Sunday, July 31, 2011

Therapy Can Make You Crazy

You probably shouldn’t take my word for it. Given this blog’s ruling concept, my assertion that therapy is not very helpful should be taken with a few grains of salt.

Now, however, a group of psychologists has done an extensive research study on how helpful therapy was for the survivors of 9/11.

Most of us recall that in the aftermath of the terror attacks, New York was flooded with earnest therapists who wanted nothing more than to minister to those who had been traumatized by the attacks. Many of them practiced what is called “debriefing,” which means that they encouraged trauma victims to talk about what had happened to them.

Did it help? Actually, it aggravated the problem.

The London Daily Mail reports: “Therapy can exacerbate trauma and make things worse according to a study looking at the counselling given to New Yorkers in the aftermath of 9/11.” Link here.

Researchers discovered that: “for many survivors, the standard procedure at the time of asking them to talk through their experience was not helpful.... [They] believe that the process can sometimes push people deeper into depression and worsen anxiety."

Harvard psychologist Richard McNally: “... told the New York Times that the aftermath of 9/11, 'brought attention to the limitations' of ... asking people to talk about painful memories.”

Nevertheless, the research discovered that it was not a total waste of time. One group of people was helped by the exercise: the therapists themselves.

The paper reports: “But the main psychological benefits were felt by the psychologists rather than the patients, said the study, which said experts greatly over-estimated the number of people who wanted treatment.”

What more can I say.

Looking at the Mind of a Mass Murderer

For reasons that remain to be determined, certain segments of our population believe that we need to understand the minds of homicidal maniacs.

The view is so prevalent that few people have even entertained the idea that such an enterprise is a waste of time and resources.

Lately, people have been asking themselves what was wrong with Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. In the past they have asked the same question about Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, the Boston Strangler and Major Nidal Hassan.

Last week the Wall Street Journal asked former prison psychiatrist, Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, what he thought, and, for our edification, he replied that the entire line of questioning an exercise in futility.

Dalrymple doubts that we will ever understand. He even questions what it means to understand. After all, for all the qualities that characterize a mass murderer,  many, many other people fulfill the same descriptions without ever breaking any law.

Dalrymple explains that Breivik is: ... highly narcissistic, paranoid and grandiose. “ He adds that you might want to look into his past, where you would discover that his father disappeared when he was 15. To which he adds: So what. The world is filled with people who are narcissistic, paranoid, and grandiose without their ever becoming mass murderers. Might it not be better, I would add, if we considered such people to be evil.

But then, you might be thinking that we need to understand how these murderers think because, after all, we all have it in us to become just like them.

Of course, you cannot prove this and you cannot disprove this. The fact that you have not gunned down dozens of children does not mean that you might be capable of doing so.

For my part, I find this effort to guilt-trip people to be disrespectful and, on the part of therapists, self-serving.

It pretends that without therapy we could all become mass murderers or commit other acts of violence and mayhem.

It suggests that therapy is a prophylactic, the one force that stands between you and your criminal impulses.

I doubt that any sensible individual really believes that if only Breivik had had therapy he would not have done what he did. As ineffective as most therapy it, it is notably ineffective with sociopaths.

Dalrymple debunks the notion clearly. Asked whether he can learn about himself by studying Breivik, he replies, correctly: "Well, he doesn't tell me much about me." After saying that he is only speaking for himself, he adds: "I suppose the only thing one can say is that he tells us about the range of human possibility. But we knew that already."

Some human beings can do horrifying things. But that does not mean that all human beings are capable of the same, nor even that there are very many who would, of their own volition, commit such horrors. If you say that we all have a bit of Breivik in us, we are, in some way, making him a research subject, someone who can contribute to "science."

I hope that everyone understands that therapy is not the best form of crime prevention.

The sad truth, rarely noted in our speculations about the psyche of Anders Breivik, is that the gentle Norwegian approach to criminal justice practiced by Norwegian society contributed to the massacre. When someone pulls out a gun and starts shooting, the best way to stop him is to shoot back. In Norway this was not an option.

Neo-Neocon explains this salient point: “Because Norway has one of the few police forces in the world forbidden to routinely carry firearms, an armed SWAT team was summoned to the island. But no helicopter was available to transport them, and as a result the potential defenders were forced to travel the 28 miles by road and then to commander a boat that took on water because it could not handle their heavy equipment. Extremely precious time was lost.”

