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Adaptation from The psychology of self-esteem by Nathaniel Branden (Chapter IV, part I) Volitional consciousness

Mans basic means of survival is his rational faculty. This rational faculty is not automatic decision to think is not biologically programmed in man. To think is an act of choice. Ayn Rand formulate it like this: The key to human nature is the fact that man is a being of volitional consciousness. Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made by instinct. The function of your stomach, lungs or heart is automatic; the function of your mind is not. In any hour and issue of your life, you are free to think or to evade that effort. But you are not free to escape from your nature, from the fact that reason is your means of survival so that for you, who are a human being, the question to be or not to be is the question to think or not to think. Life exists on three levels of self-regulatory activity: Vegetative level plant level; Conscious-behavioral level animal level; Self-conscious level human level. While vegetative and conscious-behavioral self-regulations are programmed in the system by nature, self-consciousness is not. Unlike animal, which is trapped in automated processes, man has the ability to be aware of his own mental activities, to question their validity, to judge them critically and to alter or correct them. But to engage in an active process of thinking, man must focus his mind he must set his mind to that task. Being out of focus means: letting your mind drift in will-less passivity, directed only by random impressions, emotions or associations; considering an issue without genuinely seeking to understand it; engaging in an action without a concern to know what you are doing.

Ask yourself, is your mind controlled by the goal of awareness or by wishes, fears, the pull of lethargic passivity? To focus is to move from a lower level of awareness to a higher level to move from mental passivity to purposeful mental activity. In a state of passive awareness the person understands the need to be in full mental focus but chooses not to. People have a choice to evade the knowledge or put the effort to raise the level of their awareness. We exercise this choice every day when we choose to fully engage in something or to ignore it. We exercise this choice when we choose to carefully read

every comment on the thread or just skim and move on to another thread. Man has the freedom to focus or not to focus, to think or not to think. The decision to focus and to think, once made, does not continue to direct mans mind unceasingly thereafter. Just as the state of full consciousness must be initiated volitionally, so it must be maintained volitionally. The choice to think must be reaffirmed in the face of every new issue and problem. In any specific thinking process, man must continue to monitor and regulate his own mental activity, to keep it on the rails. In any hour of his life, he is free to suspend the function of his consciousness, to abandon effort, to default on the responsibilty of self-regualtion and let his mind drift passively. He is free to maintain only partial focus, grasping what comes easily and refusing to struggle for what doesnt. Man is free not only to evade the effort of purposeful awareness in general, but to evade specific lines of thought that he finds disconcerting or painful. Perceiving qualities in his friends, his wife or himself that clash with his moral standards, he can surrender his mind to blankness or switch it hastily to some other concern, refusing to identify the meaning or implications of what he has perceived. Dimly apprehending, in the midst of an argument, that he is being ridden by his emotions and is maintaining a position for reasons other than those he is stating, reasons that knows to be untenable, he can refuse to integrate his knowledge, he can refuse to pause on it, he can push it aside and continue to shout with righteous indignation. Grasping that he is pursuing a course of action that is in blatant defiance of reason, he can cry to himself, in effect: Who can be sure of anything?- plunge his mind into fog and continue on his way. On sensory level, cognition seems an effortless process. But when we begin to conceptualize, we are confronted by the fact that this kind of awareness entails mental work and requires an effort, so we must choose to generate this effort. This form of awareness is not infallible; error is possible; success is not automatically guaranteed. On sensory level, to look is to see, but on conceptual level, to ask a question is not autoamtically to know the answer. We discover the continual need to monitor and regulate our minds activity. Motives of non-focusing and non-thinking: Reluctance to accept the responsibilty that thinking requires. You are responsible for your decisions, thoughts and actions to which they lead; A wish, desire or feeling in which a person wants to indulge. For example, when you have a crush, you turn off your reasoning and see another person through pink glasses; Surrendering to fear suspending your consciousness and negating your knowledge. All these motives are urges that you have a choice to fight. As focusing involves expanding the range of your awareness, so evasion consists of the reverse process: of shrinking the range of your awareness. Consciousness is mans tool for perceiving and identifying the facts of reality. It is an organ of integration. To focus is to set the integrative process in purposeful motion. Non-focus is non-

integration. Mans life and well-being depend on his maintaining a proper cognitive contact with reality and this requires a full mental focus, maintained as a way of life. To be in focus does not mean that one must be engaged in the task of problem-solving every moment of ones waking existence. It means that one must know what ones mind is doing. The more consistently and conscientiously a man maintains a policy of being in full mental focus, of thinking, of judging the facts of reality that confront him, of knowing what he is doing and why, the easier and more natural the process becomes. The steadily increasing knowledge he acquires as a result of his policy, the growing sense of control over his existence, the growing self-confidence, the conviction of living in a universe that is open to him all serve to put every emotional incentive on the side of his continuing to think. Further, they reduce the possibility of an incentive that could even tempt him to evade. It is too clear to him that reality is not and can never be his enemy that he has nothing to gain from self-inflicted blindness, and everything to lose. No, this does not mean that, for such a man, the policy of rationality becomes automatic; it will always remain volitional; but he has programmed himself, as it were, to have every emotional incentive for rationality and none for irrationality. To borrow a phrase from Aristotle, he has learned to make rationality second nature to him. That is the psychological reward he earns for himself. But and this must be emphasized his psychological state must be maintained volitionally; he retains the power to betray it. In each new issue he encounters, he still must choose to think. Conversely, the more a man maintains a policy of focusing as little as possible, and evading any facts he finds painful to consider the more he sabotages himself psychologically and the more difficult the task of thinking becomes for him. The inevitable consequences of his policy of non-thinking are feelings of helplessness, of inefficacy, or anxiety the sense of living in an unknowable and inimical universe. These feelings undercut his confidence in his ability to think, in the usefulness of thinking and he tends to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the mental chaos in himself which he has to untangle. Further, the countless fears to which his policy of evasion inevitably condemns him put the weight of his emotions on the side of additional evasions, of growing self-deception, of an increasingly frantic flight from reality. No, this does not mean that his evasion and irrationality become automatic; they remain volitional; but he has programmed himself to find rationality harder and harder, and the temptation to evasion stronger and stronger. That is the psychological punishment which his nature imposes on him for his default. Since the habitual evader has spent his time, not on improving the efficacy of his mind, but on sabotaging it, he suffers the consequences in terms of mental strain, slowness, internal chaos, when he does decide to think. But he retains the power to change his course. If he perseveres, he can redeem and raise the efficacy of his thinking. In a given moment, a man may be so overcome by a violent emotion particularly fear that he may find it difficult or impossible to think clearly. The more a man surrenders to emotions, the more susceptible he is to becoming psychologically incapacitated and helplessly blinded under pressure;he has no firmly established habit of rational self-discipline to support him. A mans behaviour, his actions, proceed from his values and premises, which in turn proceed, in the context of the knowledge available to him, from his thinking or non-thinking. His actions are under

the control of a faculty which functions volitionally. This is the reason why a man is held responsible for his actions. As to a mans desires and emotions, a man cannot will them in or out of existence directly; but he is not compelled to act on them if and when he considers them inappropriate. A desire or an emotion is a value-response. Individual applies his values to a given situation. Man can alter his desires and emotions only by revising the thinking or nonthinking that produced his values.