Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Can I Try?

In response to my recent post that Willpower is Not Enough, one commenter said that she'd thought from the title that it would be about executive dysfunction, since so often people tell a person with executive dysfunction to try harder, or assume their lack of output is deliberate.
But I don't think I'd put it that way. It seems to me that rather than willpower being something separate, that can or can't affect one's executive functions, it's actually something that is determined, at least partially, by executive functioning. Executive functions affect how hard you can try, how much willpower you have, instead of being affected by those things.
So, instead of the phrase 'if you tried hard enough, you could overcome executive dysfunction' being similar in meaning to telling a blind person 'if you tried hard enough, you could stop being blind', it's more like telling a them 'if you could see well enough, you could stop being blind'. In my view, willpower or trying hard isn't something that is always under conscious control. Not for neurotypicals, and especially not for the people described as having executive dysfunction. You can influence it to varying degrees (and this differs from person to person) but you can't fully control it.
Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadyay, in his book The Mind Tree, has a poem in which he asks someone to teach him how to try. That's what executive dysfunction is - difficulty trying, not because you choose not to try or you have some kind of emotional block, but because your frontal lobes can't marshall the rest of your brain in the right way at that time. Amanda Baggs has a good analogy for it: she compares herself to a stork, because storks mostly fly using thermals instead of flying on their own power. As a result, if the thermals aren't going the right way, they will have a hard time reaching certain destinations. What makes it more confusing for someone on the outside is that thermals shift around, so while one day it's much easier to go from points A to B than A to C, it may be the exact opposite the next day.
Other people who have more control over their own output are like geese - power flyers, who mostly flap instead of gliding. They're more consistent. They're slower than a stork using the thermals (and they tire out more easily), but much faster than a stork trying to fly somewhere without the right thermals.
And willpower, or motivation, is a part of that. When properly motivated, we can be pretty close to unstoppable. But we might not be able to become motivated (even if you threaten us) if the circumstances aren't right.



Blogger Athena Grele said...

:) Thank you for your reply. I agree with you, and I'd never seen that metaphor of Amanda's before. It seems particularly apt.
I think part of the problem many people face trying to explain executive dysfunction to NTs is that belief that human beings have full control over their willpower. I think both NTs and people with ED often believe this. When viewed in that light, it seems like the existence of ED is impossible, like the logical conclusion must be that we aren't trying. Refute the assumption, and one can finally see how the existence of ED is indeed possible.

7:31 PM  

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