Norway believes in coddling criminals. As of now, the worst that can happen to Mr. Breivik, is 21 years of incarceration in a prison that is more like a resort than even the cushiest American federal prison.

Nevertheless, Norway is probably a low crime area. Does this mean that the Norwegian approach to criminal justice is effective, or do we need to think a little longer and a little harder about the question?

In fact, Norway is a homogeneous culture where 5 million people live on very large land mass. Such cultures tend to be low-crime areas because they rely mostly on the threat of public shaming.

In a more homogeneous culture, in a culture where people belong to the community, shaming works well as a deterrent.

Problems arise when the forces of multiculturalism take over and allow a population of new immigrants to live in the country without being integrated. If they do not belong to the local culture, they are not likely to care about being shamed.

This is manifest in the fact that Norway, like its Scandinavian neighbor Sweden, has a rape problem You may have heard, nearly all the victims of rape in Norway and Sweden are Norwegian and Swedish women. And nearly all the rapists are foreigners, generally Muslims.

In some places this would be called human sacrifice... sacrificing your daughters to the gods of multiculturalism.

Nonetheless, it does tell us that “gentle justice” only works in a specific cultural environment. If you import large numbers of people who do not assimilate, you would do well to arm your police officers and to enforce far tougher sanctions for transgression. In that context "gentle justice" is an invitation to violence.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Some Facts about the Debt Crisis

As of now it looks like America’s credit rating is going to be downgraded. No deficit reduction plan that can pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the president will be adequate to save America’s AAA credit rating.

This means that what is going on in Washington is political posturing. President Obama and Senate Democrats know the outcome; they have neither the intention nor the ability to forestall it. Their game plan is geared toward shifting the blame.

For the rest of us, facts matter. On this subject I am happy to link an excellent article by scholar Veronique de Rugy. In it she addresses the issues surrounding spending, taxes, and the debt.

Her article is entitled: “The Facts about Spending Cuts, Taxes, and the GDP.”  It is well worth a read. Link here.

For further information, here's a report about the latest from credit rating agency Moody's: Link here.

Politics on the Potomac

Seeing clearly in the fog of war is difficult enough. Seeing clearly in the fog of Washington politics is nearly impossible.

Today Victor Davis Hanson cuts through the blather, to articulate a very important point, one that is too often ignored.

In his words: “The agenda of the poorer and lower-middle classes is championed mostly by an affluent elite located on the two coasts, who find power and influence in representing 'the people,' and are themselves either affluent enough, or enjoy enough top government salaries and subsidies, to be largely exempt from any hardship that would result from their own advocacy of much higher taxes and larger government expenditures.

“Lost entirely in all these disputes over taxes, relative affluence, and government entitlements is any serious examination of whether federal payouts themselves consistently alleviate poverty or accomplish what they are intended for, or whether, in the age of high-technology, dirt-cheap imported manufactured goods and huge government subsidies, the notion of being poor itself should be redefined. The point is not whether the hundreds of billions invested in, say, a Head Start actually improved school performance, but, implicitly, whether thousands of constituents were employed in its administration, and, explicitly, whether its advocates felt a sense of transcendent caring in such public magnanimity (often not so easily evidenced by the fact of where they otherwise live or send their children to school).”

Big government means big Democratic constituency. It makes no real difference whether the program produces the desired results. If it doesn’t that can only mean that we haven’t spend enough on it.

News from the Arab Summer

Events in the Middle East have moved off the front pages of our newspapers. The fearless pundits who gloried in the advent of secular, liberal Arab democracy have moved on to other causes.

After all, liberal democracy is not breaking out in our new friend, Syria. The situation in Yemen has not gotten very much better. Iran has increased its influence in the region. Turmoil is sweeping the region, and that is probably not a good thing.

In the places where it is not being suppressed, the Arab Spring seems more likely to be seen as a stepping stone to Islamism than a move toward liberal democracy. Even Turkey seems to be on a path to Islamism.

Anyone who is surprised has not been paying attention.

Remember when Tom Friedman and Nick Kristof were camped out in Tahrir Square inhaling the winds of liberal democracy? Remember when Lara Logan was reporting from the same Tahrir Square... better yet, let’s not think about that.

When today’s media shows such a marked disinterest in events that are vitally important to America’s national interest, it can only mean one thing. The situation is getting worse.

