“Say hello to my leetle friend...!” Think of SAM as the ‘homunculus’. The little ‘man’ (or woman) who lives in your head. ‘He’ (I’ll refer in the masculine as ‘he’ is ‘me’ for now) determines how ‘you’ feel, how motivated you are, how in control you are over your surroundings, over your ‘self’.
SAM represents three essential dimensions of your emotional being, the core elements or ‘affect’ that determine whether you are motivated to get up in the morning, to do things productively, to engage meaningfully with the world.
In short, we are wired for approach or avoid behaviours that drive our engagement with the environment, be that to explore the world, forage for food, seek challenge, or to run screaming in the opposite direction, or shrink back into our ‘cave’ (go back to bed, ignore the outside world and hope it goes away).
SAM is a useful tool representing the elements of ‘self’ that decide if the world requires approaching or avoiding. He is composed of three elements: Valence, Arousal, and Dominance (from top to bottom on the picture above). Valence effectively relates to how pleasure-evoking something is, whether ‘SAM’ is inclined to inspect further or retreat away from. As such the Valence ‘scale’ is positive or negative. Arousal is the level of ‘activation’ or energy available in SAM’s system. This can be low to non-existent, or high in ‘voltage’, representing a capacity for action, and readiness to ‘move’. This is where ‘valence’ comes in, for if this is ‘positive’ then SAM is inclined to rush headlong towards the source of stimulus and engage it wholeheartedly. Finally, Dominance refers to the level of ‘control’ that SAM is empowered by – does ‘he’ feel small, insignificant, at the whims of the wider world, or does he feel large, forthright and robust, able to exert influence over the surroundings (or himself)?
Embracing SAM as a manifestation of the emotional, responsive, reactive or empowered ‘self’ can be useful to: a) give yourself a sense of ‘where you are’ currently in terms of your motivations, your resolve, your capacity to ‘do stuff’, and b) do something about it. We can all go through life with a nagging sense that something is not quite right, or even be oblivious to an underlying condition that eventually requires more urgent attention. But a healthy, balanced life (physically and mentally) is more likely to be effected by having ‘self awareness’, by looking honestly at aspects of your behaviour, attitude, environment, nutrition etc. etc., taking stock and attempting to keep it on track. Avoiding ignorance.
Ultimately it’s in our interests to take a sensibly ‘approach-centric’ ‘approach' (!) to life. It’s a positive step to seek out challenge, explore the environment, and confront sources of discontent, or nagging ‘niggles’ that otherwise may be brushed under the carpet. This is a healthy, functioning strategy to prevailing and prospering in life. All to often we react, shrink (become the small SAM that is submissive, powerless, at the behest of the ‘big wide world’) and thus either remain impassive, or ‘run away’ from opportunity, or even daily chores and things we otherwise need to address. But SAM, as a representation of your ‘self’, requires attention, has potential, is responsive to direction, encouragement. ‘He’ is not fixed and reactive. He can be motivated, galvanised, used to achieve things, get things done, embrace the world!
For a simple exercise, take a look at SAM (see the picture above) and think about where you are currently, in this moment, how you ‘feel’. But do this with respect to a thought in mind that is perhaps troubling you, or a task that needs doing, or the environment you are currently in (say your bedroom). Do you ‘feel’ positive or negative on the top (Valence) scale? How much ‘Arousal’ do you have in you, in terms of energy, urge to move, to act? And how ‘in control’ of that do you feel (Dominance)? If you think you are currently de-motivated, lacking in energy, want to just go back to sleep, or retreat away from the world, is that really what you want to do? I suspect not. You are likely in an ‘avoid’ response pattern, contrary to what you actually 'want'. But SAM does wants to get up and and get going, he just lacks the 'command' to do so. How can you help ‘him’ do so? He will ultimately do as ‘you’ say. But he looks to you, and responds, for guidance, direction. So do it for him if you can’t do it for you...
Think of it in terms of an ‘approach’ strategy. That job that needs doing. The thing you are putting off. Devolve responsibility to SAM. Empower him. Let him increase in stature – give him control (increase his dominance ‘score’!). The valence should be positive, as this is what galvanises him to act. The task requires attention, it ‘wants’ to be done! So approach it – ramp up SAM’s valence score! With this increase in valence, attention towards the goal of ‘approaching’ the task, arousal should naturally follow. When we are engaged in the idea of doing, our system ignites, primes the engine. You have to scratch that itch, you have to get up and do it! Otherwise you will end up in an unbalanced state of high arousal and low valence. Inaction. Frustration...
So as an exercise, think about SAM as the manifestation of your ‘self’. Be that a lazy self, or a motivated and aspiring self. Give SAM a figurative pat on the back if the latter! Importantly, check in on SAM, see how he is doing. And if need be give him a helping hand!
SAM is your friend. He will help you become a better ‘self’, motivated, empowered, happier. And more productive!
Here is where I synthesise my Adventure Psychology approach based on my extensive adventure travel and pursuits experiences, more than two decades of applied psychological research, and my association and work with extreme sports practitioners. My philosophy can be boiled down to a simple premise (as elaborated on in Science section): a 'task-focused' mindset is key to achieve success! What gets in the way of this is 'self' Through a deep understanding of how the brain 'works' it is possible to refocus attention, use 'self-control' and engage with the world in a more efficient manner to achieve goals. I offer insights and techniques backed up with cutting edge science and practical knowledge, studying optimal performers to ensure insights are based on real evidence!