, needing to feel good about ourselves deprives others. This is especially true because we often get our boosts through one-upmanship, elevating ourselves by denigrating others. There are enough ego-boosts for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed. If you reduce your demand for praise, you’ll have more affirmations for others, like rich food spared and shared with those who could really use a boost.
  5. Different quantity of strokes for different folks: Many of us are forced by circumstances to go without rich foods or affirmation. One can be weaned off either by circumstances: the starving child in the developing world; the un-charismaticperson who never got much attention. And some people get addicted to either fat or praise because they’re surrounded by it, the bulky bingers who can’t resist fatty food because it’s there beckoning everywhere they turn, or the charismatic charmers who can’t resist becoming swell-headed, because everywhere they turn, high praise beckons. Don’t assume you need as many ego-boosts as you’re accustomed to getting.
  6. You need less than you think: Everyone needs affirmation, but just how much? Heroes in history and fiction are often lean ego-boost consumers. They’re like camels, able to do without praise through long hard deserts of discouragement. Like they say, it’s amazing what you can get done so long as you don’t have to take credit for it. A lot of us live our lives as though we always have to worry where our next ego-boost is coming from, as though we’re always at risk of being sidelined, proven insignificant and alone. It’s not that dire, and to prove it to yourself try an ego-diet whether forced by circumstances or as an elective activity.
  7. The company you keep: Recent research suggests that hanging out with obese bingers is likely to make you a obese binger too, a member of a fat-enabling society, people offering each other way too many donuts, pretending it’s an act of kindness, not over-indulgence. There are ego-booster cultures too. For example, new-age orspiritual communities often make a virtue out of heavy-handed mutual admiration. Within these communities everything you do is awesome, amazing and genius, and you’re expected to say the same about others as though praising any less heavy-handedly would be withering to the apparently fragile egos. If you go on an ego-diet, try to hang out with a different crowd.
  8. Wean ‘em young: Much has been made of the ways we overstuff our children with both fatty food and praise. It’s not good for their long-term health. It makes them expect and demand more of both.
  9. Ego diets work: Achieving “Flow,” all-consuming engagement in challenging pursuits, is the heart of an ego-diet. Being busy is how you get over the question of how you’re doing. Flowing without crowing about your worth is a sustainably productive way of life. Or to put it another way, if your once-brimming glass of praise and approval gets half-full, your temptation will be to refill it. Try filling it with purposeful work instead. Or just get a shorter glass so less feels like more. Diet scientists have come to the same conclusion about overeating. Get a smaller milkshake glass and less milkshake becomes more satisfying.
  10. You’ll be glad you did: Needing less ego-boosts gives you your mind back to focus on your priorities, making the best use of your options and opportunities. A leaner ego diet also makes you less gullible. Like a kid with a sweet-tooth who can be lured into danger by anyone dangling candy, people who need lots of praise can be readily manipulated. The hungry are soon eaten. When you’re hungry for praise, it shows. People can tell you crave to hear. They’ll sing your praises until you’re feeding out of their hands. When you’re ego-appetite is tamed, you are put in solid possession of your soul, your life and what you want to do about it, less distracted by your need for approval.

Vital stats: Berkeley, 57, partnered, three children (M34, M28, F24), married once for 17 years.

Educationally: Ph.D. in evolutionary theory, masters in public policy

Vocationally: MBA professor of strategic foresight, business consultant and communications trainer, academic researcher.

Historically: I’ve taught over 250k college-student/hours in psychology, sociology, rhetoric, philosophy, advertising, economics, history, English, cultural studies, marketing and strategy. I founded a non-profit environmental lobbying organization in DC, worked as a business consultant and public affairs director for large companies, ran a foundation, designed and implemented water projects in Guatemala. For seven years I lived on the world’s largest hippie commune, and was an elected elder there at 24.

Authority: None.

I never refer to myself as an expert in anything, but rather a specialist in those questions that interest me (see below). I write with no authority. I read lots but cite rarely in my articles which should be read as opinion pieces, not declaration of scientifically proven fact. I will not pull rank on readers: My ideas are only worth considering only if they’re based on good reasoning. I change my ideas over time. Caveat emptor. They say “don’t believe everything you think. I’ll go one further: I don’t believe everything I write, in that for every argument I make, I aim to be able to express convincingly the counterargument. I try to live by the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Self-expressively: I’ve written over 600 articles for Psychology Today, coined over 400 psychology neologisms. I write songs and limericks. I play bass and sing in jazz, Latin, funk, and Nigerian groups three nights a week.

Intellectually, yet intimately, my middle-age spread spans several life-sized questions.

* Most cosmically, how did mattering emerge from matter?, life from non-life? mind from chemistry? economics from physics? information from energy, questions I address as a member of a 16 year research project with UC Berkeley scientist Terrence Deacon.

* More practically, though not unrelated, how do and how should we shop among interpretations, deciding what’s significant and how to respond to what life deals us?

* Also practically and related, what is a butthead other than someone we butt heads with? since in a free society we should define morals negatively–not what you should, but what you shouldn’t do. We say “don’t be a butthead,” but define buttheads subjectively as people we butt heads with. I seek a more objective distinction between what’s morally in and out of bounds.

* How do and should we balance the ambigamist’s tensions and what is the underlying structure of such tensions? For this I use the Serenity Prayer as a template, and think about levels of analysis (going meta).

I’ve written five books, only one published but the rest out soon one way or another.

Negotiate with yourself and win: Doubt management for people who can hear themselves think.

Purpose: A natural history

Doubt: A user’s guide; a natural history

Mind readers dictionary: Terms for reading between the lines with greater comprehension.

Executive UFO: A field guide to unidentified flying objectives in the workplace.

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