Since the mainstream media has largely become an arm of the Obama re-election campaign, it does not report stories that show our intrepid commander-in-chief in a less than flattering light. If it does, it buries them in places where normal citizens would never look.

A few months ago, fresh from his shoot-out with Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama decided that it would be politically beneficial to oust the Libyan dictator.

He assembled an alliance of NATO countries and declared a time-limited, scope-limited military operation to rid Libya of Moammar Qaddafi. Then we could install a new government, led by rebels. We did not really know who the rebels were or what they stood for, but everyone loves a rebel, don’t you think?

As always, Obama was not implementing policy. He was directing a grand theatrical production: The Fall of the Evil Dictator, Part 2. Or was it, Part 3.

With Obama, it’s the drama, stupid.

Anyway, the situation in Libya has dropped off of the front pages. This means that the war is not going very well. Admiral Mullen called it a “stalemate.” The French and the British have softened their demands that Qaddafi leave the country.

Those bright-eyed optimists who believed that a few missiles and rockets would cause the dictator to fold up his tents and turn himself in to the International Criminal Court in the Hague have been proven wrong.

Unless we get lucky enough to eliminate the dictator, you will be hearing less and less about Libya.

As Mark Steyn writes: “The Libyan war never caught the imagination of the American public, even though you're paying for most of it. But in Tehran and Moscow and Beijing they're following it. And they regard it as a useful preview of the post-American world. Absent American will, even a tin-pot desert drag queen can stand up to the great powers and survive. The lesson of Obama's half-hearted little war isn't lost in the chancelleries of America's enemies.”

Life goes on, regardless of whether the mainstream media decides that it is worthy of our attention.

Meanwhile, back in Egypt, the situation is not very good. Things are taking a turn toward Islamism.

To its credit, the New York Times is reporting the story. It’s not good news.

Anthony Shadid opens his story with an ominous observation: “Tens of thousands of Egyptian Islamists poured into Tahrir Square on Friday calling for a state bound by strict religious law and delivering a persuasive show of force in a turbulent country showing deep divisions and growing signs of polarization.”

If you believe truly in the historical dialectic, you might find this to be an encouraging sign. After all, the Egyptian people are expressing themselves freely in their nation’s central square.

If you have not drunk the dialectical Kool-Aid, you should be able to recognize that some socio-cultural and political groups should be suppressed.

As we know, serious intellectuals do not think this way. They like to see vigorous and open public debate. They like to think that History is being directed by a really big Idea... the oppressed masses rebelling against oppression.

When the open debate leads to a situation where debate and dissent are outlawed, these great intellectuals go scurrying back to into their tents.

The tens of thousands of people who assembled on Tahrir Square last Friday were not crying out for secular, liberal democracy, the kind that brings warm feelings to the heart of Tom Friedman. Not at all. They want to suppress anything that resembles democratic freedom, and secular liberalism.

Who knew?

The New York Times describes the situation well: “After days of negotiations between the rival factions, the demonstration Friday had been billed as a show of national unity, but adherents to a spectrum of religious movements — from the most puritan and conservative, known as Salafists, to the comparatively more moderate Muslim Brotherhood — vastly outnumbered other voices in a sun-drenched Tahrir Square. The numbers of Salafists, in particular, represented the most definitive declaration yet that they represent a formidable force in Egyptian politics, riding an ascent since the revolution that has surprised and unnerved many secular and liberal activists — and poses new challenges to the Muslim Brotherhood.” Link here.

Happily the Times labels the Muslim Brotherhood: “comparatively more moderate.”

This same Muslim Brotherhood worked hard to support Nazi Germany during the 1940s and has a long history of terrorism. Yet, our government is now willing to deal with it, because the administration, led by those two great foreign policy mavens, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, has decided that the Muslim Brotherhood is a force for moderation.

How do they know this? Well, Tom Friedman traveled to Cairo a while back and met with its leaders in person. And Friedman liked what he saw. He went on the Charley Rose Show and declared that these people were fine citizens, moderates he could relate to, not at all to be feared.

There you have it. Forget its history, forget what it stands for, the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood were nice to Tom Friedman... ergo, they must be liberal democrats, good people we can deal with. Certainly, a lot easier to deal with than the Tea Party.

