“Sticker Shock” Applied to Life

‘Sticker shock’ applied to life? Very interesting! Consider the recent quote from an article a reader recently sent to me:

Every adult I know–or at least the ones who are depressed–continually suffers from something like sticker shock (that is, when you go shopping for something for the first time and are shocked to find it costs way, way more than you thought). Only it’s with effort. It’s Effort Shock.

We have a vague idea in our head of the “price” of certain accomplishments, how difficult it should be to get a degree, or succeed at a job, or stay in shape, or raise a kid, or build a house. And that vague idea is almost always catastrophically wrong.

Accomplishing worthwhile things isn’t just a little harder than people think; it’s 10 or 20 times harder. Like losing weight. You make yourself miserable for six months and find yourself down a whopping four pounds. Let yourself go at a single all-you-can-eat buffet and you’ve gained it all back.

It applies to everything. America is full of frustrated, broken, baffled people because so many of us think, “If I work this hard, this many hours a week, I should have (a great job, a nice house, a nice car, etc). I don’t have that thing, therefore something has corrupted the system and kept me from getting what I deserve, and that something must be (the government, illegal immigrants, my wife, my boss, my bad luck, etc).”

The citation above is from David Wong, ‘How ‘The Karate Kid’ Ruined the Modern World,’ Cracked.com, May 1, 2010

In his article, Wong even suggests that the financial and credit collapse of 2007-08 is due to ‘effort shock.’ Many people, he says, felt that they are somehow entitled to have more than a lousy house and two lousy cars. If they just borrow enough, on credit, the universe will somehow ‘right’ itself.

I’d add to this the out-of-control spending frenzy by national politicians. Bad economy? Spend more money. Good economy? Spend more money, on those left behind in the good economy. Entitlement programs going broke? Spend more money. If we spend enough money—into oblivion, since the government is entitled to ‘print’ or create money at will—then the universe will somehow ‘right’ or correct itself. That’s what Obama was elected to do. To transform, or make that which isn’t so, so.

At the core of all this is something a cognitive psychotherapist encounters all the time. It’s the ‘should / is’ fallacy. It’s an emotion that even though it isn’t so, it should be so—and therefore I’ll proceed as if it’s already so.

Don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing wrong with idealism. There’s nothing wrong with striving to live by (rational) principles. There’s nothing wrong with innovation. America, especially, was a place where entrepreneurs were once free to imagine and then self-responsibly innovate, reaping the personal and financial rewards of their attempts, if successful. You’re reading me on the world-wide Internet right now in part because of that ingenuity and idealism.

At the same time, nobody is entitled to turn an ‘I wish’ into an ‘it is’ automatically and just because one feels like it.

Think of the woman who marries the man who needs changing. ‘He isn’t exactly like I want him to be, but he should be that way. So I’ll marry him and then he will become what I want, because he should be.’ There are variations on the same theme regardless of gender, or in any kind of relationship, including professional ones.

Such is the faulty thinking of which broken relationships are made, and broken people are made.

Mindless spending or other excessive behavior is the same way. ‘I shouldn’t have to be so stressed out. I should be able to escape and have a few drinks.’ But what about the negative consequences to health, finances or safety when driving? The questions are never confronted because the person is too busy focusing on the way it ‘should’ be and, damn it, the way I ought to have it ‘ facts be damned.

Wong is striking at the heart and core of the entitlement psychology so much at work in bringing our society down at present. It also strikes at the core of why so many people go wrong, emotionally or otherwise, in their personal or professional lives.

In his article, Wong criticizes the 1980s movie (later remade) ‘The Karate Kid,’ in which a kid bad at karate suddenly becomes phenomenal. Movies and books sometimes reinforce the view that great achievements are easier than they really are. I generally agree, but it’s not the movies creating the problem. It’s the movies appealing to the mistaken thinking already present in the minds of many.

These problems are correctable and fixable, but only if one is willing to correct and fix. Broken people can repair themselves, as well as broken societies (and ours is broken). Wong’s insights provide some of the means for recovery by identifying one of the biggest errors people make.


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