- What is the problem of integration?
- Why is the problem of integration a problem?
- Call to action: let’s work on solving this problem
What is the problem of integration?
If you’re like me, you’re learning all the time. You value self-improvement, always looking for ways to improve your quality of life. Happiness is a project for you—not just something that happens by luck but something that actually happens by your deliberate effort.
Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you also bump into the first problem all self-improvers face: integrating what you learn into your life.
You learnt that exercise is healthy and just read a book teaching you a new exercise regimen. You try it for 1 week, and then you give up. Or maybe you discovered the value of meditation, but you can’t seem to build up a habit no matter how hard you try.
The problem of integration is well-known in psychology. Not long ago, the health benefits of vegetables was not common knowledge. In the past 50 years, nutritionists and the government began spreading the word about the health benefits of vegetables. And it worked—up to a point. We all now know vegetables are good for our health. Trouble is none of us have actually integrated the knowledge into our lives. In fact, vegetable consumption has decreased. (source)
Why is the problem of integration a problem?
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The problem of integration is a huge problem for two reasons:
- It wastes 90+% of our time (the lossiness problem).
- It makes it so much harder for us to be healthier and happier (the habit problem).
It wastes 90+% of our time (the lossiness problem).
The problem of integration is a huge technical problem related to maximization. Think about a book or article or YouTube video you just read or watched. How much of it can you recall? What about something you read or watched 1 month ago? How much can you recall? If you’re like me, you probably only remember 1-2 things from anything you learn—especially when the information becomes more distant.
In a perfect world, all short-term memory successfully transforms into long-term memory and/or habits. That way the time you spent learning doesn’t get flushed down the toilet. All information gets used and thus improves our lives. In reality though, most of what we learn doesget flushed down the toilet.
Computer scientists call data that gets lost in conversion “lossy data.” So a picture converted into a different format might look more blurry if the conversion is bad.
Similarly, we as humans suffer from lossy information conversion: when we convert information from short-term to long-term memory, I’d estimate as much as 90+% of that information never makes it to the other end. That’s a huge loss.
It makes it so much harder for us to be healthier and happier (the habit problem).
With so much more information coming out in science and literature about techniques to improve our health and happiness—discoveries about the value of meditation, the health benefits of gratitude, the importance of shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, and so much more—the problem of integration appears devastating.
We all want to be happy and healthy. But how can we if we can’t integrate what we learn into action?
This problem becomes especially devastating for those suffering from an addiction or other toxic behavior. Clearly, a lot of us self-harm as an imperfect coping mechanism to pain: when we’re stressed or hurt, we emotionally eat junk food, take drugs, masturbate, drink alcohol… Just pick your poison.
How can we possibly pull ourselves out of these unhappy and unhealthy behavior patterns if it’s so hard to replace our old behaviors with newer healthier ones?
It’s like a self-imposed prison. Most of us already know what we need to do to be happier, but actually doing something about it becomes exceedingly difficult–all because of the problem of integration.
That’s a tragedy if you ask me.
Call to action: let’s work on solving this problem
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I’m sorry. I don’t know how to solve the problem of integration. I wish I did.
I simply write this post to lay out for others how to think about the problem of integration—and to raise awareness.
It’s also a plea to you, the reader: please help all of us solve this problem.
Do you have anything to help solve the problem of integration? I and I’m sure many others would love to know.
Please share it in the comments. Or you can email me personally at email@example.com.