Is it too much to imagine that the Muslim Brotherhood is simply masking its game, the better to lull unsuspecting liberals into supporting its power grab? Apparently, it is.

You might have guessed it, but the Islamist forces on the Square were not exactly tolerant of liberal democrats. The Times reports: “Though the rally was peaceful, the few secular activists who attended contended that they were silenced; some said they were escorted from the square.”

It concludes: “Some activists were already calling Friday’s demonstration a turning point — a remarkable display of the Islamists’ ability to monopolize space, be it Tahrir Square, the streets or the coming elections, and of their skill at organization and mobilization, which for secular activists served as a bitter contrast to their own shortcomings.”

It’s been a long, hot Arab summer. And it isn’t over yet.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Does Anyone Like Obama?

I am not the only one who has spent considerable time and effort trying to decipher the political enigma that is Barack Obama.

The American people, in a rather unwise moment, chose to elect a man about whom they knew very little. The media did all it could to create an avatar, the image of a man, someone on whom we could project our hopes and fears. The American people bought it.

One is tempted to forgive the American people. They may very well have thought that an avatar was better than John McCain. Recently, Sen. McCain has been trying to remind us of how his histrionic display of ineptitude succeeded in making Barack Obama look presidential. It is not a pleasant memory.

Peggy Noonan must count among the most savvy observers of the avatar that is Barack Obama.

Today she offers a strange and intriguing thought, namely, that no one really likes Barack Obama. Actually, she says that no one really loves Obama, but I think that she means “love” in the sense of “like.” I find it somewhat unseemly to say that the American people love their presidents.

Noonan says: “It is that nobody loves Obama. This is amazing because every president has people who love him, who feel deep personal affection or connection, who have a stubborn, even beautiful refusal to let what they know are just criticisms affect their feelings of regard.

“Nobody smiles when they talk about Mr. Obama. There were people who loved George W. Bush when he was at his most unpopular, and they meant it and would say it. But people aren't that way about Mr. Obama. He has supporters and bundlers and contributors, he has voters, he may win. But his support is grim support. And surely this has implications.”

I like the phrase: “grim support.” I wonder if it means that the only way to support Obama is to “grim” and bear it.

To my mind, if people smile when they talk about someone that means that they like the person, that they admire and respect him, and that they find him to be charming.

With Obama none of it seems to pertain. When it comes to Obama, people suspect that there is no there there. People do not like Obama because they do not feel that there is a living, breathing human being behind the microphone.

Obama is too mechanical, too scripted, too telepromptered, to allow us to relate to him on a human level. We have no idea who is really is, becaue he does not seem to know himself.

According to Obama, the nation is hurtling toward a financial precipice. What did he do today to show how seriously he takes the problem? He announced the new automobile fuel economy standards.

In recent weeks Obama has been addressing the financial crisis. Yet, his public pronouncements, accompanied with much fanfare, seemed to have nothing to do with the situation at hand.

No one, not even his most benighted supporters, would claim that he has been exercising leadership.

Noonan senses that Obama is not very good at politics because: “he doesn’t really get people.”

Clearly, he was good enough in 2008, but I take her point. If Obama cannot relate to people, if he cannot reach out across the airways to touch them, then people will suspect that they are watching an avatar.

After all, no one likes an avatar.

Why doesn’t Obama like people? I think that he prefers ideas. They, not people, are his true love.

Not just any old ideas, but an ideology. Noonan intimates that Obama has been captured by the set of ideas that is currently occupying the minds of supposedly sophisticated academics: a mixture of critical theory and deconstruction.

If you are armed with this ideology, you know how to criticize, and you know how to deconstruct what others have built. You will have no idea of how to build anything yourself.

Noonan explains: “The fact is, he's good at dismantling. He's good at critiquing. He's good at not being the last guy, the one you didn't like. But he's not good at building, creating, calling into being. He was good at summoning hope, but he's not good at directing it and turning it into something concrete that answers a broad public desire.”

Noonan concludes that obama is neither an alien nor a devil nor even a socialist. I will give her the first two, and take some exception to the third.

She adds that America has turned off to him because he is a loser.

I see her point. On Obama’s watch, America has been losing jobs. It is on the verge of losing its AAA credit rating.

Yet, if you listen to Barack Obama you do not get the impression that he can relate to these losses in a human way.  

To me, this spells avatar more than loser.

