I’m not sure how I came across it, but I saw a link to a paper on B.F. Skinner’s self-management skills. Skinner is well-known as the father of behaviorism and for developing operant conditioning, where people simply respond to the environment around them, thus leading his critics to accuse him of denying the existence of free will. The paper I found is written by one of Skinner’s students, defending his work and explaining how Skinner applied the principles to his own life.
The basic idea Skinner used was that by changing his environment, he could change his behavior (my post on “prescriptive context” is pretty similar). So to make himself write, he set up his desk such that everything he needed (dictionaries, references, etc.) was within arm’s reach, so he would never be distracted from his main purpose. He even futzed with the foam in his chair to make it more comfortable so that he would fidget less while writing. All of these sound sensible to me. I really want to track down a copy of his paper “How to Discover What You Have to Say” now, where he offers advice to students on becoming a better writer (“Write every day” is the one I need to get back to).
It’s an interesting read. I’m not going to get into what Skinner’s work means as far as free will. But this paper presents what seem like solid practical tools for changing one’s behavior. And since self-discipline is one of my biggest issues, I’m interested.
P.S. On another subject entirely, Bruno Latour, my favorite French philosopher, is coming to Berkeley next month to give a lecture on his recent book that I reviewed at great length, sponsored by the Art, Technology and Culture Colloquium, which looks like it has several other interesting lectures this year. I just found out about the lecture this morning, and I’m totally geeked out about it. I’m going to bring my copy of his book and try to get it signed. I’m such a fanboy.
P.P.S. One of my coworkers today mentioned a book by Schopenhauer called The Art of Always Being Right, laying out thirty eight rhetorical tricks to always win an argument. I’m intrigued enough that I’m leaving a link here to remind myself to track down a copy. Not that I want to be slimy, but it’d be nice to be able to more consciously identify such tricks and thus be less susceptible to them.