Why are melancholics tired all the time?

Melancholics are tired pretty much all the time.

Why is this?

Well, firstly we need to remember that melancholics are unexcitable, but with long-lasting impressions.

Being unexcitable translates directly into having “low energy” for most things in life. When something doesn’t excite you, it’s hard to be motivated or enthusiastic or any of the other mental states we associate with not being tired.

Having long-lasting impressions means we’re often preoccupied. We can’t just “go with the flow” because we have our own pre-existing velocity. These long-lasting impressions also take energy. It means instead of waking up in the morning and saying “what a wonderful new day! I wonder what today has in store?” you wake up with a sense of direct continuity from the day before….and the day before that.

You don’t get to forget, and so you don’t get to feel refreshed.

So that’s two causes of tiredness in a melancholic. By contrast, a choleric shares our long-lasting impressions, but is easily excited. That means the choleric gets a lot of energy from life.

On the other side, phlegmatics are as unexcitable as we are, but they don’t form long-lasting impressions. They get to forget. Each day can be a new day where they rediscover all the same unexciting things they rediscovered yesterday, fresh and new.

That’s why melancholics are predisposed to tiredness and fatigue. But in addition to the direct effects of temperament, the melancholic is also liable to develop character traits that contribute to tiredness and fatigue.

For example, a melancholic is more likely to respond to a hostile environment by suppressing their responses. Growing up, a melancholic is more likely to err on the side of caution, holding back and second-guessing their instincts in order to adapt to their circumstances.

The result is that the melancholic is at risk of developing a facade or fake-self, a mode of interpersonal interaction that restricts and denies their natural impulses. Melancholic caution and slowness lead to habitual self-doubt and a self-centred approach to conflict resolution. The melancholiic looks first to how he can change himself to resolve the conflicts in his world.

I think the melancholic, more so than the other temperaments, risks denying his own spontaneous impulses and excitability even further. The melancholic risks arriving at rules of behaviour that may be effective but deny his or her own self.

This self-denial might feel noble, ascetic, or superior, but because it conflicts with the melancholic’s deeper self, their already scant resources are further limited and squandered simply to maintain this complex internal dynamic, this inner tension.

In summary, we are unexcitable and find it hard to refresh and let go. On top of that, we’re liable to tie ourselves in knots trying to fit into our environment rather than changing the environment to suit ourselves. Our limited energy is depleted in fighting against ourselves.

In my experience, it’s simply not possible to become as energetic as a sanguine or a choleric, nor as placid as a phlegmatic.

But we can at least recognise our natural limits, and more importantly we can try to reduce the inner conflicts and tensions that drain our energy before we even start our day.

To this end, it helps to know that our true self is good. In most religions and philosophies, human beings are either born or created good, but something goes wrong along the way.

The point is that we don’t need to add new layers to our personality. We don’t need to tie ourselves up further. We need to get rid of layers, and untie the knots, trusting that what lies beneath it all will be whole and true.

Ultimately, these layers and knots are based on falsehoods and misunderstandings. That’s why knowing the truth will set us free.

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Melancholic learning styles

I’ve had a few people turn up here searching for problems that a melancholic might experience in learning.

I tried writing a reply, but the attempt to be thorough killed my motivation.

So there’s the first clue: motivation for a melancholic is vital.

I learn best when I have a single burning question to answer, an intuition to explore, or an idea to develop.

So I really get Confucius:

The Master said, “Ts’ze, you think, I suppose, that I am one who learns many things and keeps them in memory?”

Tsze-kung replied, “Yes,-but perhaps it is not so?”

“No,” was the answer; “I seek a unity all pervading.”

An alternative translation refers to a single thread that binds all of his knowledge together. That’s what melancholics need, I think, at least when we’re trying to learn.

A single thread

A few weeks ago after martial arts practice, I asked a friend about his learning process.

His explanation of how he learns was completely foreign to me.

He said that the martial art we learn is made up of lots of different components that need to be developed in parallel. When he focuses on any given component he can tell that out of ten repetitions, some will be better than others. That gives him a clear sense of how he needs to improve. He simply knows what direction to head in.

By contrast, I find it confusing to think of lots of different components that each needs strengthening. I prefer to think of these components coming together to form a coherent whole. And this means having a highly-developed theory of how the martial art works. I seek a unity, all pervading.

Likewise, the idea of simply recognising when one repetition is better than another is outside my experience. I don’t know what direction to head in unless I have a theoretical framework to guide the way.

Why do I need strong theoretical support for a physical activity?

Well, remember that the melancholic is characterised by being unexcitable, with enduring impressions. It’s hard to learn anything when you aren’t excited, and that’s why melancholics need a strong motivation in the form of a question, an idea, or a problem to solve.

Without these things, the pointlessness and tedium of study and practice becomes unbearable. It is so much harder to retain 100 pointless facts, than to solve an interesting problem, even though you might learn the same 100 facts along the way.

With physical activity the approach to learning is similar. Instead of pointless facts, we have an array of sensory data that makes no sense without a theoretical context (like a question or a problem) to help us shape and frame it.

Without a theoretical framework, all the information from my body streams in like a torrent, and I can’t tell what is relevant and what isn’t.

There are days at training where my whole theory has burst like a bubble against some countervailing revelation from my teacher. I try going through the motions, but it feels as though I have no idea what I’m doing.

After a while I remember the parts of the theory that haven’t been shattered. I slowly piece it back together and try to reconcile it with the new data. Eventually I’m back on track.

From an outsider’s point of view it would look like I’ve suddenly forgotten years of training in an instant.

So that’s one aspect of the melancholic learning style. It sounds pretty bad.

The positive side of it is that once you’ve mastered your theoretical grasp of the subject, you know it inside-out. You can take it places no one else may have even thought to take it. And you can quickly see the connections and the contrasts with other theories, systems, and ideas.

In other words, whatever you have learned becomes a part of the greater all-pervading unity.