A Cure for Loneliness

One day Emily White thought she was going crazy. Her everyday anguish has started producing “a constant line of chatter” in her mind.

She knew that hearing voices was possibly a sign of an incipient schizophrenic breakdown, so she went to consult with a therapist.

After hearing White explain her symptoms, the therapist told her: “You’re lonely.”

I trust that White counts herself fortunate. She managed to find a therapist who was more interesting in telling her the truth than in making her a psychiatric patient.

Emily White was suffering from social isolation. She did not connect, did not feel that she fit in, and had no one to confide in. This constellation os symptoms produced some very painful emotions.

Philosophers describe it as mental anguish. Sociologists call it anomie. In common parlance it is called loneliness.

But loneliness is not the only emotion that comes from being socially disconnected. Mild forms include embarrassment and shyness. More severe forms range from feelings of abandonment and rejection to feelings of isolation and failure to feelings of being ostracized and stigmatized.

These all belong to a constellation of emotions that relate to the social sanction of shame.  

For those of us who consider that therapy and even coaching has not spent enough time studying shame, it is important to define the emotions that belong to its force field.

White has written widely and well about the fact that society prefers largely to ignore loneliness. It has taken up arms to fight depression, addiction, psychosis and other forms of emotional distress.

And yet, no one even wants to talk about loneliness.

Why should this be so? Could it be because there is no pill to treat loneliness. Psychiatry does not have a stake in the game, so it ignores the game.

Doubtless therapists understand that the cure for loneliness cannot lie in their bag of pharmaceutical tricks. After all, once you call it loneliness you know that the treatment is better relationships with other people.

It’s one thing to say that you need some Prozac. It’s quite another to say that you need to make some new friends.

Courageously, Emily White understood that she was not depressed, and not suffering from a psychiatric illness. She had made efforts to connect with other people. She had been able to form and sustain relationships. She had found intimacy. She worked effectively as a lawyer.

In therapy culture lingo, she did not really have “issues.” To her great credit she understood that her loneliness did not signal an unresolved psychological problem.

And this is a good thing. Therapists who tell you that you need to resolve your “issues” before you can make new friends are also telling you, perhaps unbeknown to themselves, not to bother trying.

For someone who is lonely and disconnected this is very bad advice indeed. It is the problem, not the solution.

Many therapists have serious difficulty dealing with shame-based problems. They assume that someone who is lonely must have a problem. They have learned that loneliness is a punishment for those who have done something wrong in another life, and they teach their patients that they will never find fulfilling relationships unless they search their souls and find out what is wrong with them.

As I say, this approach has produced more loneliness than it has cured.

After all, loneliness has been on the march in America for decades. Harvard Professor Robert Putnam explained it in his seminal work: Bowling Alone.

Perhaps it is merely coincidence, but the more therapy has taken over our culture the more we have seen people become lonely. I would suggest that loneliness is being produced by the therapy culture.

Happily for her, Emily White did not succumb to the temptation to pathologize her behavior. She did not believe that her loneliness was a sign of some deep-seated personality flaw. She did not accept that she was alone because of something she had done, some un-expiated sin.

Not at all. She asserts, correctly, that her loneliness was the product of happenstance. Her father passed away. Her sisters were much older and had their own lives and families. Close friends had moved away or had moved on to different stages of their lives.

She was sufficiently sociable. Her social skills might have been somewhat rusty, but they were not absent.

She was working as a lawyer, and thus, had a circle of colleagues in the office. Her time was organized around her job, so she was not facing a situation where she would have to create her own structure.

Still, she was alone. After work on Friday evenings she saw her colleagues head off to their full lives. She dreaded returning home to her cat in an empty house.

Once she tried going on a bicycle trip with a group of strangers, but that did not work. It is possible to make new friends on vacation, but whatever group routines you develop on a four day long trip will probably not survive the return to normalcy.

Eventually, White joined a basketball league. There she found camaraderie and a routine involving other people. She also found a “partner,” with whom to have a relationship.

One senses that when White felt lonely, the weekends were the worst. Doesn’t that tell us something about our modern culture, namely that the traditional community-based solution to workless days, that being religion, has largely fallen into disuse.

I am all for basketball leagues, and bowling leagues, and other regularly organized group activities. But we should not ignore the fact that religious services, to say nothing of participating in activities that are sponsored by churches and synagogues, can offer a powerful treatment for loneliness.

Yet, large numbers of our fellow citizens refuse to have anything to do with “organized religion.”

The war against religion, and especially the war against organized religion dates to the eighteenth century. It is not a novelty.

It continues to attract adherents by pretending that atheism makes you sophisticated and intelligent. Once it has convinced you that it’s cool to be an atheist, it has blocked your path to religion.

Keep in mind, no group of people has ever congregated on a Sunday morning to celebrate nothing. There is no such thing as an atheist community.

Worse yet, the current mania about atheism has produced an unfortunate side-effect. Namely, that attendance at religious services and participation in events sponsored by a religion has come to be stigmatized.

Admitting that you attended the church picnic will immediately label you slightly bizarre, a rube, a naif, someone who lacks social sophistication and even intelligence.

In promulgating atheism, our sophisticated modern culture has isolated has, along with therapy, isolated people from each other and produced what Emily White calls an epidemic of loneliness.

See also White’s book: Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Another Secret to Success

Here’s another secret to success, also via Heidi Grant Halvorson.

We can sum it up in one word: commit. By which Halvorson means, commit to one thing, and lose the habit of keeping your options open.

Somehow or other a lot of people have gotten into the habit of rationalizing their failure to commit by saying that they want to keep their options open.

They refuse to commit to a relationship or a marriage when there are so many other options out there. How can you know that you have chosen the best person when there might be a new and better “option” out there?

In truth there might always be a better option. It makes sense, then that in places where there is an abundance of young unmarried people, people have much more difficulty making commitments to relationships or marriage.

I suspect that people like to keep their options open because they like to feel that they are rich. They believe, not unreasonably, that rich people have more options available to them.

Halvorson explains that the same principle applies to other forms of commitment.

Some people like to buy at stores that have a very generous return policy. Some companies like to hire people on a temporary basis or use long probationary periods.

In her words: “People overwhelmingly prefer reversible decisions to irreversible ones.  They believe it’s better to ‘keep your options open,’ whenever possible.  They wait years before declaring a major, date someone for years before getting married, favor stores with a guaranteed return policy (think Zappos), and hire employees on a temporary basis (or use probationary periods), all in order to avoid commitments that can be difficult, or nearly impossible, to un-do.”

If it’s pervasive, I count it as an aspect of our culture. We are teaching people not to make commitments because we believe that commitments shut down possibilities and we seem to want to have a life filled with possibilities. We do not seem to recognize that a life full of options is also more likely to be a life with less success and happiness.

I would also draw attention to an especially modern malady, people making tentative appointments. They do not want to commit to your party because something better might come along. They do not commit because they want to keep their options open.

In the corollary people feel comfortable cancelling plans because something better has come up.

Failing to commit is a variation on failing to keep one’s word. Instead of going back on his word, a man who fails to commit refuses to give it in the first place.

Halvorson explains that it’s a bad, even a self-defeating habit, one that needs correcting.

First, because you will become a better person if you make and keep your commitments. Second, as Halvorson argues, because you will be happier and more successful if you commit.

This is so because once we make a decision, we take more pride in it. We tend to feel better about anything that belongs to us.

Halvorson expresses this point: “Once we’ve committed to a course of action, we stop thinking about alternatives.  Or, if we do bother to think about them, we think about how lousy they are compared to our clearly superior and awesome choice.”

I am not convinced that it’s such an egotistical calculation.

Once we are committed to a course of action, we have invested our time and energy in it. We have also let the world know that we are going to undertake it. Having put our pride on the line we feel more confident and more determined to make it work. Better yet, we take pride in the accomplishment of making a decision.

Moreover, when you cannot make a firm commitment, you are likely to perform more poorly.

Halvorson writes: “the other problem with reversible decisions – new research shows that they don’t just rob you of happiness, they also lead to poorer performance.

“Once again, it’s because thoughts related to making the right decision stay active in your mind when your options are open.  This places a rather hefty burden on your working memory, and it’s distracting.  When you’re still deciding what you should do, you don’t have the cognitive resources to devote yourself fully to what you’re actually doing.  Your attention wanders.  And as a result, your performance suffers.”

Keeping your options open robs you of focus. It distracts you from the task at hand. The more you are worrying about whether or not you can get out of your commitment, the more you are worrying about what life would be if you had chosen another option, the less energy and focus and mental space you will have available to work on the task at hand.